Tuesday 26 September 2017

Gloriously curious - why good education starts with fun

I remember sitting in my classroom, aged six, trying to remember words for my vocabulary test. It was difficult to become passionate about words that had little connection or relevance to me. I did, however, sometimes find certain words funny – those that had double meaning or that were a little bit cheeky, but also those that had great sound and intonation. I had no idea that alliteration made sentences sound more fun or that onomatopoeia made words funnier. Of course we need to learn words that are less poetic too, but a good education in English starts with a love of words. Language for me is both useful and beautiful, both a necessity and a joy. As a child I craved emotion and expression – if anyone started to analyse words and add formulas without the combination of those things my mind had already wandered. Where’s the fun in that?

Fun. Ah yes, that essential part of learning that as adults we negate. We somehow forget that fun and learning go hand in hand: we create formulas and rules and expect children to follow suit. We place the joke books and the educational books on different shelves. But what if we combined both? And in doing so what if we created fresh enthusiasm for learning where it has otherwise been dull? What if we allowed our children to just go wild with imagination? What if we focussed not on rules and formulas but encouraged them to discover?

As an illustrator and designer my job has always been to produce work that is not only beautiful but useful: not only fun but functional. Yet there are still boundaries that I am subjected to with each brief - I am following instruction as well as trying to bring something of my own imagination. There has always been a tension there regarding trying new things - it often seems wiser to play it safe. But children do not play safe and sometimes we would do well to take a leaf out of their books. How can we develop fresh discovery in our own work too and find new discoveries and inventions? How can we solve problems differently? 

One day I was illustrating cocktails for a drinks menu I was working on. I suddenly became aware of sniggering behind my ear and as I turned I was met by my, then four year old, son who had found what I was drawing incredibly amusing.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“You don’t put limes and lemons in drinks,” he said. 

“Well, what would you put in a drink?” I asked.

The following hour was filled with no holds barred ideas - snails, piranhas and orangutan poo. We used lots of describing words, alliteration and onomatopoeia as we wrote down silly recipes. We didn’t even realise that’s what we were doing because we were too busy having fun. Learning anything was not even on our agenda, it was a happy by-product. So what if a sentence contains slugs, slime and pond water if it is well formed? So what if education comes in the form of old lady farts and bogies? 

Not only did we learn about literacy and invention, we also decided to make a few of the cocktails for real and turn them into edible recipes, with raspberries disguised as boils and liquorice as spiders legs. We learnt a lot about working with solids and liquids and working with measurements. We described how things felt and looked – we found words that expressed colour and shape. Our vocabulary grew and so too our love of words.

I decided to turn our findings into a book that was both educational and fun, complete with hilarious and nonsensical recipes, educational activities and real recipes that kids can make (and contrary to how they may look, they taste great too!). The book helps to develop children’s imagination and literacy skills, incorporating design, problem solving and working with different materials. It is a book that was born out of play and imagination but it has an important message – that discoveries are often found in unexpected places and with unexpected people. Being curious is not something that is left in the classroom but something we should cultivate in everyday life. The Glorious Book of Curious Cocktails is available on the crowd funding website Kickstarter from September 26th.

Please back our project here!

Warning, may contain poo.

If you liked this post why not follow my Facebook page?