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Shhhhhhhh! Don’t tell them they’re learning

Submitted by on Tuesday, 9 February 2010 No Comment

Take one over-sized wall map of the United States.

Add quick sheets filled with random information about various states.

Combine with a boy’s passion for racing, stir with a DryErase marker and marinate for 36 events over 10 months.

The result? An adventure in learning built around the NASCAR schedule. But please don’t tell the guys they’re learning – they think it’s fun.

We started the project late last season when the guys started asking questions – imagine that – about the various tracks. Where are they? What state’s that in? What’s that state like?

So I bought a 38-by-50 map, tacked it to the family room wall and used a marker to circle the track locations. Then it occurred to me that I could blatantly manipulate their interest for greater, more evil purposes.

I began creating profile sheets for the various tracks and states – their flowers, flags, trees, etc. Last year I highlighted three people from each state, but the guys didn’t seem all that impressed so I’ve changed it to “fun facts.” Famous Virginians – uninspiring. Florida has more than a million alligators – fascinating.

I used a desktop publishing program to craft the sheets – there’s an example here – though a word processing program would work just as well. It’s not resume-quality design work, but it serves its purpose.

Once you’ve done the research for a few weeks, that part goes quickly. 50states.com, , enchantedlearning.com and netstate.com are good starting points. Some states, such as Florida, have special kids areas online. You also can recycle the template once you’ve built the basics for each track.

Oh, and of course you’ll need the NASCAR Web site. That’s the best source I’ve found for maps of the tracks and for updating the weekly standings. By the end of last season, Big Guy had learned to read some ginormous-for-a-first-grader numbers courtesy of the standings.

This evil trick could work for a number of other sports as well for kids not interested in NASCAR. College or pro football, because they’re on weekly schedules, are naturals. I’d toyed with doing it for Major League Baseball, just to keep the guys engaged over the summer, but then I decided that’s too much work for a sport where the teams change cities so often.

At times we’ve added coloring sheets for state birds and such, mainly because Boots loves to color. The real buzz, though, has been in seeing where the projects take their minds. Right now it’s primarily my hands on the keyboard doing the follow-up queries, but in time the guys will be able to run those on their own. Big Guy probably could now – he knows search basics – but he gets frustrated because he can’t type as quickly as I can.

It’s fascinating to me to see what they glom onto, as well as a challenge to make the seemingly frivolous meaningful.

With Daytona this week it was Lake Lloyd, 29 acres of water in the track’s infield. “Wow. I wonder if anyone has crashed into it,” Big Guy said.

Why, yes, they have, we quickly found out at YouTube. Big Guy, being a 6-year-old, immediately wanted to investigate all the other crash videos, which lead to a discussion about the way technology has improved over the years as we watched earlier models blow to bits but saw drivers in recent years walk away from what looked to be horrific crashes.

One driver was so scared of Lake Lloyd, I said, that he used to keep a life jacket in his car. He didn’t know how to swim, I said.

“He should take swimming lessons,” Big Guy said. “Why did they put the water there anyway?”

They needed dirt to build the banks in the turns of the track and digging a hole nearby was the easiest way to do it, I said, calling up a video with a particularly good view of the sloped turns. It was the first time Big Guy had grasped “banking,” other than the type where we make him put part of his allowance, even though I’d tried to explain it all last season.

Because Florida is so wet anyway – insert a lesson about the Everglades here – the builders knew the hole was going to stay damp, so they decided they might as well fill it up. People can swim in it or fish on it, and they even have boat races there.

“Neat! I want to go there! I want to go there!”

You and me both, kid. For now, though, we’ll have to limit our weekly trips to the family room. Your body might not travel much, but your mind will go far.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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