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.
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!
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