Rowan recently turned 11 which means that he is now in the fifth grade. According to the Texas State Curriculum (which we try and ensure he is as up-to-date with as possible whilst still following his interests and passions) fifth grade is the time when children should be starting to learn about geometric concepts such as angles, congruent shapes, parallel and perpendicular lines etc.
Since the summer we have been racking our brains trying to figure out how to teach these abstract concepts to him in a way that is not only meaningful to him but also fun.
In Horse Boy Learning we always adhere to two key principles when teaching Rowan (or the other kids we work with) anything new.
The first of these is that we always mould what we want to teach a child to their interests and passions and not the other way around. For example we taught Rowan about the Kings & Queens of England through what kind of toilet they used and the Presidents of the United States through the types of pets that they had.
Secondly we always allow the child to move whilst they are learning – the technical term for which is kinetic learning. Children on the autism spectrum are often kinetic learners meaning they need to move in order to be able to receive and retain new information. It is not that they are not capable of sitting at a desk – they are – it is just that sitting at a desk takes up all of their brain power meaning that there is nothing left over for them to take in new information.
However, if their body is allowed to move then their brain is free to learn.
In Horse Boy Learning we have found that kinetic learners can be supported in two different ways. The first is to allow the child themselves to physically move during a lesson. We do this by teaching the children that we work with on the trampoline or whilst they are swimming, walking or running. The second is to place the child on a moving object, such as a horse, swing, rocking chair or even car. The rhythmic movement of the object stills their mind in a way that would not occur if they were asked to sit on a stationary object.
We therefore knew that the key to helping Rowan understand geometry lay in these principles of intrinsic motivation and kinetic learning.
About a month ago Rowan began to develop an interest in the roads and rivers of East Texas and requested to be driven over the Brazos River (his current favorite river) on a road called the 79/190 (his current favorite road) as many times as he could persuade us too. It didn’t take us long to realize that perhaps the key to geometry lay in this new obsession. As we drove him on the roads he loves we simply began to slip geometry related terms into our conversation. Comments such as ‘oh look the railroad tracks run parallel to the 79’ or ‘hey, now we are going to turn this corner at a 90 degree angle’ or even ‘the railroad bridge on the 79 is not congruent to the one on the 21’ peppered our conversation.
True to form it didn’t take long before Rowan was using these terms himself, asking for us to take him on the road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks or for us to spin him in a 360 degree circle.
By introducing these terms to him slowly in a pressure free way we allowed him to take on board and really understand the concepts at his own pace.