Get out of their way!

“Kids are born curious. Period…. If you’re a child, you are curious about your environment. You’re overturning rocks. You’re plucking leaves off of trees and petals off of flowers, looking inside, and you’re doing things that create disorder in the lives of the adults around you.

 

And so then so what do adults do? They say, “Don’t pluck the petals off the flowers. I just spent money on that. Don’t play with the egg. It might break. Don’t….” Everything is a don’t.”

The key point Neil deGrasse Tyson makes?

“Help them explore.”

Set out some binoculars or a magnifying glass or something as equally interesting.. and most importantly get out of their way and let them explore!

Child-Led Solar System Exploration

I’ve been greatly influenced by both Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies in which we are encouraged to “follow the child” and explore using “the hundred languages of children“. This is where this next exploration came from: V’s interest in working on a project and exploring it through different materials.

A few weeks ago V was telling me about a project some of her classmates had been working on at school. She decided that she wanted to work on it at home. She needed: black paper, pencil crayons, and play doh. The project subject: The Solar System.

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Her first task was to draw the planets. Referring to a Magic School Bus Space poster that we had, Violet started by drawing the sun, followed by colouring each planet in relation to it’s proximity from the sun all while carefully selecting colours that reflect the planet’s characteristics.

I’m not going to say she was all that careful about her drawing! At times I wanted to say “Slow down!” or “Colour more carefully” but I resisted critiquing and instead quickly became envious of her free flowing approach to drawing. I might have reminded her to make it a sphere or circle here or there… I couldn’t resist!

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

As we went along we discussed some key characteristics of each planet:

Mercury: Lots of craters, Very hot and no water.

Venus: Clouds of deadly yellow poison called sulfuric acid. Covered with rocks.

Earth: Only planet in our solar system with oxygen and liquid water. Rocky planet.

Mars: The iron in soil makes the planet red. All water is frozen in polar ice caps.

Jupiter: Largest planet and has 16 moons. Made up mostly of gas.

Saturn: Surrounded by rings of ice, rock, and dust. Made up of gas.

Uranus: The gas methane makes the planet look blue-green. Travels around the sun on its side.

Neptune: Cold, dark, and blue. Strong wind.

V went on to sculpt some of the planets as well as the sun and the moon. I went off to do something else and came back to Saturn…

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

.. and Earth.. V: “The green is the grass and blue is the water.”

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.comI’m not sure she ever completed every planet but she felt satisfied with her solar system exploration.

A few days later, V came home with her school solar system project! Goes to show that just because they’ve done it once doesn’t mean they can’t practice it again.. especially when the interest is there!

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

The best way to teach creativity?

I’m all about options and looking at things from different angles and perspectives. This is why when I saw this Ted talk by Raghava KK, it awakened an important realization for me in my quest to learn about ways to nurture creativity. The following statement (a screen capture) from Raghava’s talk, says it all:

Raghava KK on Creativity, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Looking at situations, things and issues from different perspectives brings to light so much more information and IDEAS, thinking, and as Raghava points out biases. This next screen capture further intrigued my desire to teach perspectives:

Raghava KK's Ted Talk, Shake up your story, http://keepingcreativityalive.comIt’s so true, isn’t it? Understanding others’ perspectives equals empathy. So how do we teach perspectives to children? Here are some of my thoughts…

How to teach perspective:

  • Share stories, lots of stories about different places, different people and different experiences. Leave your bias out of the equation. Celebrate differences!
  • Observe the different styles that are out there. Different types of architecture, different forms of art and dance. Different types of music. Everyone has their own preferences. Recognize this and foster the attitude that we are all unique and value different things.
  • Practice looking at a situation from different angles. Again, this could be done through storytelling or through real life situations. As different people how they felt or reacted to a situation, compare notes and observe the similarities and differences.
  • Look at art, the more obscure or abstract the better and talk about what you think it is about. Notice how different people will see different things based on their own observations and experiences.
  • See how different people approached the same challenge using similar materials in different ways. Give a group of kids the same materials (for example recycled materials such as toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, elastics, paper, tape etc.) and give them a challenge. The challenge could be to make something that floats, moves, flies, or whatever you decide.
  • Experience a different culture or community. This need not involve getting on an airplane, although it could. Maybe there’s a mennonite community nearby or a local community centre celebrating a cultural holiday that is different than your own.
  • “Give children books that teach them perspectives.” Raghava KK.  Select great books that are set in different places and that share different types of lifestyles than your own families. Books that show that there are many sides to a story.
  • Write a book together. This book can be about one event but told from the point of view of different characters.

I’m sure there are many other great ideas, please share your ideas in the comments!

Building Self Awareness and Confidence

Building Confidence in Kids, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Through my contemplations about what it means to be creative I keep going back to one thing: Confidence. Having the confidence to try new things, to explore and to create.

I’ve been thinking a lot about things I can do to help my little ones build confidence.

A few days ago I came across a link to a blog article titled “Would you let your baby do this?” Intrigued I clicked through and read the article and of course watched the video. It really caused me to pause and think about my own parenting style and how I would have handled myself in that situation.

Then I was in that situation. A day or two later I was at the park with my girls. E went for the climbing wall and I decided that rather than help her climb the wall as I had the week before I would watch closely… and on a whim I decided to video tape the experience.

“I did it!”

This video absolutely captures for me what Janet Lansbury’s article is all about: allowing children the opportunity to practice their gross motor skills without interfering and observing the benefits!

What struck me the most as this was taking place is that E asked for help remembering that I had helped her before. She had developed a bit of dependency and thought she needed the help. I let her climb and she asked again “Mommy Help Evelyn.” Again I didn’t  say anything but I watched closely, not touching her.  (The part where the camera moves was me carefully watching to make sure I was there to catch her if she fell, but I didn’t touch her and she made it to the top!) In this moment she realized she could do it! I can watch this over and over and over again.

This video was her first solo attempt. After reaching the top, she went down the slide and practiced her climbing an additional 3 times, each time proclaiming “See! I did it!” with great pride and confidence!

Building confidence is a practice.

I share this experience here because it was a great reminder to me that sometimes it’s best to stand back (but not too far back in this case!) and observe. To let children practice, fall, explore, try, concentrate, make decisions, question and find their own answers because when they do the reward is so much greater than if I had helped her climb the wall.

This experience also demonstrated for me that helping our children doesn’t always help them. I’m just glad that I realized this soon enough that she didn’t not try because she didn’t think she could do it herself.

I have come to understand that creativity has everything to do with confidence. Building confidence is a practice that needs nurturing. It can be lost and found again. Artist Kelly Rae Roberts thoughtfully talks about this on her blog and offers ideas for inviting confidence back into your life.

Thank you Janet Lansbury for sharing your article again highlighting the benefits of RIE parenting and reminding me to stand back sometimes.

 Photo credit: ‘ I can because I think I can’ letterpress print by Print and Be Merry.

Field Trip : Hamilton Children’s Museum

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Inspired by the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, we decided to check out our local Children’s Museum! Totally on a different scale and calibre but overall I’d have to say that our outing was successful.

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

The kids were engaged…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

They observed…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

They collaborated…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

They created…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

And they practiced critical thinking…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

My take away from our experience is that overall it’s a fun place to visit. It has also inspired me to further establish mini creative areas in our home to inspire collaboration, creativity, critical thinking. How cool would it be to have a felt wall at home?!

Have you been to a Children’s Museum? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

The Association of Children’s Museum’s lists Children’s Museums Around the World and in The United States.

Don’t correct! …Oops, did I just correct you?

FRAJIL sign, Building confidence in kids, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Like all parents in this world, I’m learning as I go along. In the early days of my first child’s craft projects I’d hover over her making sure that she did as she was ‘supposed to’.. putting the marshmallows on the lines just so and making sure the eyes went in the ‘right’ place. I’ve long tossed that approach out the window in favour for not just creativity’s sake but for the sake of confidence building.

Early on I realized that when I interfered or corrected, I was taking the joy out of the experience. A shift would occur in my child in which she would immediately lose interest. She’d give up her power and didn’t want to play anymore. She felt like she must have been doing it wrong, or worse couldn’t do it at all and didn’t want to even try. Think about when you are trying something for the first time and struggle a bit. If you had someone standing over your shoulder ready to intervene you’d probably lose your focus and motivation too. I know I would.

That’s why today I make every effort to stand back and observe. I resist the urge to assist by taking joy in watching discovery unfold.

The FRAJIL photo above.. let me tell you how that came to be… V’s aunt, a trained Montessori teacher (and Masters in Montessori Grad!) was over for a visit. Violet takes great joy in giving people gifts and especially to those she have an extra special place in her heart for, like Katie. Violet created a gift for Katie using the play dough we made the day before. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was.. I’m not sure I even got to see it before it went into this envelope. In fact, knowing V it was probably meant as a surprise for Katie to open when she got home! V sealed the envelope but made sure to announce to Katie: “you have to be very careful with this!”

I was only half listening at the time, but I think I piped up and said “You should put a sign on it that says FRAGILE.” V immediately ran over to her Art Station to grab a marker (looks like we need new markers!) and asked how do you spell FRAGILE? Katie, being the amazing teacher that she is, started sounding it out “FFFFF.” Violet listened carefully then put her head down to write the letter associated with each sound one after the next. Once she was done she proudly put her marker away and handed the gift to Katie who now had the reminder to be careful with her FRAJIL gift.

We, adults, sort of smiled at one another feeling proud of V’s interest and motivation to write. Without Katie in our lives I’m pretty sure I would have corrected V in the spelling of FRAGILE but I’m so glad that’s not the case. Being right about the spelling is so much less important than building the confidence in trying and sustaining the interest to learn. The correct spelling will come.

Creating Innovators

Creating Innovators. The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World addresses these questions through in-depth profiles of young innovators and the adults who have made a difference in their lives, as well as vivid descriptions of innovation-driven classrooms and places of work.

YES! This is what my intention for this blog is all about. Looking at what we can do as parents and caregivers and teachers to foster creative minds that will innovate and make positive changes in the world!

Some quotes from the video that resonate with me:

“Raising someone with an intention that they’ll be an innovator is actually different than raising a child that you want to behave all the time and be quite compliant.” – Annemarie Neal, Cisco Vice President

“Let them fail because they are going to learn more from that than we can ever teach them directly.”

“Our success is measured by the rate of innovation.”

This leaves me pondering: what more can I do to encourage my children to be innovators?

Here are some answers to my own question; some of which I’ve instinctively been practicing. It’s a work in progress and there’s certainly always a lot of room for pushing and challenging myself to inspire and create learning opportunities for my kids at home. In any case, this is where I’m at in the process:

  • Provide opportunities to practice decision making.
  • Support the decision made.
  • As per supporting and encouraging independent thinking via decision making (as an example), build confidence. One example is standing behind decisions that are made. Providing positive feedback and praise when appropriate and relevant. Or acknowledging good thinking and new ideas: “that’s a great idea!”
  • Provide problem solving activities regularly.  A lot of times children will come up with their own challenges to solve. Ha! Like the time V wanted to get through the fence to visit the neighbourhood girls. She decided she’d use scissors to cut a hole in the wood to crawl through. When that didn’t work she ran inside to get a pencil to draw a door that she could open. This went on for a while! I can’t actually remember how she resolved her challenge.
  • Dedicate time each day where children can follow their own interests and curiosities, daydream or pursuit a project/game/activity idea.

What are ways that you foster innovation with your kids?

Day Dreaming and Free Play

I’m taking some time this weekend reflecting on how we’ll spend our ‘free’ time in the upcoming weeks and months over winter.  I like the idea of getting V involved in activities like swimming and gymnastics to get her moving but I’m torn because I like the free play that she engages with on her own. She comes up with the most random little activities almost like mini science experiments or musical and dance performances. It’s amazing.

I came across this passage from Naomi Aldort in response to a mother’s question about her child seeming bored at home and it’s encouraged me to reconsider scheduling activities (in the mornings anyway).

Know that day dreaming and doing “nothing” is when the greatest learning takes place. What you call “bored” comes from believing the idea that he should play and be busy externally. Yet, just because we are trained to expect play and activities does not mean that it is best for the child. It is not. Keep in mind Einstein’s famous words, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When free to be themselves, and without parental expectations hovering over their heads, children spend much time daydreaming, imagining things and stories, listening and gazing at nature. This is an amazing learning tool that you don’t want to interrupt.

… Expose him to life opportunities, and let him take what he is drawn to in his own time and his own way. And, cherish his hours of pondering and inner work.

Early Childhood Development – Dr. Fraser Mustard

“The first six years of life set the stage for lifelong learning, behaviour, health and well-being.” Dr. J Fraser Mustard

Dr. Fraser Mustard, renowned for his work in early human development passed away November 16th, 2011.  I hadn’t heard of him until seeing articles celebrating his life for his unwaivering championing of the importance of early brain development.  But I have certainly felt his impact through the Early Years Centres that I’ve enjoyed using over the years. And I certainly share his passion for the importance of the early years in a child’s life.

Together with Margaret McCain, he co-authored the original Early Learning Report that illustrated the importance of a child’s experiences (of lack thereof) during the first six years of a child’s life. This study impacted how we perceived and valued early learning. As a result, the province of Ontario set up Early Years Centres, made more funding available for various early learning initiatives and in 2010 started phasing in full day kindergarten.

Can I tell you how impressive these Early Years Centre are? I see these centres in cities and towns across our province (there are several location in my town) and the services they provide are incredible – from nursery school classes, parenting seminars, parent and tot activities and on and on. It’s a huge support system for families and judging by the parking lot and wait lists to get into some of the classes it’s a resource that is well used in the community.

I dug a little deeper to learn more about this intriguing man who had six children of his own and found this CBC interview.  In it, he talks about two key factors that can positively improve a child’s development: good nutrition and opportunities for problem based learning. He also discusses the importance of human evolution and parenting as discussed in the book Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. I’ll definitely be checking that out.

He’s an inspiring man.  He certainly inspired many to carry on his mission. Below are organizations that resulting from inspiration or a direct influence of Dr. Fraser Mustard. RIP.

With the Brain In Mind

Kids Can Fly

Lastly, I need to include this interview in which Dr. Mustard is asked “Why is 6 the magic age? Six and under.. what needs to be done and why?” The answer? The very reason I am so passionate about this topic.