Funny at Home . . . Not so Funny at School

We often laugh when children’s perceptions are different from ours. Art Linkletter, a well-known radio and TV personality, now in his 90s, hosted the popular “Children Say the Darndest Things.” Laughing at kids was so popular that years later Bill Cosby had Linkletter asking kids questions on his show.

Linkletter and Cosby chatted with one child after another. The humor resulted from wildly different interpretations of words and phrases. From prayers to geography, from metaphors to popular songs, we laughed because the children didn’t get it. It was disjointed.

In the entertainment field, disjointed is funny. In school, disjointed isn’t funny. In the classroom, disjointed means confusion and possible failure. When a child doesn’t get it, he often fails. An effective teacher continuously looks for clues and expressions of disjointedness to use as the basis of re-explaining. He’ll use other words, drawings, or demonstrations so children get it.

Parents can do the same thing at home. Instead of asking, “How was school today?” Ask if it’s okay to look at today’s class notes and handouts. You’ll want to be supportive and show genuine interest while looking for possible key disjoints.

When you find a disjoint, ask what it means? For example, does your child know what “armistice” means? What about “inalienable rights,” “truce,” “New Mexico,” “Alaska,” “renewable energy,” or “kilometer?” Look for important key words and phrases in the notes or handouts and ask your child to talk about them. Can they draw the word or demonstrate it?

Your child may not have a clue. Thus, without your “Un-Disjointing,” she’ll have a tough time doing the homework and studying for quizzes and tests.

Three common disjoints include:

The location of Alaska: The disjointed answer is below and to the left of California. Why? Because that”s where it appears on most maps of the United States.

The metric system. Kids rarely know what a kilometer is, even though they come across this metric distance repeatedly in school.

New Mexico. It’s not unusual for children to think that New Mexico is part of Mexico and thus not part of the United States. After all, “Mexico” is part of this state’s name.

Helping with disjoints is not about correcting your child. It’s not “I’m right and you’re wrong.” You’ll want to create a conversation, and you may want to demonstrate, or explain.

If there’s a lot of homework, don’t go into too much detail. If your child is interested, and there’s time, you’ll have a great learning adventure together.

Demonstrating disjoints with active learning:

Location of Alaska: Buy a globe or use one at the library. Begin by pointing out the most prominent places, including, of course, where you live. Then locate Alaska, and while you’re at it, Hawaii, too. Talk about how you might travel there, and how long it might take. Compare the distances with that of a long car trip you may have taken, as in, “our trip to Florida was 1200 miles, and it is this far on the globe, compared with . . . ” A globe is the most accurate way of displaying states, countries, and continents.

The Kilometer: A kilometer is 1000 meters (kilo means 1000). Since a meter is about one adult’s giant-step, take a walk while you count out loud together. 1000 of your giant steps (or 500 steps and double back to the starting place). This one-kilometer walk is one walk you and your child will remember. And your child will now know what a kilometer is.

New Mexico: A flat picture map of the United States is fine. Little kids enjoy jigsaw puzzle maps. Point out the lines that show the perimeters of the U.S. If there’s time, explain that New Mexico and even Texas and parts of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada belonged to Mexico. After the war of 1848, Mexico lost that land to the United States. Let your child know that he was partly right–that New Mexico did belong to Mexico a long time ago.

Words: Abstract words are hard to demonstrate by walking or looking at maps and globes. Think of ways to use the word in your child’s frame of reference first. For example, if your family is arguing, what would a “truce” be. Relate recycling pop cans to energy conservation. Even if using the frame of reference isn’t totally accurate, the child will get the general idea and then be better able to understand the word in it’s historical or environmental meaning. Then go back to the meaning of the word in the the homework. You want to make sure your child really “gets” the word.

Don’t be afraid of not knowing. It’s good for kids to understand that you don’t know everything and that not knowing everything is fine. Learn together with your child. Model the process of using books, maps, the internet and other resources.

Helping your child on a regular basis when they don’t get it contributes to school success. And it’s fun.

Share funny things your kids have said.  Leave a comment.



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