Messy and Creative Kids

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye and captured my heart.  Did you read Knead Slime? These Business Girls Can Fix You Up?

Note: If you should choose to make your own slime, be sure to research the risks of borax, a common ingredient. Consider one of the borax-free recipes instead, like this one that uses glue, laundry detergent, water and baking soda.

I love so many things about this article.  Any time a kid (girl, boy, a kid!) finds a project they can design, plan and execute, they are learning something.  They learn LOTS of things, They learn about learning and working and life in ways that will serve them well, even if their “work” appears to as play.  I know from experience that when such projects are messy, but heck, life is messy.  We had many events that started with separate paint cups and evolved into something like this:

Mess aside, projects like the ones described in the WSJ article reveal how kids intuitively tap into the design process, showing their ingenuity and curiosity.  Self-designed projects also help them develop skills, self-efficacy and neural networks in their rapidly changing brain.

First, they need to come up with an idea or a need.   If you’ve spent any time with tweens, you know fighting is NOT uncommon – whether it stems from nerves, attention, anxiety, boredom or habit. Humans, especially developing ones, are made to move. Fidgeting in school tends to come with consequences, so finding a “fix” is brilliant. Many can attend better with something to touch. Adults have been working on this for decades – everything from punishments and chemicals to alternative seating, coaxing and reinforcing positive attempts to control the fidgeting. Often kids have ideas worth testing and voila! They often work!  Recently, a college senior showed me her Fidget Cube, exclaiming in an energetic voice, “this THING IS GREAT!” There IS a market for learners for something to hold in their hands to soothe or stimulate.

Generic Ledeng Fidget Cube, various products available on Amazon

 

Second, these entrepreneurs need to design how their project/product will play out. As this article explains, there is research (apparently “slime” is a huge trend on social media, who knew? Teens, of course!).  There is testing the comps – factory bought versus homemade?  Which products work best? What can you dig up from your family’s bathroom to make it sparkle or smell? When can you get the job done?  Do your research, make your plans. Interpretation and Ideation are both key steps in design thinking.

From there, it’s testing and production.  Embedded in all of this are layers of executive functioning skills – initiating, organizing, mental flexibility (shifting from one thing to another – like from homework to slime prep to clean up), and self-monitoring (how am I doing? What can I do differently?).

Read this short overview of Executive Functioning here.

It’s essential that we give kids many, many opportunities to practice and hone these skills, a process which taps the parts of the brain that are constantly re-wiring and developing throughout the teen years and into their early 20s.  This experimentation and evolution are the meat of designing a project and where teens tend to dig into the “work” – taking things seriously, trying new skills and tasks and developing a sense of self-efficacy.These types of child-determined and child-executed projects allow kids to feel true investment and engagement in their important work.

Yes, this IS  WORK.

It’s like your boss throwing a problem at you, giving you the budget and space and telling you to get the job done, and then staying out of your way. Or at least checking in to listen, not problem-solve or micromanage. If you’re lucky, she might even reinforce what you’re doing well and notice your efforts!

It involves making a mess – literally or figuratively – as you dig into the trial-and-learn (not error) phase.  Ultimately, this concludes with skill growth and knowledge  and perhaps, even a workable, deliverable and profitable product. These projects reflect what is most salient and strong in teens.  As the folks at Responsive Classroom point out, “thriving thirteens” like be constructive activities, where they can be introspective.  They also:

want more freedom and will thrive with reasonably increased level of responsibility. Choices of tasks requiring new skills such as such as community service learning, student government, or tutoring younger children can meet with more success than having the only major school responsibility being to get their homework done.”

So here’s the girls and boys who go home after a full day of school and dive into a project that has meaning and relevance to them.  May they learn to do it well, grow in new ways and of course, clean up after themselves!

If you’re reading this and you’re not signed up to stay connected, I hope you do – just click here. Until next time, here’s to a messy and creative life!

Take care,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Traits

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The past few posts have focused on defining family but in a broader sense, this blog is about what we model and instill with the children in our lives and the lessons we learn from each other. A huge part of raising and working with kids is keeping in mind the end game.  That doesn’t mean being wedded to a certain outcome (soccer star, valedictorian, Ivy-League college) but more a general sense of the values you want to instill and the kind of person you hope this little person is and becomes.  While much of development is dependent on temperament, health, experiences outside the home, parents and caregivers are the first teachers and often, the most significant role models.  

 

It’s important to spend time thinking about what you want to model and instill, and to know that this may change over time.Each family will grow to have it’s own unique blend of values and priorities. This may include a range of other big and small ideas, such as:

Joy

Compassion

Accountability

Courage

Faith

The foundation for building a connected family and children who learn to navigate their world with confidence, empathy and a willingness to accept challenges are based on eight traits explored on the blog.  They are:

Creativity

Empathy

Listening

Love of literature/communication

Perseverance

Play

Problem solving

Resilience & resourcefulness

 

These are eight traits, among many, that are the foundation upon which strong families are based.  It also shares stories of a wide range of children in the classroom where these traits are nurtured and contribute to both the child’s development and the school community.  Each of these traits helps give rise to confident, caring and engaged children who learn to advocate for themselves and people and issues important to them, as they learn to be self-reliant and motivated thinkers and do-ers in an increasingly complex world.

With two emerging adults – kids that are late teens and early twenties but not yet fully adults – it’s easier now to look back on how we raised them.  There were definitely periods we were far too bleary-eyed or stressed to consider the big picture! Over the past twenty years, our ideals and values have shifted as circumstances and needs changed.  We faced challenges and many joys, but throughout these halos and hiccups, there are many values and traits that we clung to and strived to model and instill.

 

Over these same years, as I worked with children from ages three through thirteen, I was fortunate enough to work alongside dedicated colleagues who shared similar values and commitment to what we modeled and expected from our students. Beyond my own two offspring, I saw hundreds of kids from various backgrounds learn to navigate school and life with courage and integrity, learning from their mistakes and growing.  What’s most important to me as a person and my family can be summarized:

 

  • We must have the courage to be both creative and empathetic in our lives. We must listen to our hearts and the people around us. Everyone and every situation have something to teach us when we listen.  
  • Communicating with others orally, in writing, in our body language and our actions are essential in this world.
  • Literature has much to teach us, as well as an ability to help us escape from the world, explore new ideas, and connect with others.  
  • Life isn’t just about work; it’s about play and joy, too. Play is essential for big people, little people and all people, so we need time for authentic play that allows us to do something we love with no  purpose.  
  • Whether in play or work, we will need to problem solve, often. This requires looking carefully at the situation and trying new things. We will fail, and we will succeed, and we will learn.
  • To navigate our relationship and our world, we will be called upon, again to be brave, as we develop resilience and resourcefulness. Life will be complicated and messy and rewarding. We have to jump in the game and give it our all.  
  • As a family, we need to support each other as we take this journey, honoring each other, being open to the possibilities, holding each other accountable as we celebrate the failures and successes of our individual and collective growth and contributions to the world.

Our most important job as parents and caregivers is to raise children who learn to be self-sufficient, competent, caring and willing to contribute to the world – a world we cannot know right now, but can only give our very best effort to raising good kids who will go out and do good in their own ways.

What’s most important to your family or for you to model and instill in the children you work with?

9 Reasons Yoga is For Kids

photo courtesy of St. Anne's School of Annapolis
photo courtesy of St. Anne’s School of Annapolis
This week students from preschool through eighth grade at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis are celebrating “Mind Body Spirit Week” with five days of events and learning about the essential connections between what we do with our bodies, how we interact with ourselves and the world and how we take care of ourselves and others.  I was lucky enough to be asked back to teach a few yoga classes with some of their young friends and then later for teachers.
Like classroom teaching, practicing yoga with children is a curious mix of joy, laughter and the unexpected.  It always makes me a better person and teacher. I  came armed with some lessons plans, but those were promptly pushed aside as we just responded to the energy and interests that arrived.  We explored of our physical bodies on the mat  and some frank discussion on mind-wandering and what it feels like to have all those big and little thoughts in our head. Oh, yes…and they eagerly shared the  things that make them feel stressed (you’d be surprised!).  Our brief chats concluded with some breath awareness and the immediate feedback that breathing deeply is, in their words:
  • calming
  • peaceful
  • feels like you’re floating
  • make me more me
From teetering tree pose to fierce planks, their asanas revealed determination, a true sense of play, friendship, and a willingness to take risks. I’m quite certain these traits carry over into other aspects of their lives. After spending several hours with these little yogis, here are 9 reasons yoga is for kids, too.
1. Yoga is for everybody because everybody has a body and everybody can breathe.
2. Yoga is about self-care.  It’s incredibly useful to learn how to care for yourself. Knowing your body and what you can do with it, along with when  you can challenge yourself, is a life lesson.
3. Yoga helps you recharge and become clear-minded.  Kids, like adults, report they feel better after doing yoga and that they are then,“very calm.” The experience of relaxation that comes with a good physical yoga practice can be very profound.
4. Yoga helps you cope with things like anxiety, depression, ADHD, anger, jealousy.  I always feel grateful after I practice yoga. It’s also the perfect time to smile and have fun!
5. Yoga is a workout, too!  It really is.  It helps regulate metabolism and increase self-awareness.  You’re also likely to feel better about yourself. 
6.  You can get better at the poses just like you can get better at a sport, As long as you are operating from a place of knowledge and respect for how your body works, expect improvement for yourself as you get stronger, your coordination improves, and your muscles lengthen.
7. You’re so lucky to be doing yoga now.  So many people say they wish they had known about yoga earlier in life.  It’s really a gift to have the time and place to practice yoga.  It’s a sacred time to acknowledge the blessings of our life, including our body and breath.
8. The point of yoga is to remain curious about what you can do.  Yoga helps you improve your mental outlook so if you’re feeling jealous, self-defeated, or envious, yoga gives you the chance to forget those methods of thinking and instead to observe and engage in your own experience.
9. Seek things to do that will empower your strength of mind, body and character like yoga and not things that will disempower you (unkind friends, things that might harm you).
Take care,
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Lisa Dewey Wells

“Don’t Give Up the Ship!” Lessons in Perseverance

November often feels like Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon.  We’re tired, yet determined to make it to that finish lined called Thanksgiving break.  We’re well into the school year and fall (or winter!) is in full swing.  The first rounds of head colds and stomach bugs have likely paid your household a visit and maybe you’ve already seen the first report card. Hopefully, routines are in place for school, sports, homework, down time – but forging ahead takes determination, perseverance, grit.

The development of perseverance is a fluid process. It will mature with the child  – and wax and wane throughout life as circumstances and outlooks shift.  As an adult, you’ve experienced this countless times, whether you’re a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of soul.  In our house we fly a flag that has the battle cry of fallen Naval hero, Captain James Lawrence.  It’s become our mantra when we need an extra dose of perseverance. It reads:

Dont Give Up the Ship

Continue reading ““Don’t Give Up the Ship!” Lessons in Perseverance”

6 Hard Truths

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I’d like to think those words don’t strike a vulnerable spot in my gut, but the hard truth is, they do.

And when they do, I tend to take it hard. When I dig out of that hard spot, I realize all I needed was to be a bit softer. A bit more accepting, yet still honest. And that’s an essential lesson to share explicitly and implicitly with kids.

I’m big on honesty, authenticity and I know we’re all far more vulnerable than we’d like to admit to anyone, especially ourselves.  Without honesty, how can there be trust? Without authenticity, how can there be satisfaction or joy?  And without vulnerability, how can we grow? How will kids see these are all opportunities for growth if we don’t model that to them?

But when we’re honest, authentic and vulnerable, it if often an uncomfortable spot. You know what I mean – when you face that Hard Truth squarely in the mirror.   No sugar-coating, no denials, no excuses, no fixing. Looking into the  magnifying mirror can be hard.

When we look authentically about what our role is in the situation, what the role of others is and what the actual reality is (not perception, not what-ifs, not the attachments to history or outcomes), that can be hard, too.

And when we’re vulnerable, we’re at the mercy of the universe and those around us. And often, that’s the hardest  of them all because it seems utterly inexplicable and unfair.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like a fabulous destination, does it?

But the truth is, it’s a necessary destination, especially when working with kids and kids and adults. It’s where we grow and learn.

Here are six hard truths I’ve witnessed recently and been called to be honest, authentic and sometimes quite vulnerable recently. We all have our own hard truths, right?

Disclosure:  “People” can and does below, apply to people of a variety of ages, stages and places. People of all types can face these hard truths, or their own special blend of Hard Truths.

 

1. People lose their temper. Hormones and adrenaline rush, hunger and exhaustion and stress take their toll. Actions are taken that are later regrettable.

Hard truth:  Apologies are necessary. Calmness must prevail. Resolving anger or frustration physically is not acceptable (unless you are a runner or release those messy emotions in some other physical activity.) Use your words. Always use spoken or written words.

2. Logical and natural consequences are often uncomfortable.

Hard truth: When the cortisol subsides, the picture is often not so bleak, and there are life lessons to be learned. Sometimes it’s in those natural consequences that we grow – as in when you forget your lunch box and nobody delivers it to you at 11 a.m., you might take steps to remember to grab it the next morning.

3. People and things change. Often, that change is uncomfortable or denied. Individual change affects others, and when others are affected, the ecosystem is disrupted.

Hard truth: Life is about change. We have to view that change for what it is and adapt. It’s okay to mourn loss or change, but eventually, we’ve all got to “keep on swimming.”  Remember how Lucy moved the football as Linus went to kick? Expect Lucy (or someone else) to move things and be prepared to shift gears so you don’t tumble over.

4. People are imperfect. They mess up. They say things they didn’t mean to say. They forget. They act out of emotions or desire, rather than logic or purpose.

Hard truth: We all do mess up.  Everyone walks their own path, with their own obstacles and triumphs. You never know what other challenges someone else is facing.  Accept mistakes, be honest if it affects you, and try not to take things too personally. Celebrate each other’s accomplishments without taking those personally, either.

5. Technology, machines and equipment fail.  Yes, we’re living the big life with technology everywhere. Your flash drive will break. Your laptop will be hit by a virus. Your phone will get wet. Your child will break that piece of crystal from Great Aunt Mavis. Someone will back into your new car.

Hard Truth: Things “should work,” but they fail. That causes problems, but most of them are fixable. with so many tiny, moving pieces, something will fail at some point or be met with an untimely and unexpected demise. No use in blaming someone, just go ahead and  be a part of the fixing.

6. The world is unpredictable.  Weather happens. Sickness happens. Friendships and jobs change.

Hard truth: Know yourself, have a support system, and ride the surf.  Swami  Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga, said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

We’ve all got our own hard truths.  Rather than lamenting how rotten they might be or putting your head in the sand, stand up to them. Be honest. Be your authentic. Be vulnerable and speak up when you need help and acknowledge what the hard truth feels like. That becomes your jumping off spot for facing those hard truths and moving forward with what comes next. It’s gonna get better after you face those hard truths (see #3).