Homeschooling With American Girl Dolls
by Ruth Ross
I have four daughters that all claim to be the world's biggest American Girl doll fan.
Reluctant at first to purchase dolls that I thought were overpriced, I have found that they have been well worth the investment and have provided many benefits to my girls.
I'm a homeschooling mom so I'm always looking for a fun way to sneak in a school lesson here and there. American Girl dolls have helped me teach over and over again and they have helped my girls make that "mental connection" needed for real learning. It's that light bulb moment that every parent and teacher can see on a child's face.
Every time period we have studied has included references to an American Girl Doll. Even my younger girls, ages 5 and 3, can reference a doll when I present a time period to them. Any reference to World War II brings up Molly. Mention the Wild West and some one will surly mention Kirsten. Civil War or slavery lessons always include Addy.
I have found that a doll is worth a thousand words.
So much is shown by these wonderfully costumed dolls and their stories. So much can be seen by the primitive furniture and accessories of Kirsten or the beautiful ritzy style of Samantha and her belongings. So many things are learned just by seeing. Our eyes absorb more than our ears.
We leave a mental implant in our children's mind when we can engage multiple senses. The more senses we engage, the better we remember.
Learning is not memorization. Learning is just that, learning. Discover something new, that you didn't know before and now you know it. Its not countless hours of learning facts or figures or spelling words. Its learning an idea and then being able to think independently to come up with your own solutions, based on that idea.
Memorization or fact recitation and dry text books kills creativity and independent thinking. We have to decide if we want to shape the minds of tomorrow's leaders or if we want carbon copies of today's teachers.
As a mom, I understand that I can't teach my children everything but I can inspire them to learn and to always be learning. To do this, learning has to be fun and interactive. They have to be allowed to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.
My girls are more attentive when I present a fictional story of a girl their age and the coordinating time period. It teaches them at their level, about how they might have lived in that same time period. They will engage their senses and emotions to create an imprint in their minds. They will learn enough to be able to draw their own conclusion and determine their own solutions.
Here's an example from our "classroom." We have spent some time learning about Felicity and the Colonial Time Period. We have done all kinds of activities from tea parties to crafts to a play about the Boston Tea Party. I asked my 7 year old, "Did Felicity have a microwave?" She looked at me like I was crazy and quickly answered, "No. Of course not." How does she know? Because our brains have these amazing "filing cabinets" in them. When we present our children with a fictional yet historically accurate story they are completely engaged. They learn so much more than what is said in the story. They are able to pair what is in the story with information already in their "filing cabinets" and come up with a solution to any question. Thus, we raise in independent thinker. Someone who is able to draw on life's lessons and experiences to be a problem solver and a leader. They're not reciting facts and being limited to what they have memorized but they are THINKING.
Any spelling bee winner will tell you that at some point along their quest for the trophy, they encountered a word that they had not memorized, perhaps never heard before yet they were able to figure out how to spell it and move on to the next round. How? Because they learned the rules, the basic information that helped them to think independently and solve the problem. If they are unsure of a word, they have the rules to fall back on. They think of the ethnicity of the word and the definition or the number of syllables and probably many more factors that this homeschooling mother is yet to discover and then they are able to spell the word correctly.
I have found that for our family's classroom, the Charlotte Mason teaching method works best. Charlotte Mason believed in exposing children to great literature as a means for leaning every subject, except math and penmanship. A controversial method, even for today, it is based on the "filing cabinet" system of our brains. Sure I was skeptical when I first encountered her methods but her thought, "Trust the process." continued to ring through my mind. Her methods call for using "live books" to teach every subject, even every topic. When you want to teach about the Pilgrims, get good literature about that specific topic. When you want to teach about birds, expose your children to books specifically about birds. Use writing that the author is passionate about, rather than dry, boring text books. Her idea is that they will learn spelling and grammar by being exposed to great literature. The process works. My girls are living proof.
American Girl books are great living books that all young girls will enjoy.
If we can combine some sort of hands on learning to the wonderful stories, we've done even better and likely created an imprint that will last a lifetime. A simple role play with their dolls can do so much for learning.
As a mom, my goal is not just to teach the history but the values that go along with the time period. Its about preserving a way of thinking and an innocence that has been lost through the years. I want to raise socially responsible girls that are compassionate and are great role models.
I can think of nothing better to be an example to them than the terrific characters that have come to life in both American Girl books and American Girl dolls.
If we can imagine the women that our girls will become, we would understand that the dolls are a worthwhile investment.
Ruth Ross is the "founding mom" of My 18 Inch Doll. A homeschooling mom of 4 girls, she often uses the stories of the American Girl Dolls to teach history and social responsibility. Discouraged by the high prices of American Girl, she started My 18 Inch Doll to offer other families an affordable option for quality furniture and clothing that fits American Girl and other 18 inch dolls.