Tuesday 10 September 2013

Learn through play

The neighbour’s boy hovers around the patio.
‘Can Tijm come out to play?’
‘Sure,’ I nod, and call inside, ‘Tijm, come out, your friend is here to play.’
Tijm pokes his head around the door.
‘No,’ he shakes. ‘I am doing my homework.’
‘I think you have done enough homework,’ I reply, ‘come out, it has stopped raining for a minute.’
‘No, I want to do more homework,’ he yells back.
I walk over, and, after a heated struggle, have to forcibly remove him from behind the computer.

For me, being Dutch, a five year old doing homework at all is freaky enough. Five year olds in the Netherlands learn through play. At least, that is what I think; I have not actually set foot in a Dutch primary since the late eighties. It does not surprise me though, that it is the English department of the Dutch international school issuing homework first. At age five, Tijm loves it. With this kind of homework, what’s not to like? 

The program has to be American. Together we log in, and start reading. Every time Tijm listens to a book, he earns stars. Every time he reads a book himself, he earns more stars. If he records his reading for the teacher, bonus stars. All the questions right on the quiz? Extra super bonus stars. As the stars accumulate, Tijm’s rank climbs. From private to lieutenant-commander, he is now a captain. With stars earned he can buy prizes. To do that, he has to take his rocket, and fly to one of his planets. For thousands of stars he can purchase new planets, in fancy colours. That is, if he saves them, and stops spending. On his first planet Tijm has a room where he can store his star purchases. So far he bought: a cactus that grows cupcakes, a pirate-gorilla-robot, a red desk chair, a furry orange creature, a floating squarish robot, a telescope, and a funny plant with eyes on sockets.

As soon as Tijm gets up, or gets home from school, he rushes to the computer to earn more stars. He reads, reads, and reads. One book a week, the teacher suggested. The first day, together, we polish off level aa, around fifteen books. The next day, when I am not watching, he clears most of level A. Together we record some of his level A reading for the teacher, and I must admit, I am impressed by my five year old, smoothly reading the words in this language that is not his first. When I am away in the afternoon he finishes level B. The next day, together, we try level C, and he struggles. Past tenses, played instead of play, ate instead of eat. I start to explain tenses, past, present, future, and wonder how far ahead we are getting? In his Dutch class they are learning to spell ‘I am’.

At the suggested rate of one book a week, he would have reached C in about a year. But there is no stopping Tijm. And I find myself pondering a question I never thought I would: How can I dissuade my son from doing so much homework?


  1. I am sending my son right over!
    Btw, hoping Tijm is not feeling too poorly!

    1. He not too great, he struggles to walk from joint pain :( But the fact that is is allowed unlimited Ipad on the sofa does soften the blow, I think.