It's all in the mind!
"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."
Hands up if you know who said that... Well, I'll tell you - it was Albert Einstein, and he was right.
The imagination of a child is a beautiful thing. As a teacher, you can exploit this to create a classroom environment that is both comfortable and safe, and scary and adventurous... and full of fantastical educational possibilities.
Kids may be young and have a limited knowledge of their surroundings and the world in general but they have first class instincts. If you play your hand well, you can create a wonderful learning world for them.
Over the past five years I have studied this closely with the kids I teach and as each year progresses their own sense of what is allowed to be 'unreal' changes a little bit, but always there seems to be a formula for fantasy that works. (More on that later.)
Maybe it takes a teacher with the mind of a child to really tap into what works and what doesn't and, unfortunately, most of what I've seen does not!
It is this lack of respect for a child's instincts that gets me so frustrated.
Trawling YouTube and computer 'apps' has left me disappointed and appalled at what passes for 'useful and rewarding edutainment.' The mountain of garbage that masquerades as 'fun learning for kids' is absolutely staggering in both its volume and collective uselessness.
I'd say that almost every video I watch on YouTube that professes to be 'educational' and ‘fun' for kids is in actual fact, lazy, dull and unimaginative crap made by lazy, dull and unimaginative educators.
If YOU like it, they will, too.
I feel better now I've got that off my chest, but it does anger me that this garbage is seen by parents and teachers to have any value at all.
A lot of it is well meaning. There has been a considerable effort made to produce this stuff but that doesn't make it any more than what it is... a feeble-minded attempt to profit from the cash-cow industry of trying to make education fun and attractive to kids.
If you really enjoy your work and genuinely like your students then you'll already have the skillset needed to be able to determine what kids will enjoy while they are learning. My rule of thumb is... if I don't like it, my students won't either.
If you are bound by a strict curriculum then your options may be somewhat limited. In most Thai schools though, if you are accepted as a serious teacher by your colleagues and your employers then you can work in your own methods of teaching with your own materials.
The rules of fantasy plots have always been the same, from the centuries old, nightmarish tales of The Brother's Grimm to modern movies like Harry Potter.
There has to be someone you can identify with or root for, there have to be good guys and bad guys... and in the end, the good guys must win.
That's it. It's not complicated. Every story ever told (that was worth telling) is based on this simple recipe. There are different ways of telling these fantasies ranging from Snow White to Star Wars but the song remains the same.
For educators, the secret is to know which worlds to adopt and adapt into teaching tools.
Over the years I've come up with many different, interesting and varied fantasy worlds with which to hypnotize my prathom students (aged 12 and under) but none of them have had the enduring and addictive effect of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This incredible movie has all the ingredients needed to make English classes fascinating and addictive.
To make it work as a teaching tool took hundreds of hours of preparation. It's a very long movie and some of it is a bit naff. So I edited it down to three half-hour chapters and added colored captions. Over the course of a month, we watch, study and learn English in this fantasy world. There are quizzes after each episode and related apps the students can play, too.
Believe in the unreal!
Whatever you think of the impact this has on the actual learning of the English language, for me and my students, it's just plain good fun. When Thai youngsters are faced with a bewildering subject to learn at school, half the battle that teachers have is getting kids to take an interest in it.
If you have the freedom at your school, there are few better ways of capturing your student's attention than through fantastical worlds of make-believe. It has worked for centuries in the past and it can work for you today.