Friday, 25 October 2013

Lighting His Own Fire

Some of you may have noticed that things seems to have slowing down here, at least in terms of my blogging about it.  Specifically, there has been a 'mysterious' two week break between my post about the water cycle experiments and that of Henry III.

Something is changing around here.  We are not doing as much as we did before -- that's how it feels to me anyway.  It feels as though we are not producing as much or as quickly as before.  Are we becoming slow learners... gasp!?

Another clue: has anyone else noticed that Tiger seems to be wearing the same camo clothes in most photographs?

No, you haven't seen it wrong.  Tiger lives in his camos, although he has more than one set of camo clothes, mind you, so he is not wearing the same clothes everyday although that must be very difficult to tell because camo prints tend to look the same (to me, anyway).  He has:
  • a camo rucksack
  • a pair of camo boots
  • a camo beanie
  • a camo hat
  • a pair of camo gloves
  • several pairs of camo socks
  • several pairs of camo trousers
  • a few camo T-shirts
  • a camo jumper
  • a camo coat
  • a camo scarve
  • camo stationery (ruler, pen, pencil, eraser, sharpener)
The boy loves his camos.  Now I need to find camo underwear and camo bedsheets to complete the look and I am just waiting for him to ask me to paint his room in camo shades.

What does this mean?  Isn't it just a normal nine-year-old boy's fascination with camos?

I thought so too, until I tried to piece together other bits and pieces of observations I have been making since July, to understand why we are currently working in such a "slow" pace.

Come to think of it, the trend had started before the summer holidays but had only became obvious to me when I let go of having daily lessons so that Tiger could be more say in how he wanted to spend his summer.  Other than going on holiday and working through the Art Summer School, Tiger was most often engaged in the following activities:

1.  Build a personal library.

Tiger's ever expanding personal library

Tiger has a bookshelf in his bedroom which he has been adding to at an alarming rate.  The shelf used to be filled with books from BFIAR and FIAR booklists, to be read as his bedtime stories.  This summer, Tiger has been picking out war/weaponry related books (see photo above) that I have had to pack all the previous FIAR books into storage to make space for these new books that he actually reads before bed and when he wakes up.

Seriously, who reads books like these for bedtime stories?!  Being the skeptical mum that I am, I flipped through the books and asked Tiger random questions about some parts of the books, just to make sure that he has actually read them and not just fibbing by looking at the pictures in the books.  Unbelievably, the boy has actually read them all, not just once but several times, evidenced by his ability to reference the exact page number of certain pieces of information that he gave me.

2.  Teach himself.
This is not new.  We watch documentaries all the time, but Tiger seems to have taught himself modern history (at least the military aspects of it) by watching the following since the summer:
  1. Battlefield Britain (the entire series)
  2. Battle of France
  3. Battlefield: Series 1
  4. Battlefield: Series 2
  5. Battlefield: Series 3
  6. The Cu Chi Tunnels
  7. WWII Weapons (all 10 parts)
  8. The Top Secret Soviet Weapon in the Cold War
  9. Battle 360
  10. Patton 360
  11. The Korean War in Colour
  12. Greatest Tank Battles
  13. Dogfights - Season 1
  14. Dogfights - Season 2
  15. America: The Story of the US
  16. WW2: The Mediterranean and North Africa
  17. The Art of War: Sun Tsu
  18. Weapons of Victory: Anti-Tank Guns
  19. Battle of Arnhem
  20. Sinking the Tirpitz
  21. World War I: Battle of Falkland Islands
  22. 20th Century Battlefields (the entire series)
While watching the documentaries, Tiger reenacts the battle scenes and war strategies shown on the screen with his toy troops.

I am quite amazed to see him finding his own hands-on way to engage himself in his learning.  I would not have been able to lead him to this due to a lack of expertise and interest on my part.

"A person's freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech.  If we take from soneone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought.  We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us."
-- John Holt

There is no curriculum for this, as far as I can tell, not for a nine-year-old anyway.  Hence, all of this is done oout of Tiger's own initiative.  He decides for himself what he wants to learn (i.e. which documentaries to watch - after seeking parental approval for each documentary), when he wants to learn, and how he learns best at the present moment (through staging the battle scenes rather than writing reports).

3.  Find ways to apply knowledge.
It is still an ongoing process, but I find it interesting to see what Tiger does with the information he is absorbing from the documentaries and books.  When his deep interest in military history became glaringly obvious in the summer, I was slightly concerned about whether Tiger was watching the above documentaries for entertainment, likened to brain-deadening TV watching.

However, my fears are allayed when I see how Tiger is finding different ways to apply what he is learning:
a) Through different strategy games
i) Battleship

ii) Axis and Allies starter set

iii) Chess
Tiger continues to attend his weekly chess club where he is coached alongside county players.  Even though chess has long been regarded as a strategy game, I was still surprised when Tiger explained to me, after a particularly successful session when he was the Undefeated-Champion-for-the-Night, that he applied the battle strategies he has learned from the books and documentaries to defeat the county players.

b) Through reenacting multiple battles
The first thing Tiger does on most mornings before breakfast: battles.

When there's  a break in-between lessons at home: battles.

If he's not doing something with Tortoise after dinner: battles.

c) Extending activities through battles.
I should know better than to second-guess the value of play, but when Tiger spends most of his time playing at the battles (which helps to explain why we aren't getting much else done in terms of "tangible output"), I feel I need more than blind faith to know that he is not simply wasting his time.

Luckily, when an adult looks hard enough and pays close attention to the child at play, she is very likely to find meaning in all of it.

i) Maths
How does maths come in?  I wasn't expecting to see this either, but Tiger has learnt the relationship between speed, distance, and time through his battles.  As his play becomes increasingly complicated -- with his invention of complex rules of engagement -- he needs to know how to calculate accurately the distance between his missle launch and its reach, how quickly troops can move before they engage in a face-to-face combat, etc.

Precise calculation is crucial in this case because an inaccurate move can have dire consequences, such as having to suffer the intolerable humiliation of being defeated by one's mother in a military showdown...

ii) Cartography
Tiger doesn't always use the maps that come with the soldiers sets.  Instead, he often prefers to draw his own map for the settings of his battles.

iii) Photography/filming
When Tiger is not too busy fighting battles, he takes photographs of the scenes with the intention to turn them into a stop motion film.

4.  It matters to him.
How do we know that it is a passion and not just a flight of fancy?  Besides the slightly obsessive, all-consuming nature of the child's engagement with the activity, probably the most revealing key is that the activity means a lot to the child.

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."
--- Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch,
Supreme commander of Allied forces, World War One

Several weeks ago we were scheduled to attend a full-day history workshop.  The night before Tiger had a sudden fever so I decided that there was no way he would be well enough to go anywhere the next day.  As expected, Tiger was very upset as he went to bed that he was going to miss the workshop.  The following morning, he woke up unusually early (at 6am) to get himself ready to attend the workshop.  Unfortunately for him, the fever persisted so he had to stay at home.  For two hours he tried to convince me at 15-minute intervals that he was well enough to go. The poor boy burst into tears when his hardhearted mother said a resolute "No, you have to stay at home and rest."  I don't know of many children who would cry about missing a day of school.  Do you?

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did 
  2. History and Geography Meme #96
  3. Collage Friday - A Productive Week
  4. Entertaining and Educational - Learning with Music
  5. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with the Battle Against Illness
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {October 26, 2013}
  7. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/29/2013


  1. Wow! He has really found an interest. I think that one of the best things about homeschooling is that children have time to explore a passion. One of my American homeschooling friends here in Germany has a 14 year old son who is also very interested in war and weapons. I believe his mother's interest in history initially motivated him, but he has taken it in his own direction. In our current history co-op we are studying the middle ages and he has put together two presentations which were very impressive. His hobby has spurred reading, and now he is working on writing and presentation skills.

    Is Tiger also interested in legends that are associated with your history studies? My friend's son knows everything about King Arthur and Robin Hood.

  2. I have the biggest smile on my face right now. My Firecracker is sitting and playing battles with his figurines right now. He also was asking me today to help him find resources make a model cannon. I loved seeing your description of Tiger's self-directed learning

  3. Thank you both for your encouraging comments. :-)

    Julie - Tiger studied the legends associated with history when we did them, but now he seems more interested in modern warfare. Thanks also for sharing the inspiring story about your friend's son. I am also hoping that Tiger will work on his writing and presentation skills at some point. :-)

    raventhreads - It seems to me that boys are naturally drawn to themes surrounding battles. Good to know that your son is also taking charge of his learning by asking you to help source for resources that he needs. :-)

  4. This was such a joy to read. It's so great that you've provided an environment in which Tiger's passion can flourish. He is obviously learning a great deal about a broad range of subjects thanks to his interest in warcraft. Very inspiring - thank you for sharing!

  5. Thank you for your kind comments, Lucinda. At times like this, I find it difficult to show with tangible or measureable outputs the learning that is taking place for Tiger. I'm just glad that homeschooling provides the flexibility to allow the time and space for him to grow in his own way. :-)

  6. It was at a stage like this one that finding a mentor really helped us further fulfill kiddo's thirst for knowledge. Do consider that for Tiger at some point if you can! Wonderful to read about his passion!

  7. Thank you for stopping by, Suji! I've been thinking about that, but feel that I'm hitting a dead here. I'll have to look harder. :-)

  8. Brilliant Hwee! Seriously, seriously great stuff! It just must be wonderful to sit back and watch your once little boy growing up, taking responsibility for his own learning and enjoying it all the more for doing so. You must be incredibly proud.
    T11 is the same with his maths and science. I can't stop him. I literally have to force him to take a break else he would work himself into the ground, he loves it so much, and is so motivated. And it is a pleasure to see as his mummy.

  9. Thank you for sharing how T11 is getting on, Claire. I've been curious about how he's doing since September. Sounds like all good news! :-) While it has been very comforting for me to see Tiger so motivated about the subject area that he's interested in, I am not entirely sure where it will lead. Somehow an interest in science/maths/arts seems to be more "acceptable" than an interest in military things. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

  10. It is amazing how much they learn, and how much easier for us when we let them peruse their passions. Jacob Barnett was not doing well in his public school special ed program for children with aspergers. His mother began homeschooling him, and noticed he had a fascination with patterns. She perused his education with that in mind, and today he is said to have an IQ higher than Einstein, and has talked on Ted Talks for Teens.

  11. Thank you for stopping by, Roma! I've read about Jacob Barnett's incredible story. His and his mother's achievements are amazing indeed. However, I think he's of a different league. Regardless, I do find it useful to know that we can all help our children to get to where they want to go. :-)


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