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,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Are Watching Us (spoiler: They are Learning from our Behavior!)

cares

Did you see or hear the news last tonight? It seems a lot of us are on edge. Even for those of us who are doing our best to make sure this is a “regular Tuesday” and a “regular week,” neither are regular.  This is a week that will make history. Today is a day that (hopefully) will bring some closure to weeks of name calling, poor behavior, degrading others, and generally showing the worst of humanity. A high schooler told me yesterday  she worries “tomorrow will be the worst,” as in the worst day for our country and “the worst election ever.”  She’s not even voting. But she’s watching others.

It’s time to move on to civility, decency, empathy, and proactive behavior on social, political, economic and world issues. Let’s not let what may or may not be the “worst” campaign season and election become the “worst” time in our history.

It’s time to  move ahead for ourselves,  and so our spectators to see us be and do better. Cooperatively. Peacefully.

voteNo matter what your political beliefs are, people are watching and judging each other. It’s  the kind of judging that doesn’t  engender itself to kindness and compassion, let alone productivity, cooperation, and efficiency.  I can’t think of one adult that has not been distracted or disgusted by politics. Even friends living abroad and those of us in-country have lost time from our work, family and priorities to take part in this divisive campaign.  Admittedly, many are working proactively to get folks out to vote (BE. SURE. YOU. VOTE.) or lobbying for their cause.  But there have been distractions and diversions and – my issue d’jour –  what we model for our children. They are watching. And wondering. And learning. And puzzling why some adults are doing precisely what the tell children NOT to do.

Yes, they are all watching us and taking this all in. By “all,” I mean:

  • Yell
  • Call each other names
  • Misrepresent facts
  • Go on defense 
  • Lie
  • Blame
  • Accuse
  • Deflect the issue

The  list of undesirable behaviors could go on…
They are watching acquaintances and family members and people they know only in images  behave like this. They are seeing people they look up to behave like this and often, disagree with others they  love, behaving in unsavory, undesirable ways.  Often this adult behavior is precisely the same ways we tell our children they are not to behave.  “Don’t lie to me! ”  “Stop yelling and use your words!”

In a world where many of us are dedicating our life’s work to teaching kids prosocial skills – like cooperation, assertiveness, respect, empathy  and self-control – there are so many adults who are not demonstrating these basic human skills.  While they are “basic,” they are also in high demand but often not taught nor utilized.

It’s fine – and necessary in a democracy – to have different opinions. Sharing these diverse views requires one to listen to the other side and to make an argument respectfully with facts, with a sense of cooperation to solve a greater issue, and often with empathy so that the problem can be resolved. The interwebs are fantastic.  However, just because it is on-line, that doesn’t make it true, necessary, or desirable. Our kids are hearing and seeing images of poor behavior and ideas that morph from beliefs to thoughts to words and action. As Gandhi said:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

These aggressive, antisocial words, actions, and habits cannot become the values and destiny of a generation. It’s no way for any of us to live.

We need to take a huge, collective breath as the numbers come in.  We need to recommit ourselves to treating each other with care and respect, to discussing issues from a place of cooperation and integrity, and to developing solutions with civility, empathy and advocacy.  It’s time to  get on with the work and joy in our life, rather than being distracted by an election squabbles. This election is  immensely important, but it seems to be keeping us, individually and collectively, from being our best.   We need to up the game, if nothing else, because our kids are watching and learning from us.

Go vote. Go be kind. Go do good. Show those who are watching you how you want the world to be.

Take care,

lisa

 

 

 

LWells

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?

Energize the Season

shadowplay

 

The countdown is on until the holiday break in schools across the country.  Teachers are trying to forge ahead, focused on academics and school community and kids are, well… excited. It’s hard to stay focused while still recognizing the joy and excitement of the season.

The countdown is on until the holiday break in schools across the country.  Teachers are trying to forge ahead, focused on academics and school community and kids are, well… excited. It’s hard to stay focused while still recognizing the joy and excitement of the season.

One December, we were greeted with stormy winds and rain, and throwing a wrench into our third- grade field trip plans. Teachers and administrators to make last a minute decision on whether or not to transport children 30 miles away into a storm, but my brain was also processing how this unexpected glitch would further interfere with the difficulties we were having with transitions and remembering to “do the rules.”  It clearly wasn’t going to help – or would it?  I had been noticing and journaling the deviations, searching for patterns or triggers. Not surprisingly, transitions were our downfall. When a class has trouble making a transition, there’s a domino effect. Signals are unheeded. Reminders ignored. We’re  late. Or unprepared (physically and mentally). Conflicts arise. Stress increases. The rules seem to erode.

One December, we were greeted with stormy winds and rain, and throwing a wrench into our third-grade field trip plans. Teachers and administrators to make last a minute decision on whether or not to transport children 30 miles away into a storm, but my brain was also processing how this unexpected glitch would further interfere with the difficulties we were having with transitions and remembering to “do the rules.”  It clearly wasn’t going to help, or would it?  I had been noticing and journaling the deviations, searching for patterns or triggers. Not surprisingly, transitions were our downfall. When a class has trouble making a transition, there’s a domino effect. Signals are unheeded. Reminders ignored. We’re  late. Or unprepared (physically and mentally). Conflicts arise. Stress increases. The rules seem to erode.

As I noticed these changes, I began to comment more on what I noticed, careful to articulate precisely what I saw them remembering to do well, but not offering hollow praise (“Good job!“).  When children hear you noticing (“I see that you remembered to put all of  your writing materials away. Now you are ready to wash up for lunch.“), that also has a domino effect.  When it was hard (or impossible) to see what was working well, I reminded individuals that I had faith in their abilities and knew they could do better. I asked what they thought was interfering with the normal tenor or quality of work and play.  Not surprisingly, they often knew and were then empowered to make the changes themselves.

So on the morning we had to re-group and re-plan the day, I rifled through Susan Lattanzi Roser’s book Energizers! 88 Quick movement Activities That Refresh and Refocus.  Earlier in the week, I had read about her game “The Laughing Handkerchief.” That was going to be our saving grace on this wet, wet morning.  (For other energizers, check out Roser’s video’s on her Lion Heart Consulting page.

We learned and practiced this  game at our Morning Meeting,  They giggled, and cackled and roared and howled, and accepted that the much-anticipated field trip would happen in the new year.  I asked if they could guess why I picked that particular  new game.  The usual answers came up – “It’s fun!” “It’s new!”   But one deep-thinking almost-nine-year-old said, “well, in the game you have to know when to stop and do something else like the transitions we were practicing.”  He really was not a plant!  He defined simply but clearly.  Laughing like a clown (or Santa or mice or whatever) while the scarf floats but watching carefully so you know to stop once it hits the floor, is a lot like making transitions happen smoothly.  Another child pointed out it’s “like changing your energy from high energy stuff to quiet energy.  Like (deep)  breathing (exercises) and yoga stuff we do.” Nailed it.

The connection between observing what’s slipping, practicing rules and routines and then engaging children so that they want to do their best was nestled in the “Laughing Scarf.”  We practiced the game for a few more days and  pulled it out intermittently in the weeks that followed.

The next few weeks will surely bring an increase in excitement and energy as the holidays and vacation approach. Similarly, the transition in January is likely to resemble a mini version of the first six weeks of school. Reminding our students –  and practicing the routines and expectations we’ve established – are two tools to re-grip and move forward productively and with joy.

Besides being a good lesson in changing energy, voice volume, and tasks, the Laughing Handkerchief  is hilarious opportunity to just let a solid belly laugh rip. And often, laughter is the best medicine.

For other ideas and energizers, check out these resources and ideas:

Energizers! 88 Quick Movement Activities That Refresh and Refocus

Handling the Holidays (Part 1)

Seeing It All Come Together

Keeping Routines Crisp

Want to stay in touch for great parenting and teaching resources?  Be sure to Like Wonder of Children, Follow me @lisadeweywells on Twitter and sign up to get updates delivered right to your inbox, by signing up at the top right corner here.

 

Fondly,

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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

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