Tag Archives: imagination

Is the ‘right way’ always the best way?

Giving children opportunities to question, to be creative, and to problem solve are high on my priorities. Children need to be given the time and opportunity to figure out things for themselves. While it is sometimes easier just to tell or show them what to do, or even do it for them, it is generally better for their development, to let them have a go at finding a method or solution. Please note: I am not talking about dangerous things here like playing with fire, testing to see how fierce that dog really is, or driving a car.

If children are constantly told there is a right way of doing things, they will stop exploring, discovering, and inventing their own or new ways of doing things. This is an issue because, if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll never progress. There is generally no harm in, but much to learn from, each successive attempt.

Opportunities to explore, discover, and use intuition are also important to the development of mathematical thinking. When children are developing understanding of number, they often invent their own strategies for working with numbers. Sometimes, as attested in this paper by Heirdsfield, Cooper and Irons, the strategies used display more advanced thinking, and are more efficient, than those taught as ‘the’ correct way of solving a problem using pencil and paper.

I have noticed a change in the speed and agility with which my seven-year-old grandson works with numbers now that he has learned there are certain ways of; for example, adding two numbers. He tends to second-guess himself as he attempts to mentally calculate using the pencil and paper method he has been taught, rather than other more effective strategies he had previously invented and used. Perhaps you have noticed something similar.

Provocations, such as these 3 Fun Inquiry Maths Activities for the Last Week of School by Steph Groshell on Education Rickshaw,  are great to get children thinking about different ways of solving real problems.

Little Koala’s Party – a story for problem solving in the readilearn mathematics resources also encourages mathematical thinking and planning. Children help Little Koala organise a party for her family and friends, deciding who will be invited, the number of guests, and what’s on the menu. The suggestion is made that children plan a party of their own and they are asked to consider how they would go about it. The discussion and sharing of ideas, rather than the imposition of one ‘right’ way, is the important thing in developing mathematical thinking.

Now it might seem a stretch to tie this in with a piece of flash fiction, but I hope you’ll be able to follow my thinking through the mist and into the light.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, D. Avery took the reins from Charli Mills and challenged writers to in In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that symbolically, mythically, mystically, or realistically involves dawn, as a noun or verb. Write about the dawn of time or the time of dawn, or the dawning of an idea. As always, go where the prompt leads.

The right way

Father and Son sat side by side. Father cracked his knuckles and sighed repeatedly while Son sharpened his pencils, each pencil, and arranged them meticulously according to undisclosed criteria.

“Come on. Just get it done. Then you can play.”

“I’m thinking.”

“Think faster.”

“I know it’s 96.”

“Well write it down.”

“Sir says I have to do the working out.”

“Then do it.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Like this. See.”

“That’s not how we do it. Sir says…”

“Then do what Sir says.”

Slowly it dawned on Dad: Sir’s way may not be the best way for all.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

Is contentment compatible with a growth mindset?

I am quite a fan of the growth ‘not yet’ mindset which focuses on a belief in the ability to do and achieve more through persistence and hard work. I have previously written about this mindset in What do you have in mind? and in The power of not yet.

I wonder how compatible a growth mindset is with a complacency or acceptance of the way things are; a “This is it. I can’t do anything about it.” attitude.

When I think of contentment, I think of serenity, tranquillity, a feeling of peace and acceptance. I think of it as a positive state of mind. The dictionary defines it as:

Does this imply that there is no wish for things to be different?

I often talk about the importance of imagination and creativity to inspiring innovation and invention. But do they also require a certain degree of disequilibrium or discontent with the way things are? Is it necessary to find fault with something in order to improve upon it? How many gadgets do you use regularly, accepting their imperfections without a thought of how they might be improved? It is not necessary to have the ability to improve them in order to imagine how they might be improved.

A fun thing to do with children is to get them to think of an easier or more enjoyable way of conducting a routine activity. How about an alternative to the traditional, in Australia anyway, emu parade which has children criss-crossing the school grounds, bobbing up and down to pick up rubbish? How about something to carry their heavy back-packs home? Or something to do their homework? (Oh, that’s right, they’ve already invented parents for that!)  I’m sure children, and you, can imagine far more exciting improvements.

Imagination is the driver of innovation and change. But it also requires action. It is the action that gets us into the growth mindset; perseverance, hard work and repeated attempts. As Edison is oft quoted,

 “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

He also said,

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

I wonder how my friend Pauline King The Contented Crafter would respond to my title question. While I know she has reached a certain stage of contentment in her life, I also know that she strives to better her craft, and does what she can to make the world a better place. How much need for change or improvement can contentment tolerate?

Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch and her flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content  got me wondering about this. Charli talked about moments of contentment sprinkled among frustrating events and dreams of change.

It helped me realise that, while they appear to be in contradiction, we need a little of both. We need to be happy with who we are, what we have, and what we have achieved; while at the same time, we need to be aware of what can and should be improved, and some strategies for action. Questioning is important to stimulate imagination, and when paired with creative thinking, innovation can occur. We need the inspiration of just one forward-thinker to lead us into the future.

The same balance between contentment and growth can be seen in children’s play. I have used it as my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Purpose in play

They worked furiously as if with one mind; digging, piling, shaping, smoothing the sand.  As if on cue, two began to tunnel through from opposite sides, meeting in the middle. Others carved into the surface, forming window-like shapes. Sticks, leaves, and other found objects adorned the structure. Then, simultaneously, the work stopped. They glowed with collective admiration. But Than was not yet content. Something was missing. He swooped on a long twig and stuck it into the top, antenna-like. “For communicating with the mother ship,” he declared. Soon they were all feverishly adding other improvements to their alien craft.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

Navel contemplation

In a recent post But Why? I wrote about the importance of curiosity, imagination, and creativity. I included all three in a flash fiction story that included an imaginary friend.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

I thought I’d try for all three again.

Navel contemplation

Billy watched Mother bathe Baby.

“What’s that?”

“The last bit of his umbilical cord. Soon it will fall off, and he’ll have a belly button, just like you.”

Billy lifted his shirt to inspect.

“What’s billy cor?”

“Umbilical cord – it’s where Baby was joined to me before he was born. Everyone has one.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone with a mother.”

“So, Silas don’t have belly button.”

“Silas would have a belly button. Everyone has.”

“But Silas don’t have a mum.”

“Oh. But he would have had a mum. When he was born.”

“Nope. Not born. I made him up.”

What do you think? Did or do friends, born of imagination, have mothers if we choose to not give them one? Does the answer to this question impact the existence of belly buttons in imaginary friends?

At the conclusion of the previous story, I suggested that “Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?”

I thank you for your responses, especially one questioning whether I have ever killed an imaginary character in a story. Something for me to ponder. I don’t think I have. Would I do that?

In her post, Charli also writes about dying, or what happens afterwards anyway, especially with cremation and “wildcat scattering”. I often, occasionally, sometimes, contemplate what may happen to my body when I’m finished with it, or it’s finished with me, whichever comes first. Or is it the same thing?

I would like an environmentally friendly disposal of my remains and hope that, by the time action needs to be taken, there are many such options available. At the moment, there seem to be few, so I was interested to listen to this TED talk. I thought you might enjoy it too.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

But why?

Just like scientists, children are curious, constantly asking questions, wanting to know why or how. Parents and teachers don’t always know the answers. In fact, there may not even be an answer – yet. The need to know is strong and “just because” won’t do. Coupled with creativity, thinking up new ideas and possibilities, curiosity has taken us beyond the imagination of myths and legends to knowing and understanding.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a creation myth. You can write your own, use one in a story or create tension (or comparability) between science and culture on the topic of creation.” As usual, she tells us to “Go where the prompt leads.”

Every culture has its own creation stories, told from the beginning of time when humans first walked the earth. Through stories, people attempted to explain their own existence and that of everything observable.

With only the skies for night-time entertainment, people found stories in the stars. As Duane W. Hamacher says in Kindred skies: ancient Greeks and Aboriginal Australians saw constellations in common in the Conversation, What we don’t yet know is why different cultures have such similar views about constellations. Does it relate to particular ways we humans perceive the world around us? Is it due to our similar origins? Or is it something else? The quest for answers continues.

As with stories told of the stars, there are some threads common to many creation myths, including stories of the first man and woman, stories explaining the existence of the animals and why they behave the way they do. I have read quite a few stories of floods, which I guess is understandable as these events occur worldwide.

What I love about the creation myths is that they testify to the innate curiosity and creativity of humans; the need to know and the sense of wonder combined with imagination and storytelling.

It is important to keep this sense of wonder and curiosity alive in children, and adults, also. Just a few days ago, as reported by Ray Norris in the Conversation, Exoplanet discovery by an amateur astronomer shows the power of citizen science. He says this discovery will help us understand the formation of our own Earth. It’s also a step towards establishing whether we are alone in the universe, or whether there are other planets populated by other civilisations.”

I think of questions asked by my granddaughter; for example, “Who came first, the mother or the baby?”, “If there’s gravity, why don’t the clouds fall down?”  or “Where does the sky begin?”

It is interesting now in this age of technology, almost everything we want to know is just a tap of a few keys or buttons away.

The other day I visited a nature reserve with my two grandchildren. (We went especially to see three baby bilbies which had recently emerged from their mother’s pouch, but saw other things too.)

We were looking at some black swans, which are native to Western Australia. GD informed me that white swans are not native to Australia. When I admitted that I’d never thought about that, she said, “Look it up. Look it up now. You’ve got your phone in your hand. Just look it up.” She was insistent and I did as told. She was right, of course.

How different this experience is from that of the first humans. Young children expect to be given answers based upon science or collective knowledge, not stories. But we still do not have answers to everything.  As Duane W. Hamacher says, “The quest for answers continues.”

In response to Charli’s challenge, I have not written a creation story. However, I have included the same ingredients that contributed to their creation: wondering, questioning, and imagination.

Unanswered questions

“What are you doing?”

“Pulling out weeds.”

“Why?”

“So the carrots have more room.”

“Why?”

“So they can grow big and juicy.”

“Why?”

“So they are good to eat for our dinner.”

“Why?”

“To keep us healthy?”

“I want to be healthy.”

“It’s good to be healthy.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t die. Not for a long time.”

“How do you know?”

Silence. How does anyone know?

“Silas died.”

“Who?”

“Silas.”

“Who is Silas?”

“Was. Silas was my friend.”

“I don’t remember Silas.”

“He was my imaginary friend.”

“Oh. How did he die?”

“I killed him.”

“Why?”

 

Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

What do you create?

symbol

I am a fan of creativity. I like to develop my own creativity, and I like to encourage the development of creativity in others.

One thing I always loved about teaching was the opportunity it gave me to be creative: writing stories, units of work, and lessons plans to interest and excite the children about learning. It is this love that drives me to write my blog posts each week, and to create new early childhood teaching resources for readilearn nearly every week.

Just as exciting was the opportunity to support the development of children’s thinking, imagination, and creativity. I am more in favour of treating children as individuals, than as one of a homogeneous group from which any difference is considered an aberration.  After all, imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my tagline: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’, a tagline I previously used for an independent school I was establishing.

create-the-possibilities

Preceding both was my first independent undertaking: Create-A-Way.  Create-A-Way provided a richer educational and social setting for my young daughter than what was generally available, allowed me to share my educational philosophy and knowledge, and provided the same rich learning opportunities for other children and their parents. The development of imagination and creativity was a focus.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

One of the things I love most about responding to the weekly flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is the additional opportunity to engage in something creative and to hone my writing skills. The supportive environment of a welcoming community makes it a safe and enjoyable experience. There is something affirming about belonging to a community of other creatives, online or in -person.

karen

On Saturday I, along with a whole bunch of other women creatives, attended an excellent Book Marketing Masterclass conducted by authorpreneur Karen Tyrrell. (I am looking forward to interviewing Karen for the Author Spotlight series on readilearn in March.) The class was attended by writers of a variety of genres; including memoir, romance, science fiction, fantasy, YA, and picture books.

One of the attendees Chrissy Byers has created a lovely picture book The Magic in Boxes which “aims to capture the imagination of young readers and inspire creative play.”

the-magic-of-boxes

Not only does the book suggest ways of stimulating creativity using recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, the book is made from recycled paper. I think that’s pretty awesome. It’s a beautiful book with a wonderful aim.

lemons and grapefruit

For a little more on creativity; in a previous post, Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? I shared ten articles about creativity. They are still relevant and worthy of a read if you haven’t yet done so.

I also shared one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson How schools kill creativity. If yours is not yet one of the over 41 million views, I urge you to watch it. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is hugely entertaining.

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and power of creativity. I thank Charli and her flash fiction prompt for the opportunity of revisiting some of my favourite articles and talks about creativity. This week her challenge is to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.”

I’m a woman, and I create, and education is in my heart.

In response to Charli’s challenge, I thought I’d get a little dirty. I hope you like it.

Prize pies

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

 

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

 

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

thank-you-1200x757

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

Let them loose

johnny_automatic_playing_dress_up

It is a wonderful thing to see children engaging in imaginative creative play. Let them loose with an assortment of bits and pieces and it’s amazing to see what they can construct, both physically with the equipment and in the ways they interact with their constructions, creating imaginative worlds and stories.

A fabric offcut might be a cape, a veil, an apron, a dress, the sail of ship, a red carpet, or the curtain for a puppet theatre.

A cardboard box might be a car, a home for a pet, a high-rise building, an explorer’s ship or a magician’s table.

A cardboard tube might be a ship’s funnel, a car’s garage, a railway tunnel, a fairy wand, or a telescope for gazing at the far-off stars and planets.

Anything can create magic in a child’s imagination. Sometimes the cheapest things can offer the most value. You only have to watch a young child discard the expensive toy and spend hours playing with the wrapping and packaging materials to see this.

Of course there is value in construction sets and other toys that allow children to imagine and create. However, a cardboard box decorated by the child can be as effective an oven as a fancy store bought one. And while most construction sets come with suggestions of what to build, it is best to put the instructions away and let the children discover for themselves what they can create, and how to incorporate the materials into their play.

While learning to read and follow instructions is an important skill, making only what someone else has already created stifles the imagination and can even suppress the willingness to try, especially if the instructions and constructions are too difficult for the child, and sometimes even the adult, to follow.

I expect young children to have ready access to a variety of materials, as well as opportunities to use them to support their play, both at home and in educational settings they attend. It is something I take for granted as being fundamental to early childhood development. It’s always been, and hopefully will always be.

I was surprised, therefore, when I recently came across an unfamiliar term and theory for describing this type of play.

Loose Parts Theory, according to articles like this one, was first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson. He believed that it is the loose parts in our environment, such as those that can be “moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways”, that stimulate creativity.  The term was unfamiliar, but not the thinking.

It took me a little while to find the source of this theory but I finally found a paper written by Nicholson through this post by Kate on An Everyday Story.

I find use of the term Loose Parts interesting. It is appropriate. However, the creative, imaginative play it describes was occurring long before anyone thought to apply such a term to it. If I suggested that it could be a “trendy” term to describe what has always been, I’d be showing just how much of a slow learner I am. Nicholson proposed the term in 1972!

What do you think of Loose Parts Theory? Have you heard the term before? Did you engage in loose parts play when you were a child, or have you observed children playing imaginatively and creatively with loose parts?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Let them play!

Play is essential to learning, and creating an environment which allows for play while nurturing children’s learning and development is as important as creating an environment that nourishes and encourages the growth of plants in a garden. The link between the two was first recognised by Froebel in the early 19th century when he coined the term “kindergarten” which translates to “garden for children” (kinder meaning child and garten meaning garden), and created the first educational toys.

Froebel “devoted his life to educating children and developing methods to maximize human potential”. He was the first to recognise the importance of a child’s early years (birth to three) and considered creativity to be something in all of us.

Froebel’s kindergartens were the first “formal” education for young children and his work greatly influenced that of other educators such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. His beliefs, for example that children have both unique needs and capabilities are still influential today. He believed in the importance of play and some of his toys were favourites of people such as Buckminster Fuller and Albert Einstein.

I have touched on the topics of playcreativity and children’s uniqueness in previous posts. A respectful, encouraging, nurturing and stimulating environment underpins all that I value in education; as does a belief in the power of play to develop understandings of self, of others and relationships, of the world and how things work, and to inspire thoughts of what could be, to imagine possibilities never before imagined.

johnny_automatic_playing_dress_up

While Froebel’s beliefs, and those of his followers, are still valid, sadly they are often disregarded by those who wield the power in education, who dictate otherwise.

In a previous post I shared an article by Paul Thomas who attributed his readiness to learn at school to the richness of his home environment. He also decried the formal tedium of school lessons which contribute much to curbing a child’s enthusiasm for learning. Paul is not alone in his views. There are many teachers who agree with him, myself included, as I have shared many times before, including here and here.

I am not the only early childhood teacher to be saddened and appalled by the formal approach that has been enforced upon teachers, replacing play-based approaches in classrooms for children as young as four. With the administration of standardised tests and the publication of graded results, children are labelled successes or failures before they have had a chance to develop. Those children from privileged backgrounds, as described by Thomas in Formal Schooling and the Death of Literacy will be immediately successful. Those from less advantaged backgrounds will be labelled failures. Unfortunately, the labels are often reinforced with little chance of replacement.

A+   F

I am always gladdened when I hear another expounding the benefits of play and the importance of child-centred approaches to learning and teaching. I hope that when enough voices unite in this important message, the tide will start to turn, and those with the power to make changes will do so in favour of children.

the importance of being little

This week I read another article stressing the importance of play for young children. The article, written by Susan Gonzalez for Yale News, introduces a recently published book by Erika Christakis The Importance of Being Little. I have not yet read the book, but I know that I will agree wholeheartedly with its content. The title itself tells me the value of its message.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In words reminiscent of my poem “Education is” Christakis says that “schooling and learning are often two different things.” Here is just a sprinkling of her thoughts reported in the article.

  • children are capable and powerful but our expectations are often mismatched
  • we ask too much of children pragmatically but not enough cognitively
  • there is too much teacher-direction and not enough time for play in many preschool classrooms
  • teachers need to take the time to listen to children’s stories, to laugh with them, to get down on the floor, at their eye level, and figure out what makes them tick … (through) … respectful observation
  • childhood pedagogy should be based on ideas, not on the repetition of simple skills
  • respect for early childhood as a life stage worthy in its own right and not merely as a training ground for an adult future

These are ideas I have oft repeated here on my blog. Please read the article in full and, if you are as inspired as I am, read the recently published book The Importance of Being Little. I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.