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,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopes & Dreams Revised: Learning to Feel

In graduate school, I observed highly skilled and passionate teachers and wondered how they worked their magic. Later, I’d see similar magic as a young teacher at the Harley School.  I soon learned part of the magic was Responsive Classroom. Being the Type A person I was (am?), I dug in to learn more.


Each year, I deliberately followed the Responsive Classroom’s outline for the first six weeks of school. It was clear the hopes and dreams part had a lasting impact. I saw kids from prekindergarten through middle school ponder what they wanted to do for the year – an enlightening and empowering process for them and for me.  It wasn’t always neat and easy, but with conversation and stories, we got into some deep thinking. Every kid I ever taught was able to articulate what they wanted to accomplish or feel during the year. 

I saved gems like this:

This process gave way to our class rules. Every time one of us slipped and forgot to “do the rules,” we had our class guidelines and shared hopes to buoy us.  It was a beautiful series of miracles in the classroom – not always perfect, but yet miraculous.  This included revisiting those hopes and dreams mid-year, partly to keep them fresh and honestly, in large part because we all know what a two-week winter break does to a classroom routine.  Continue reading “Hopes & Dreams Revised: Learning to Feel”

Ways We Want Our Family To Be

281167694_7cba89cabd_oIn the last post, I shared a glimpse of how my family  hit the reset button after a very stressful period. Even some of our friends who helped us through that phase were surprised by some of the details.  Indeed, when you are slogging through the mud, it’s hard to examine or talk about that trek.  A decade later, that murky path and the route we took out of that mayhem is transparent.  What we learned, and what many families learn as circumstances slowly or rapidly provide a reality check, is how we define ourselves.   

 

 We were never one of those couples who had a 6 month, 1 year, 5-year,  or 10-year plan. Maybe we had a 6-month plan and even a fuzzy idea of the long-range plan. But really, how many couples put family and work obligations on hold long enough to really engage in the kind reflection and  long-range planning?  (If that’s you, then big cheers to you!) We thought it was a good idea, but never had our act together long enough to take action. We were pretty much about getting through the day, the night and perhaps, the week ahead. Continue reading “Ways We Want Our Family To Be”

Here We Go, 2016!

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January is typically the time of year for resolutions and starting over. We’ve all read the articles and blogs expounding  ways to lose weight, exercise more, read more, be more fully present, etc.   I hadn’t expected to write a follow-up to Here We Go, 2011, but I did in 2014.

As I began to gather my thoughts and energy for the return to school next week, I re-read that post and copies of the third graders who did the real work reflecting on hopes and dreams.   Go ahead, read the original post, Here We GoAs we transition back to our routines fresh from a two-week break, it will be imperative we remind ourselves of our guidelines and routines.   Of course, we’ll use the Responsive Classroom practices of positive teacher language, interactive modeling and loads of practice. This will happen in classrooms across the country this week.  Can you feel the energy of teachers who are willing to invest sometime early in the year to re-establish routines and re-connect with students?  The payoff is huge.  Really. Consider it an investment.

East into the year by taking the time to reflect collectively and individually. By helping students reflect on their hopes from September and then set some new goals for the remainder of the year, you’re helping them develop the internal motivators for learning, time management skills,  and showing them you value their thoughts and goals. It also lets you see how they’ve grown and where you need to help guide them during the rest of your time together.

Need some guidance or encouragement to do dig in and invest the energy to do this with your students? Margaret Berry Wilson shares some beautiful read  alouds in her post Revisiting Hopes and Dreams in the New Year.  Margaret also explains how  to Use Y Charts for Revisiting the Rules.  (Be sure to watch the video of Susie Gosh to see how she skillfully facilitates a third grade class discussion on this topic.) Both are inspiring and actionable, no matter what your experience with revisiting hopes and dreams mid-year.

For many, this  community-wide approach so this is a familiar January-jumping off point. Even if you’re headed down this road on your own, know that it builds community, lets students know you value them and helps ease that back-to-school transition for all of us.

If you’re a teacher, how do you revisit hopes and dreams in January?   And are you signed up to keep in touch?  Be sure to check the box in the top right so we can stay connected. And forward this to your teacher friends or share on social media.  There’s more good stuff to come in 2016!

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Lisa Dewey Wells

Energize the Season

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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