Stories, Games, and Baseball Stats: Maybe Abundance Mindset is the True Brain Hack

I was reading the other day about a study done in which students who were given frequent pop quizzes retained information taught to them better. Makes sense, right? They had to recall the information often and, having to actually use it, they did better in the end. I can tell you that when I drive as the passenger somewhere, I don’t remember how to get there. However, if I have to actually drive, I actually learn my way around. However, I am going to challenge this paradigm and offer a better alternative.

I homeschool. I don’t give my children frequent pop quizzes. In fact, as they are so young, we don’t really do any tests. And yet, as I write this, my son, 10, has read two different history series several times over. My daughter, 7, has, as of last night, read the entire Harry Potter series. All of my children, three in total, have had more or less unrestricted access to videos, and they’ve binged watched many science and other videos. My youngest, 5, drops random facts all the time. “Mommy did you know turtles can live on land and water?” He also reads like a boss, reading for me the other day that food at Wendy’s is “fresh” and “delicious.” My oldest can drop history facts like no other. I can’t keep up with him, so forgive my lack of examples. But we’ll be talking about some historic character, and he’ll give information if someone was unclear on something. He also readily relates one nuanced historic event to the other. My daughter can keep up with any adult in discussing any and everything about Harry Potter. Did I mention that my oldest will also correct people when they are wrong about physics concepts? And also that my daughter will make up her own, long, detailed fiction stories on the spot? And that my youngest can take any mechanical object and figure it out within minutes? Ok. I’ll stop. But my point: no pop quizzes. No tests whatsoever, actually.

At the time, she only had 100 pages left in the series.

What my children did do is pursue things they enjoyed. I noticed that my children loved to hear dramatic stories starting around age 5-1/2 (a bit younger). So, I made it a point to read history to them. I will never, ever regret this. We would put on several plays about what we read, making the story come alive for them. We’ve gotten weeds out of a cold bog (our bathtub), as an ancient Chinese boy would. We’ve crawled through catacombs (a tunnel made out of Crazy Forts), as Christians escaping Roman prosecution would. The stories came alive for them. They got good at listening to and absorbing a large amount of information. From there, somewhat by luck, we found stories they liked. My oldest so happened to love history, so he just continued with it. My daughter loved fiction. My husband first read the entire Harry Potter series to my daughter, changing his voice for every character. Then she picked it up and read it herself, at age 7. And now they have literally thousands of pages read under their belt, done entirely on their own. No reading logs, no tests, no nothing. It was entirely their own will and accomplishment.

In general, whenever you see something being hyper monitored, the system is broke. This is if it’s management hovering over employees, making sure they never make a bad product, or, well, if it’s traditional education handing out lots of tests to make sure students learn. You see, the issue is that what we adults want students to learn is actually narrow. Students are being asked to learn, say, 2 bits of information, when they could be learning 200. And in that we want students to learn that 2 bits of information, we put tight monitors to make sure it was learned. Imagine every time you went to walk, someone measured where your foot landed and if it was the right distance, that your foot was at the right angle, etc. We don’t tend to monitor the things we are genuinely good at. We might marvel about it at the end. We marveled that my daughter read all 4,001 pages of the Harry Potter books. But we had no goal from the beginning to read 4,001 pages. It just happened.

And, by the way, a lot of what you learned in school is now outdated or disproven. Traditional education, so forceful in teaching what it “knows” and then judging students on it, determining much of their eventual career as well as their own personal assessment of their self worth, single handedly keeps old, archaic ideas stubbornly in place.

Instead, students have quite a capacity to learn–and a lot. I always marveled, for instance, that so many boys in high school seemed to know every baseball stat ever. Did you know so-and-so is the only pitcher ever to strike out every batter in the fourth inning? I mean, the stats in baseball are insane. And yet so many boys around me seemed to know all of them. It was a tremendous amount of data. And yet they kept up with it. Perhaps because they enjoyed it? This is what I’m getting at.

“I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”–Mark Twain

Another thing I did with my kids is play games with them. Lots and lots of games. We got into math games, too, having found Denise Gaskins work on it. In the same way that they never had a test, they engaged in fun math games over and over, getting direct practice, not just learning math but USING math. There are two things I will never regret doing with my kids: reading lots of history to them and playing math games with them.

I continue to look for more and more things like this, as to learn other skills, such as writing and teach science. I read about education and try different approaches. I am actually putting together a physics curriculum now. The book is tentatively named Physics Camp! Hands-on Lessons for Intuitive Understanding. I worked as a software test engineer, modeling fighter aircraft. I used physics. I took several physics courses. I even passed them. I did not feel traditional education adequately prepared me for application. Hence, I am focused on hands-on lessons and challenges to give intuitive understanding. Here we are exploring Newton’s Second Law of Motion.

Add or remove coins in the train. Motion really is about mass!

The issue, I think, is an abundance mindset. Are we so focused on certain scraps that we are missing the massive abundance around us? Even in how I educate, I am generous. I willingly read entire history series to my children. My husband sat down to read all of Harry Potter to my daughter–in difference voices. I sit down to play math games with my children. With some restrictions, I let my children watch the videos they want. (We block channels we find inappropriate.) I know that what their talent is is so much bigger than I will ever be able to teach. Instead, it’s as if I’m putting them into flight. I get a super fast running start and let them go.

I study the age-related developmental stages that children go through. You can see my work at It is those times children “act up” but on the other side is enormous new mental growth. This machine in the background is doing the lion’s share of children’s mental development. It’s an enormous machine. It is capable of holding an immense amount of information. It is stunning in its talent and voracious in its appetite. What I am doing is trying to tap into that machine. It’s largely an unconscious thing. Me trying to make sure my children do the thing exactly the way the thing is supposed to be done is not tapping into this machine. This apparatus in the background likes to have fun. It’s like a dolphin balancing the ball on its nose just to fling it to a friend. Oh, yes, it’s highly interactive. It needs experience and challenges. But I’m not entirely sure that pop quizzes are what it needs.

Go long?

My book series on these stages is Misbehavior is Growth. Books are out for toddlers, three year olds, and four year olds. They are available in paper back at Amazon and at every major e-book retailor. At each milestone, I have educational activity ideas that are in alignment with where a child is at in their developmental growth, as to tap into this machine. I use my research to come up with ideas. More importantly, I use children’s emotional reactions. If they have joy while doing it, the activity is a winner.

In my book on five year olds, I can’t wait to tell you about the power of telling stories and playing games with children. Playful, fun, engaging, challenging. Abundant, fun–the key to success.

Amber studies the age-related stages children go through. Send your friends to The Observant Mom.

Leave a Reply