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Learning Outside the (Idiot) Box
by Nancy Wooton

Did you know birds' bones not only are hollow (I learned that from PBS's “Dinosaur”), but are interconnected with the respiratory system? My daughter told me that today. “Wildlife Emergency,” on Animal Planet, taught her. My son learned the rules for tennis from a video game, which he then explained to me while watching Monica Seles lose to Venus Williams during the Olympics. Now he's interested in learning to play tennis.

Discovery Channel has a program called “Assignment Discovery,” made for classroom use, but broadcast every morning. Did you know horseshoe crabs have blue blood, because it contains copper, not iron? We've learned about the human body, ancient Rome, marine biology, weather, you name it, and have accessed lesson plans and activities at their website.

National Geographic Explorer, Discovery Channel, NOVA, Popular Mechanics for Kids, Bill Nye, Magic Schoolbus, countless other programs have opened whole worlds to our family. I will never climb Mt. Everest, yet I've been to the top. I'll never deep-sea dive, but I've seen Titanic lying on the ocean floor. Of course, my kids read a ton, too, including books about Everest and Titanic, but they know how to use the TV, Internet, computer programs, games, books, movies, museums, and other people, to learn what they need to know.

There is a downside to TV inspiration: Thanks to Comedy Central, my son is now obsessed with Battlebots, that strange combination of high-tech robotics and professional wrestling. He and his dad attended this year's tournament, met a number of favorite robot builders, and even got their autographs. But he'll have to find someone else to help him build a robot, because his parents have no clue how to work a welding torch.

Learning doesn't come in one package, and if the Idiot Box contains some, by golly, I'll flip the “On” switch.

Nancy Wooton is a 42 year-old wife and mom of two unschooled children, ages 14 and 11. She spends her free time writing for internet sites and magazines devoted to homeschooling, training her dog, and learning the ancient art of Eastern Orthodox Christian iconography, specifically, embroidering icons for church use.

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