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,

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,

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,

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

Child-Led Solar System project, https://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,

A Glimpse into the Future of Education: The Khan Academy

A Glimpse into the Future of Education: The Khan Academy,

While watching the CBC News tonight I saw this feature on Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy.

Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.

We are hearing a lot about how the education system needs to go through some major changes to keep up with technology and the way that children are taking in information. Khan Academy is all about that.

CBC News was so excited about this story that they posted additional footage of their interview with Khan where he explains how this project started as video tutorials for his cousins. On his family’s suggestion he posted these videos to YouTube where he soon found random people thanking him for helping their children learn concepts in math that they were struggling with.

What’s quite fascinating about this story is that the Khan Academy is actually a rather simple idea when you break it down. Sal (as student refer to him) provides a series of online tutorials on various subject matter that is explained in a very easy to understand way.

Khan took this further and created a full application for classroom use where teachers can gather data surrounding each student’s progress including content they are mastering and/or content they are stuck on. This tool empowers teachers to know exactly which kids need assistance and which peers can help struggling students to master the concepts as they have.

As Khan says, he is flipping the classroom model. Students can first study the topic at hand through the videos, then once in the classroom can apply the learning while the teacher is present to guide students and help when needed.

“A free world class education for anyone, anywhere.”

In 2011, Salman Khan talked at TedGlobal: “Let’s use video to reinvent education”.

Khan’s big vision is “a global one world classroom”.

As Bill Gates puts it: “This is a glimpse into the future of education.”

It’s Music Monday!

This is where you can watch the simultaneous space to earth concert for Music Monday.

So excited. What a great way to draw attention and excitement toward something so important: the importance of music in our schools and in our communities.


A Celebration of Music from Earth to Space and Back!

Have you seen this music video?  I didn’t quite understand at first that this was truly a live performance from space even though they show the guitar pick floating from weightlessness!

This video published earlier this year features the first space-to-earth musical collaboration with Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station, singing along with The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, Canadian Nation Showchoir champions.

The song, “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing) was commissioned by and The Coalition for Music Education with the Canadian Space Agency to celebrate music education in schools across Canada.

Seriously, Chris Hadfield is so awesome! A true Canadian hero in my mind. The educational short videos he’s been sharing have been phenomenal in teaching kids, and adults alike, what it’s like to be an astronaut on the International Space Station. According to Wikipedia, “Hadfield was described as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave the Earth” by Forbes after building a considerable audience on social media, including over 700,000 Twitter followers as of April 2013.

Monday May 6th will be the last live event Hadfield will perform from the International Space Station before he completes his mission and returns to earth. You can watch the live webcast by linking from the homepage starting at 11:55 EDT.

I’m personally so excited for this event because my sister in law will be signing along with students in her class from E.C. Drury School for the Deaf! I’m so excited for her and her students to participate in this once in a lifetime experience.

This is a true collaboration of artists, musicians, scientists, students and teachers celebrating the power of music and importance of music education. I’m inspired just thinking about it.


A Purposeful Online Game Experience – Quandary

With all of the discussion around how much screen time children should or shouldn’t be getting and with it being Screen Free Week, I was intrigued when I came across this online game with the goal of engaging students in practicing decision making with the focus on ethical issues and solving moral dilemmas.

The question Quandary in the Classroom raises for me is: In what ways can technology in the form of games challenge students to practice critical thinking, decision making and collaboration?

“The aim of the game Quandary is to solve moral dilemmas on behalf of and for the good of the colony Braxos and you are the captain of the colony who is in charge of making those decisions.”

Children are given facts and problems then empowered to make decisions.  One little guy in the video says “I come from a big family so I never get to make decisions..” It was cute, yet sad and probably true for a lot of children in all sorts of families big and small.

Another little guy in the video says “The game had a pretty good UI…” !  He knows what a UI is?!  Impressive!  (User Interface for anyone reading and wondering…)

His comment reminds us that children are living in a world much different than the world we grew up in, particularly if you were born before 1990… Which makes me think that technology based games that engage kids and teens to think independently and practice decision making based on ethical principles is nothing short of really awesome.

What’s more is that it’s a free online game! Check it out. What do you think?

This game reminds me of ‘The Adventures of Meep on Earth’ game that my team and I created back in 2000 to help children manage emotions and feelings of anger. As our alien, Meep, experienced new encounters on his journey on earth for the first time, he would model ways to self regulate his emotions.  Children learned the technique of Stop – take a deep breath, Think and Talk – express how you feel. That was back in the days of cd-roms! I bet that UI kid doesn’t know what a cd-rom is!

One of the best things you can do for your kids…

Allow time for unstructured play, you never now what will come of it!


Sometimes it’s true, it’s best to do nothing. Don’t plan a play date, don’t set up an activity or schedule an outing.  Scheduling free time for unstructured play is one of the best things you can do.

The beauty of allowing free time for unstructured play for your children is you never know what is going to come of it!  It’s fun to see where their curiosities will take them.

Today V decided that it was Mr. Dragon’s birthday! Who knew?!  He was turning 7! She got to work straight away deciding what she needed to do to pull off a party in such short notice! She set out a plan: get party hats out, make a birthday party sign and prepare loot bags. In fact she even found an activity to be played ‘at the party’!

Before getting the party hats, she had to determine how many she would need which involved counting all her animal friends. I asked if she included herself and her sister in the number she had come to which led her to recount all her friends plus herself and her sister.

Next she pulled out the paper and pencil crayons and delegated the sign making to me! She coloured it in and stuck it to the wall with tape.  Then share thoughtfully prepared the loot bags for each of her guests and guarded them so that her sister would get into them!

Children’s play flourishes when we ‘let it’ rather than ‘make it’ happen.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne, M.Ed.

The party was a great success! Judging by the picture, I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all!

What happens at your home when you allow time for unstructured play?

420 Characters: A Celebration of Creative Writing

Creative writing exercise 420 Characters,

Did you write short stories as a child? Do you write them anymore? If not, why not?

Writing is a powerfully liberating experience. One that allows you to express yourself, express an experience real or imagined and/or share a story. Writing, creative writing, makes me a little nervous, I’ll admit. But when you allow yourself to get in the ‘mode’ where you really consider your words, get descriptive and even a little poetic I actually find it to be a lot of fun.

I was recently invited to join a group called 420 Characters. 420 Characters is a creative writing group on Facebook where members write short stories using 420 characters or less to fit in a single facebook status entry. The goal is to reach 420 characters in a story, to reach 420 members in the group or to collect 420 stories.

It was a couple of weeks before I tried my hand at writing a story. Initially I thought I would just read along and comment, but one morning after reading some new entries inspiration struck. An idea came and I quickly worked at expressing my idea, choosing my words carefully and ensuring that the story met the 420 character limit.

My story is based on my passion, what drives this blog.

Here it is:

Born to explore, investigate, learn.
Naturally curious, inquisitive,
Processing information constantly.
Making things, making connections.
Uninhibited experiments, intuitive markings,
The evolution of a true artist happens naturally.
Let it happen. Watch. Enjoy. Nurture.
Cultivate curious little minds into creatively confident adults.

The best gift you could give your child.

420 Characters was started by Suzi Poland, an artist and writer in Australia who is passionate about capturing moments of the everyday and celebrating them through drawing, painting, photography, textiles, illustration, and short stories. Anyone is welcome to submit a story.  You can learn more about 420 Characters and how to join here.

The above photograph shows a story that Violet drew and dictated when she was four.

Up until now my writing practice has gone as far as journalling, writing here on this blog and the occasional morning pages but I’m reminded through 420 Characters that writing is a wonderful form of expression. One that I’m going to try to practice more often. What about you, do you practice creative writing?

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,

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, https://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!

Video: Thoughts on the Creative Career

“If you want to be something start being it. If you want to be a writer you should be writing. Not tomorrow, but today. If you want to be an artist you should be drawing and painting.. Not tomorrow. Today. If you want to be a stand up comic, write jokes and figure out somewhere to stand up and tell them.”

So well said I don’t really have anything to add.

Just want to highlight some key points:

  • If you’re not doing that thing, ask yourself why?
  • Realize your rhythm.. sometimes you can take on big questions, large problems, other times work on small solvable problems.
  • You should consume a lot of things that you like.
  • You should get your work in front of other people.
  • If you want to do something you should just do it… Make it a choice. Choose to do that. If you want to write, write!

Around this time last year I posted his video An Invocation for Beginners. You can see more of Ze Frank’s videos on his website.

Is there something you want to be but not doing it? A running? A yogi? An artist? What do you need to start doing today?

Creativity Week Day 1: Divergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking with Kids: Brainstorming Ideas!

With World Creativity & Innovation week upon us I’ve been thinking of ways to celebrate!  Being creative on cue can sometimes feel overwhelming so I took a step back and decided to hold a good old fashioned brainstorm session with my girls to come up with ways that we can be creative this week!

I love brainstorming! If you love making lists you’ll love it too. Brainstorming is one way of practicing divergent thinking: a way of generating several possible solutions to a problem. To be clear, divergent thinking is a technique for thinking; brainstorming is a tool used to think divergently.

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Me: “We’re going to brainstorm ideas!” V: “What’s a brainstorm?”

Explaining how to brainstorm to a five year old is tricky. I kept it simple and explained that we would be coming up with a lot of ideas and we would choose our favourites later so we don’t need to decide if we like them or not just yet.

The General Rules of Brainstorming

The four general rules of brainstorming established by Alex Osborn, a pioneer of Creative Problem Solving and brainstorming sessions, (taken from Wikipedia) are:

  1. Focus on quantity. The more ideas the better. “Quantity breeds quality.”
  2. Withhold criticism.  Defer judgment of ideas so that participants feel free to generate unusual ideas. Focus on adding ideas, not evaluating them.
  3. Welcome wild and unusual ideas. Think big. Think differently. New ways of thinking is encouraged and could provide better solutions so don’t hold back.
  4. Combine and improve ideas. Build on ideas by combining to form a better single idea or simply add to what has already been provided.

Okay, our experience…

We kept the problem simple: “What are some creative activities we could work on this week?” The way the question is phrased is important. Having typed that out I just realized that had I phrased it “In what ways might we celebrate Creativity Week?” our ideas would likely have gone in a completely different direction! … Throw a party! Make a cake! I’ll have to give that further thought next time.

I went into this with the best of intentions. Having worked in a creative field and having attended a CPSI conference I recognize the value of practicing divergent thinking and I figure it’s never too early to practice this with my daughters. Well.. they had a different idea about what they wanted to do…

E was enthralled with the brainstorming ‘tools’… Okay, she’s only two... 🙂

… and I lost V when she decided to start working on her creative idea… 🙂

.. but I carried on with the brainstorm and V jumped in from time to time approving or disapproving of ideas (we need to work on withholding judgement!) and adding some of her own. (The squiggled post it notes are the ideas she chose to write herself. When I asked her what they said she replied: “You just can’t read my writing, can you??”)

That was our first family brainstorm! I’m sure the first of many to come.

In what ways might you celebrate Creativity & Innovation week?