Before I managed to get hold of a copy of Nurture Shock, I started reading a few of the articles written by one of the authors Po Bronson from the blog “The Daily Beast”. There were several articles that caught my interest which I will write about over the next few days and here is the first one…
In this article, Bronson talks about his son’s obsession with Pokemon cards. You may or may not recall that there was a stage where Pokemon was all the rage among the children (it may still be, I wouldn’t know since it isn’t part of my son’s interest). At that time, all the children who were into Pokemon were collecting Pokemon cards.
Although Bronson and his wife were never keen on having their son hooked on something so “meaningless”, they stumbled upon the hidden benefits of Pokemon cards by accident. Because of his interest in Pokemon cards, their son went from a child who could not focus on a single subject for more than 20 minutes to a child who spent two solid hours playing Pokemon. Through his collection of Pokemon cards, he improved his math and reading abilities exponentially.
“That following school year, in his first-grade class, Pokémon became social currency. About half his class was entranced by the cards. At times it seemed ridiculous, but then I’d hear my son plop down two cards and talk out more complicated math problems than anything he saw at school: “160HP minus 110HP plus 30 resistance points minus 20 weakness points equals 60 points left,” he’d say, then plop down two more cards to solve.
I didn’t know then what I know now: Through this repetition, his brain was transforming. Heavily used neurons were learning to fire together, and these chains of neurons were becoming myelinated in thin sheaths of fat; by this process, “gray matter” is converted into “white matter.” The sheath surrounding the nerves acts as an electrical insulator, increasing neural speed by 100-fold. Active repetition also began tuning up the nerve capsules that connected his prefrontal cortex to his parietal cortex in the back of the brain. When these superhighways of nerve tissue come on board, the brain learns to delegate math to the back of the brain, making computation speed radically faster.
While we weren’t aware of the neuroscience, it was plainly obvious: Pokémon cards were making our son’s brain really fast at elementary-school math. I began to buy him cards. Lots of cards.
The second half of first grade, our son started reading the fine-print paragraphs on the cards. He got more reading time in through his love of Pokémon than he ever did at night, when we handed him books. He did read the books out loud to us, but it was a necessary chore. Pokémon was never a chore. And I noticed the paragraphs on the cards were syntactically far more complicated than anything he read in books. Soon, the same brain transformation that drove his math speed was reproduced with his reading speed.
Pokémon had taken over his brain. But in ways my wife never expected. Early in second grade, his math teacher told us he was as fast at math as the fifth graders. Not bad for a kid turned away by most of the local private schools prior to kindergarten.”
After reading that article, I thought back to our friends who often commented how well Gavin was able to sit through dinner without needing to get up from his seat and run around like most other toddlers his age. Although they complimented us on our excellent “parenting skills”, I realise the truth of it was that we had discovered Gavin’s passion. It was Thomas and Friends. All we had to do was bring along a few trains, Thomas and Friends books or draw him pictures of trains and he would be happily entertained.
Similarly, Gavin learned his colours, numbers and alphabets very early on. He learned them so quickly because of his interest in Thomas and Friends. Parents who are familiar with Thomas and Friends will be aware that each of the main characters have a unique number and a specific colour. For instance, Thomas is blue and he is number 1, while Percy is green and he is number 6.
Gavin learned his colours by association through Thomas. One of his early references to colour was when he told me that Percy was under my FIL’s armchair. When I peered under my FIL’s armchair, I saw a green crayon had rolled under there. Although he couldn’t tell me it was the green crayon, he knew that it was the same colour as Percy.
After that, I started applying Thomas and Friends to every possible subject I could think of. I discarded his alphabet books and created my own Thomas Alphabet. Unfortunately, Thomas and Friends didn’t have the capability to quite as drastic a result as the Pokemon cards, but it did do a lot for Gavin’s development.
What I learned out of this is that we should suppress our natural urge to discourage our children from their natural passions in the hope of making them more generalists. Instead, we need to encourage their passions because they stand to gain so much more learning out of a subject they love.