Opinion: Matthew Munson – English, maths and PE with dinosaurs

The latest journey for Matthew and Bryan

I like to think I know my limits. I’m no quantum physicist, for example, nor am I much of an Olympic swimmer or a ballroom dancer. I’m not much of any kind of dancer, although I can recite dad jokes with legitimate pride now … and I have the ability to embarrass my son by any one of a number of things.

I am, however, an educator. Note, please, my choice of word and what I did not say. I am not a teacher; I couldn’t ever do the job of an effective teacher in a school. Bryan comes home often inspired by what he’s learnt and we have endless conversations about things he’s been told in the classroom – from religion to maths and from sex education to good grammar.

But that’s not all he learns at school; how to figure out social scenarios are just as important, and that’s not something that can be entirely taught in a classroom or at home. We can model good behaviour – show how it should be done – but then allow him the freedom to get stuck in and see how people treat him when he interacts with them, and how that makes him feel.

Every child is different, and I want Bryan to learn so many different things; how to hold polite conversation, how to craft a story, and how to be independent are just three examples. When school was first out for him, I decided to stick to a 9am to 3pm day – particularly on those days when I needed to work; he needs to see that my work is important as well as his.

But 9am to 3pm doesn’t work for all kids at home; it doesn’t for Bryan. He needs it broken down differently, and he needs more reassurance and guidance, so this week I tried something different. We focused on a single topic – dinosaurs – and I structured the week and then watched Bryan work.

And what a difference; we spent a fascinating hour in the park experimenting with different speeds to see what it would feel like to run as a dinosaur (and that doubled as PE – bonus). We spent another afternoon on a nature walk, wondering what the area would have looked like in prehistoric times – and, at the same time, we discovered almost every single type of bird that lives in King George VI Park. Writing factsheets and a blog on different dinosaurs counted as English, and his maths came from daily sums all connected to dinosaurs. We even did some art, drawing his favourite dinosaur, and he had to give a presentation to me and his grandparents (over Skype) on all that he’d learnt.

He loved it, responding far more to the topic, and seemed to be absorbed more in detail. That, and the daily creative and intellectually-stimulating challenges that he was set by a friend, gave him variety without a formal series of lessons. It works for some kids, but this worked better for Bryan.

I’m no teacher, but I’m an educator – all parents are. Children learn from us, whether we intend that or not. The amount of dogs we’ve seen out on our daily exercise routes is beyond measure, and we always investigate what breeds they are; he is doing chores around the house to see what work I have to do to keep things going, and we always eat lunch together at the table – where we always bring a fact with us to share.