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Book Byte: Painless Learning!

Happy school year, guys! It’s the weekend and I’m posting an entry about SCHOOL! YAAAY!

It’s just that the past few weeks I’ve been getting nostalgic flashbacks of buying school supplies and books, and the morning bustle of my dad, me and my sister getting ready for work and school as my mom rushed around helping all of us out get out the door on time. I remember on very rainy days the house seemed so cozy, and everything about our morning ritual just seemed…strangely perfect. There was a homey bustle to the start of school that I loved then and now. *happy sigh*

Okay, so I haven’t been in school for 2 years, which is long enough to start missing it a little, so I probably don’t fully empathize with the frustration and stress students of all ages (and their parents) are feeling right about now. ^_~ Actually, sometimes I still get nightmares about going back to high school in my real, current life, and when I wake up I have to convince myself that I am NOT still in school.

But hey, I’ve paid my dues, and it feels great to be out of the system, but I always look back fondly at my school days, especially the things I learned. I went to a Montessori school for a good part of my education, and it was exactly my speed. We learned everything from the standard school subjects to gardening, to dance…there was so much to learn and they gave me freedom to do it my way, which made a big difference. I had a thirst for knowledge that seemed nigh unquenchable sometimes! I realize this is not the completely “normal” attitude of most children. I was the kid who was horrible at math, but I would read historical picture books front to back usually in one sitting. (This has translated into the drive I have to do research for my books. See? It all works out!) I was also the high schooler that stayed home every night writing or making websites instead of hanging out with friends, but that’s beside the point.

But just because I was more nerdy doesn’t mean school was easy! Academically, not every class was fun, and sometimes learning stuff meant pretty much beating yourself in the head with information until it stuck. This is called “study-ing.” Even as a college student, how I would long for a teacher who would make the information interesting to ingest, because then I’d be learning without knowing it!

This is actually the key to today’s entry. Thinking about my student days and all the “school knowledge” I learned as a child, I sat back and reminisced about all the wonderful ways I internalized some of the information I carry with me today. So in honor of this new school year, I’ve made a brief list of the books and other media that really helped make learning interesting and fun, even painless!

Classical Kids
My mom has always loved music, especially classical, and she gently tried to instill that love in my sister and I by taking us to performances and concerts, and also playing the music now and then. When she got these tapes, long after I’d become a fan, I suddenly became engrossed. This audio drama series tell stories about composers from the eyes of kids, and some are realistic while others are pure fantasy! But each episode focuses on one composer, and throughout the story they only use that composer’s music to score it. Even though the stories are made up, there’s a bit of real history in there about the composers, and while your ear is being trained to recognize certain songs by each composer, it suddenly becomes VERY easy to answer questions in music class. And all because you were listening to an audio drama with a great story!
PS: The image I’m showing here is in the style of the old cassette tape covers, which I like better than the new covers, which you can see on the Amazon page.

Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists
Ever since I was little, I loved drawing and coloring, so my mom (it’s nice having a teacher for a mom) got me the Mary Cassatt book in this series. They tell about the lives of famous artists with easy to understand history, but its portrayed through funny little cartoons! You learn about their art, their famous paintings and their struggles, and all kinds of facts. I learned that Mary Cassatt was one of the artist pioneers of the Impressionist movement, and that Vincent Van Gogh was so poor at one point that he had to choose between buying food and clothing, or paint. And he’d buy the paint. The author and illustrator, Mike Venezia, has put together many books for this series including more modern artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Dorothea Lange, and he has similar series like “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers,” (including the likes of The Beatles and John Sousa), “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Inventors and Scientists” and “Getting to Know the US Presidents.” They’re VERY easy reads too, so they’re perfect for younger kids.

The I Hate Mathematics! Book

As I said, math was not my friend as a kid. I even wrote a poem called “Math is Messing Up My Life.” When my parents very wisely handed me this book, I was definitely incredulous. But, I willingly read it, and it actually put math into perspective. It told you about all the interesting different things you could do with math, from puzzles to real life application. I have to admit that when I finished reading it, I didn’t hate math as much anymore 😛

Various Computer Games
Computer games were also very successful, like Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit and the Clue Finders 3rd (and higher) Grade Adventures. I even practiced typing with a computer game (the name escapes me). I even remember scrounging for information on Microsoft Encarta, the old CD-ROM encyclopedia. It was like Wikipedia, just…with limits 😉 but I would stay on there for hours. Of course, I played around on all of these in the ’90s, so I’m not sure if/how they’ve changed, but they were a lot of fun for me! Though, other than the routine practice of recognizing math problems or picking up little tidbits here and there, I can’t think of one exact thing I learned from computer games. I might have been too engrossed in the story to really care about what I was doing 😛

Naturally, there are many others, including the history picture books I read cover to cover that I don’t remember the name of. If I find out, I’ll post the info here! And if I remember a lot more, there might be a Part 2! What were your favorite ways to learn as a kid? Or if you are a kid, what are your favorite books or games that taught you something?

Thanks for reading, guys! Enjoy your long weekend!


  • Rosanne

    My friend Teagan and I are having similar flashbacks, but he’s having flashbacks of college (getting back into the midst of dorm life, etc). I, on the other hand, am having flashbacks over how new all your school supplies smell before you break them in. It’s like you’re glorified plastic for a few days.

    For the record: I hate math.

    Are you still having those nightmares about sitting in a test naked or not turning an assignment in on time? Those will haunt you to your grave.

    While you were playing Mathbusters I was listening to Books on Tape (or on records LAWLZ) during class.

  • Christina A. Nelson

    YESSS! THe smell of new school supplies is heavenly!

    My nightmares are more like “OMG I’m late for class! I lost my schedule so I don’t know what day I have anything! I’m a part time student because of my job so I don’t really care, so why am I here anyway??” Thankfully, no naked humiliation 😀

    Oh wow, you were listening to records? COOL! Yeah, that’s another one, books on tape! But they were mostly fantasy-types for me, so maybe they’re not as hardcore “learning,” but I bet I picked up a few new words, and my memory is lined with the way the actors delivered certain lines!