Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kids Learn by Playing - Duh!

Another brilliant post today by The Knitting Sailor - Five Go Sailing - in which she documents the ups and downs of teaching five kids "RYA stage three." According to the RYA website this involves getting the kids to the point where they can "launch and sail a dinghy around a triangle in moderate conditions."

Hmmm. This is about the stage I have been stuck at for the last thirty years but, apparently, kids in England master this level after about six days of instruction. No wonder the little bastards are winning so many Olympic medals these days.

I had a good chuckle at this post because the knitting sailor (I think her real name is Victoria) experiences in the one day of teaching these five kids to sail many of the perils that I faced too when first working as a junior sailing instructor. These included...

  • Kids with a limited attention span not paying attention to my very limited briefings.
  • Kids launching their boats and scattering to all five corners of the lake. (Coincidentally Lake Hopatcong where I taught sailing is almost exactly the same area as Kielder Water where Victoria is teaching. Five kids going in five different directions can spread a long way in 10 square kilometers!)
  • Multiple kids (by now spread out in 10 sq kms) needing simultaneous urgent safety support from the one available safety boat.
  • Little kid unable to right capsized boat because little kid's weight on centerboard is insufficient to right the boat even with instructor trying to lift the top of the mast so instructor has to jump into the water and right the boat. (I have to give Victoria extra points here. I'm sure Kielder Water in May is a lot colder than Lake Hopatcong was in July.)

After what feels like a wasted morning, Victoria rethinks her approach over "a luxury lunch of a tin of Pea and Ham soup," (more bonus points to Victoria here - the lunches at Lake Hopatcong YC were definitely more luxurious) - and comes up with a plan for the afternoon involving...

  • Fun
  • Competition
  • Bribery (a prize of chocolate for the winner of a tacking competition.)

And it worked. The kids were engaged and actually learned something.

Sooner or later everyone teaching kids to sail learns these lessons (or goes crazy.) Kids like to play. Kids like to have fun. If you can make it fun, kids will learn faster.

At first I struggled a bit to balance Safety and Fun and Learning.

Safety is important but if all you do is focus on safety then the kids don't have fun and don't learn anything either.

Learning is important too. (Isn't that what the parents are paying me for? No wait, they are really paying me to look after their kids while they go shopping and out to lunch with their friends. But hey, they call me a sailing INSTRUCTOR so I'm damn well going to INSTRUCT the little bastards something.) But if all you do is teach boring theory lessons and then run boring sailing drills the kids soon lose interest and don't learn anything either.

Fun is easy. Kids will have fun on and around the water even without your help. But they won't learn much. They might even drown themselves or their friends. The secret is to organize safe structured play that is fun that will also help them to develop their skills.

After a while you realize that you don't really need to make trade-offs between safety and fun and learning. They actually complement each other. Create a safe environment, and organize fun activities on the water and on the land that help the kids to develop specific sailing skills. And they will learn. The little bastards had better learn.

I think it took me the best part of six years to figure all this out. Victoria seems to have got it right on her first day.

Check out her story at Five Go Sailing.

Bonus points if anyone can figure out WTF the kids in that picture are doing and WTF it has to do with this post.


George A said...

My guesses are that the kids are playing in the foamy ocean surf that occurs under certain conditions almost every year up and down the Atlantic coast and that they're having fun even if (especially if) this grosses out their mothers.

Baydog said...

George A comes out of hibernation!

Baydog said...

If you learn to sail on shifty Lake Hopatcong, you should be able to sail anywhere.

O Docker said...

At first, I thought this was the house band from the Sasquatch Music Festival, but on second thought, George A is probably closer to the truth. The waters may be Australian, though.

Tillerman said...

I think the Docker of O is correct. The site I stole this pic from (yes I know I shouldn't do this - I am a bad person) said something about the "Gold Coast." I think that was the old name for Ghana but these kids don'e look very Ghanaian. Isn't there a Gold Coast near Brisbane?

bonnie said...

I vaguely remember seeing similar pictures referring to the Cappucino Coast - I thought they were just talking about the foam but maybe they were playing with "Gold Coast", too...

bonnie said...

Oh, wow. There you go.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Tillerman,
I have just seen this post - I have obviously missed it at the time - so just wanted to say thank you!
If only my instructing lived up to this write up!
(and it is Victoria!)

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