I asked Miru what 배 ‘bae’ and 눈 ‘nun’ means. She says ‘pear’ and ‘snow’. But in Korean, bae also means boat and nun also means eye. I tell her that it depends on the context. Context is the concept I want to explain to her today.
“Papa what is that, context?”
-“Context is a story. It is the story you are in.”
-“For example, I say it is a cold day and there is a lot of nun.”
“That is a short story.”
-“A context-story can be short. What does nun mean here?”
-“And when I say grandfather is looking for his glasses because his nun is not so good any more?”
-“Exactly. So you know what context is.”
Why am I sharing this? I believe there are some very useful concepts that are generally not taught to children. I already explained her what an oxymoron is. Next up will be paradox, irony, justice, equality, compatibility, intentionality, relativism. Any suggestions?
Your calculating is improving and you actually like it. We play with numbers together. Two times ten is twenty. Six plus five is eleven. Ten minus 2 equals eight. It is all very playful. You learn how to figure out calculations by making drawings of dots, lines, squares on the whiteboard. You don’t just learn what the outcome of a calculation is, you learn how to prove it with confidence.
Don’t worry, we won’t plough through Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica in its entirety. The most fundamental proof that one and one equals two is indeed rather complicated and requires many of its pages. For the sake of the not very rigorous math education I will give you, we are just going to assume it.
But I won’t let you off the hook all the time! When we get to square numbers and, for example, you observe a pattern when you make a series of the difference between to adjacent squares, (1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64) => (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15) it will not be enough. We will prove why the pattern is there. I will teach you about prime numbers and some of the wonderful maths that involve them, something I learned much too late in the development of my numeracy because I was subjected to a primitive form of rote-learning that lacked inspiration or creativity, the kind of learning that destroyed so many children’s appetite for numbers and mathematics.
I am already very proud when you can teach me that six plus six equals twelve and you can also draw a 3 by 4 square to make twelve.
You learn very fast now. Lately, we have been playing “lettertjes omdraaien”, exchange letters in words. Even though you don’t really get the concept of spelling yet and how several letters make up a word (it is interesting that this mental apparatus is apparently rather complicated; letters are an abstraction, the unit of our language are words insofar as they are the shortest sentences), you understand the fun of jumbling the letters of words.
How I enjoy your laugh when you say “hey! you confused the letters!” Do you want to raw a drabbit? Do you pake a ticture? Do you want to vlay the piolin? What is a Pomcuter? A Sinodaur? Shall I bring you to Dinkergarten? Be Farecul when you ross the croad!
It is a misunderstanding that it would “confuse them”, just like it is a misunderstanding that toddlers wouldn’t be able to handle several languages well. They can, if they grow up in an environment where they are fully immersed in both languages simultaneously. It won’t confuse them, because the correct speech is constantly reinforced. Similarly, my letter jumbling game will only remind them of the correct word and reinforce that. Of course, I always make it explicit that we are joking.
I taught you definitions and how to describe something without using the word for it. It is a game now, but later you’ll understand why that is useful. You are good at it. I asked you to describe an ice-cream and you said a thing that children eat by licking and that is very cold. I asked you what a house is and you said a square with windows (because that is how you draw it). I showed you round houses and houses in all sort of shapes (you like shapes), including the shape of a violin. I asked what all these houses had in common and we figured out walls and roof. Without a roof, the house is broken, but maybe we can have a house with only a roof? So, we arrive at a building with a roof where people live.
Definitions should be introduced in such a way as a game where we make them up ourselves and test them together. Never, ever rote-learned. That is a crime against creativity, an abhorring and soul-crushing practice that intoxicates the very lifeblood of an independent mind and nibs prodigy in the bud.
A rant is a very angry talk on something we deeply care about.
Everyday you are a little bit smarter. I try to catch up with you and come up with a suitable game. Today, I play ‘The odd one out’ with you. I mention four items and you tell me which one doesn’t belong in the list and why. You are good at it! We discovered that sometimes, there are multiple reasonings possible and there is no one correct answer. This is to show you that the ability to reason itself is more important than the answer, an important reminder when educational tests are reduced to multiple choice questions for the sake of efficiency. We begin with easy ones, like three colors and a chair, or any funny object that makes you laugh. Then we proceed to more ambiguous (remind me to teach you that word) series, such as
Buttocks, you say, and not only because you like to say that word. Because they are not on your face. This is indeed the predicament of most people, however according to some there are exceptions, usually involving people with a different political persuasion than their own.
What if I say the eyes are the odd one out, because they’re all made of skin and the eyes are not? I see you thinking (it is wonderful, can you believe me, to see your four year old child thinking!) about the reason. Which reason is more valid? How do you determine the oddest one out? Or can oddities not be compared to each other?
Today, like most days, my four years old daughter Miru sang a song in kindergarten. When I asked her to sing it to me after I picked her up and she was enjoying an ice slushy that colored her tongue orange, she rendered a perfect translation in Dutch.
Good, the song consisted of three distinct words (‘Car, car, car. Let’s go’ in Korean) but her translation took me by surprise because it was creative: ‘Auto, auto, auto. Even weg’.
This comes so naturally to her that I begin to understand how multilingual children are hard-wired differently from the rest of us. According to a Russian-Italian I once asked about it, they think ‘in images and concepts’ rather than in words. The above translation would be a perfect example of it. Miru had sung the song in Korean, but probably remembered Dutch TV animations about cars that she had watched at home. The idiom “even weg” might have come from an animation or TV show she is watching, or she might have heard the expression while visiting her paternal grandfather in the Low Countries. Either way, instead of looking up the term for ‘let’s go’ in some sort of internal dictionary, her mind had browsed all ‘car’ situations and concepts and selected one labeled ‘Dutch’. And that concept happened to be accompanied with the phrase ‘even weg’.