As I have already mentioned on several occasions, I am an advocate for wholistic education. Wholism is a worldview that emphasizes, among other things, looking at connections. This point of view has many implications for those of us who support children learning. One of those implications has to do with the content of what we hope children will learn. My experiences first as a learner in public schools and then as a supervisor of student and in-service teachers was that much of what children are expected to learn is school was presented as disconnected tidbits that where very hard to remember because they were all disconnected. Wholistic educators like myself advocate helping children learn about big ideas that connect up those tidbits.

One of those big ideas is form and function. Form is the shape and other physical attributes of a thing while function is the actions that can be performed by or with that thing. For example, a cup is a concave non-porous object with sides, a bottom, no top, a hollow depression and maybe a handle. The function of a cup is to hold liquids so that a person can consume those liquids. In both the natural and designed world form and function go together. For example, long beaks enable humming birds to suck up nectar while scoop-like beaks enable pelicans to scoop up fish. 

Being able to identify how a thing’s form enables its functions and being able to design things so their form enables specific functions is a skill that had applications in many domains from biology to planning gardens to painting.

Kids from preschool aged on up can identify the physical features of things that support those things being able to do what they can do. All it takes is scaffolding in the form of age-appropriate questions. Your family’s task, should you chose to accept it, is to identify seven things, describe what those things can do and the physical characteristics of those things enables them to do what they can do.

With younger children, you can start this activity by pointing to objects they can name and asking them, “what is that?” For example, you might point at a chair. You can then ask them, “what do we use chairs for?” And then, “what about a chair makes it so we can sit in it?” If you need to scaffold more, you point to another object (e.g., a fork) and ask if it’s a chair and if not, why not? 


As always, please post questions and comments below.

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