[Let me] conclude with a wise sentence of Coleridge's concerning the method of Plato, which should be always present to the minds of persons engaged in the training of children:––
Plato's Educational Aim.––"He desired not to assist in storing the passive mind with the various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human soul were a mere repository or banqueting room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite its vegetating and germinating powers to produce new fruits of thought, new conceptions and imaginations and ideas." (Page 125)
What exactly did she mean?
I think about how children "learn" today. Adults pour facts into passive minds and students regurgitate them upon request until they is no longer requested and new facts replace the old ones. True learning of knowledge begins to germinate new ways of thinking. Some ideas are like beans and they sprout very quickly. Other ideas must age for a long time like tropical seeds before they germinate and eventually bear fruit. Last year, I noted Pamela's fascination with gorilla toenails after she studied a picture in a book we were reading. A new conception in her mind, that gorillas have toenails and fingernails like her, has born fruit all year long.
At first, Pamela talked about gorilla toenails a lot. Then she shifted to other primates with nails and eventually other mammals. In time, she shifted to claws, then hooves, and recently webbed feet. She also came up with a category called nothing for creatures like snakes. Today, I thought she might enjoy recording these conceptions that have been percolating in her mind for the past year into her science notebook. She loved it. Pamela drew the vertical lines and set up her categories. She came up with so many animals with claws that she had to write on the backside of the page. When she thought of salmon, Pamela realized she needed a category for fins. Later, she added flippers since they seemed to fit together. She remembered talons and I had to look up the exact difference between talons and claws to help her classify. Tentacles popped into her head for another category.
During this process, I noticed many interesting things about how Pamela's mind works. She thinks very flexibly. After she focused on one category and ran out of ideas, I would come up with an animal in a different category. She easily shifted somewhere else and often shifted on her own. Once we went back to reading, her mind pondered some more and she was able to "hold that thought" until we finished the book. While I grabbed another book, she recorded new animals. She cares enough about spelling to ask for help but doesn't obsess if something didn't look quite right. When she realized she put an creature in the wrong category, she simply erased it and corrected her error.
Pamela's knowledge of animal names and body parts are wide and varied. She came up with some obscure animals like grackle, anteater, pike, lynx, and platypus. She came up with extinct animals like mammoth, dinosaur, and dodo. She even included imaginary animals like beast, dragon, monster, and unicorn. You might be wondering why she put aliens under the category of tentacles. Here are three reasons: (1) Kang and Kodos, (2) Galaxy Quest, and (3) A Wrinkle in Time.
Now, if your "take away" is to create a worksheet or lap book for your kid, then you are missing my point! Pamela enjoyed this process because her mind had been chewing on categorization based upon feet for the past year. One small idea led to her mind being tuned into putting her thoughts into writing.
The hard part for teachers is the art of stepping aside, waiting for seeds to germinating, and guiding the child into meaningful expressions of them when the new conceptions are bearing fruit.