Hijacking your Kids’ Education… But No Pressure

I came across this excellent TEDx talk.  It’s about a mom who recommends “hijacking” your kids’ education.  To get it out of the way early, this does NOT mean homeschooling.  Or interfering with the curriculum and practices of the school.  What it means is, leave the school to do what they do and then take charge of their learning after school.  I’m embedding it here.

I find this interesting because I’ve been hijacking my kids’ learning in one way or another since they started school.  At first in Jordan, I found that based on decades-long approaches to education (including early education), I needed to work with them on creativity and individualism.  At home we would do arts and crafts projects every week in which there were no lines, no right answers, no required colors… Basically, I was giving them not just permission but the requirement to be creative.  If they asked a question about what color they should use or should a feather go here, I always told them that I was certain they’d make the best choice.  At school, bunnies were brown and snow men’s coats had to be put on properly (so yes ButterBean’s cape was “fixed” by the art teacher!).  At home, bunnies were just as likely to be rainbow polka-dot and snow would have capes, or bikinis, or sandals, or swim trunks.

The thing is, what this mom suggests is hard to do.  Helping your child find their “passion,” a new-age catch word that college applications are rife with and admissions reps expect to see, is hard work.  And it strikes me as kind of odd that we’re placing so much focus on it anyway.  When I was in college, it was a time of exploration.  Because at home your mom and dad would NOT have been expected to expose you to every possible interest.  Listening to this mom’s exhaustive list of steps they took to find the passion was, well, exhausting.  So, I think I’ll probably look toward taking only some of what she suggests.  The watching closely to see where they are showing interests is a definite possibility.  Also finding opportunities for them to explore those areas is a possibility.  But me personally trying to determine every possible area of interest and then explore it… not likely to happen.

But I do like this idea of finding the areas of weakness and owning our role in supplementing them.  Between giving our kids time to play and enjoy themselves and continuing their learning, we will need to find a balance.  Because I do want my kids to be able to write a coherent essay with an outline.  And I do want them to spend some time seeing what happens when food is dropped and ants come and carry it off, and I do want them to try out an instrument.  But I also want to know that I’m not going it alone.  It’s interesting to see where this journey will lead us…

Happy Hijacking

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The Value of Summer-time Boredom…

I suspect in the US the trend has been something like that here in Jordan in recent years.  Here, families spend nearly $500 to send their kids to summer camps for a month or so to stave off boredom.  I can’t count how many people I’ve heard complain that “Haraam (too bad), he shouldn’t have to sit around doing nothing.”  As will not surprise any regular readers, I’m the odd one out on this.

Don’t get me wrong, I considered summer camp.  But, when faced with paying the price of a small car for camp for three kids, I thought it through a bit more.  First, wouldn’t a bigger, fun family vacation get us more bang for the buck?  After all, we can all be together.  We get some time alone as a family.  And, we enjoy each other.  Second, boredom is good for you.  I mean this in all honesty and seriousness.

Yesterday, while waiting around on SLOOOOOOOOOW security procedures to get in to the US embassy to renew the kids’ passports (a topic for another day), I listened to the TwinBeans playing paper, rock, scissors.  As far as I know, kids world-wide play this game so I won’t be explaining it… Eavesdropping on the Bean-version, I realized they were arguing over whether swords beat scissors or not.  Swords?!  They then wandered even farther afield.  Within minutes, they had pencils and erasers (the eraser beat the pencil because it just erased what they wrote) and pencil sharpeners (because of course the rock would make the pencil inoperable).  And I was inspired.

Boredom gives us the opportunity to create… new games, new activities, new ideas.  Boredom forces us to think of new things to do.  And, it keeps us from getting too comfortable in the summer lifestyle.  A little boredom mixed in means the Beans will be seriously ready to start school again.  After all, far better to go learn new things and see our friends than sitting home arguing with he other two Beans over whether it’s my turn or yours to sing Dancing Queen on SingStar, right?  And boredom also gives us the chance to work through our latent aggression issues.  When they are forced to stay in close quarters with the same playmates, they learn that bossing others in games will make them unwilling to play with you, spitting on your siblings is likely to result in a licking (literal, not figurative), and arguing will make MommaBean cut off game privileges…

Bottom line, a little boredom not only never hurt anyone… it actually helps them.  So, here’s my summer-time call…

Happy Boredom!

What does your garden look like?

In the spirit of continuing our education this summer, the Beans and I are doing a series of different projects.  Today we did a science project, a word find (so reading sort of), and an art project.  The science project was pretty neat, although ours didn’t work out quite right.  Basically, it’s about floating grapes.  You make a sugar solution and float the grape in it as the grape is less dense than the sugar solution.  It sinks in the straight water.  But, it was supposed to float half-way through in the half sugar half pure water cup.  I think it was user error. The user, of course, is me.

We also did a garden themed word find.  The kids got to hear the names of flowers and veggies and then decide which they were.  They all did well.  Each took a different approach.  ButterBean looked for words and then found them on the list.  Junior Bean looked on the list, but found additional words as he was looking.  JujuBean looked solely at the list.  She took the longest ;).

Finally, our art project (during which I hoped to use up a bunch of dried rose petals, but was not successful), was creating a garden.  We made flowers and others things you might find in a garden.  Our garden has monsters (you know cookie monster (and a plate of cookies)), butterflies, flowers of all sorts including imaginary ones.  In short, it had everything a garden needs.  In deciding how to manage the garden, I thought of a flower-pot that had recently been emptied.  So, here is a glimpse at our garden…

Happy Flowering Imagination!

The Construction Paper Connection: On Jordan’s Creativity Issues

Recently (yes, after 5 years), I ran out of construction paper.  Well, that’s not strictly accurate.  I ran out of construction paper in any color but black.  And, as I’m sure you all know, it’s hard to make an artistic masterpiece if your palette is limited to black.  So, I headed out to find some construction paper with which to bolster my flagging supplies.  I went into a medium-sized bookshop where I find many nice items and very helpful people (love you Sweifieh Bookshop). I needed to get poster board for a JuniorBean school project and construction paper.

I found the poster board, although calling it that is slightly a misnomer.  It’s less like what I think of a s actual poster board, you know slick on one side, matte on the other, heavy stock.  The stuff here is actually more like a really big piece of fairly heavy card stock.  It’s textured on both sides… Unusual stuff indeed.  At any rate, I asked the very nice fellow about construction paper.  He looks at me a bit confused.  I clarify, you know heavy paper in a pack that has lots of colors.  Understanding dawns and he smiles.  He then proceeds to say, “Ah, yes, the American stuff.  We don’t carry it, check at Istiklal.”

Now, how American and provincial of me, but I admit, I never knew construction paper was an American thing.  I mean how do you do craft and art projects without construction paper?  How do you experiment and see what colors look good together?  How do you make paper snakes?  Really, how?  Ah, then understanding dawns… you don’t.  Ladies and gentlemen, Jordan lacks creativity because it lacks construction paper.  Let the construction paper revival commence!  Give the children of Jordan a voice, give them a chance!  Break out the tent and the down home construction paper preacher!

On a more serious note, construction paper is a staple in every American household, every kindergarten and elementary school.  Really, it’s found anywhere you find children.  American children spend countless hours making adorable junk that causes their parents a mild case of parental guilt when discarding it.  It is the foundation of the children’s-art taking-over-the-house phenomenon.  And it gives you free rein.  I’ve made (and supervised the making) of countless Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, and Birthday cards.  Each one is as unique as the child who made it.  I’ve cut out countless snowflakes and made angels and backed other art projects to give them a stable base before covering them.

And, as silly as it sounds, this challenge does highlight something that hampers creativity in Jordan. It is hard and expensive to get supplies.  Finding the right stuff to make a project with is an exercise in creative abilities in and of itself.  You have to think and think and think about what you can use in place of X and what you can substitute for Y and what would do almost as good a job as Z.  And if you don’t have the creativity, you’ll throw your hands up in the air and give up.  For sure.  So, while my proposal is tongue-in-cheek a bit, the construction paper shortage highlights an actual contributory problem… supplies aren’t here and when they are, they’re crazy expensive.

As a closing note, I did find construction paper at Istiklal.  It’s twice as big as it should be (an A3 instead of A4 paper) and costs 8 times as much as I would pay in the US.  So, clearly the masses won’t be buying or using construction paper.  You have to be willing to go downstairs and buy “art supplies” to get it in Jordan.  And how many people who need to boost creativity skills are going to be able to do that?

Happy Revival!

Breeding Creativity

I read a very thought-provoking article yesterday which has me considering creativity today.  I’m very interested in creativity purely for creativity’s sake.  The article was actually about chaos and innovation, but I’m going to call them the same thing.  To me innovation is creativity that’s going somewhere ;).  Clearly, I talk a fair amount of creativity and some fairly significant limitations Jordan has in this area.  I rather feel that it is up to me to ensure the Beans are able to think and act creatively.

So, back to the article, the primary premise is that for creativity to thrive you need structure not chaos.  So, I hear you thinking what I have thought in the past… but creativity is about breaking the rules and doing things differently.  Indeed it is.  Having said that, we’re human.  I’m going back to my childhood here for a few minutes, so bear with me.  As a kid, I lived in a mess.  This was a mess of my own creation patterned after the mess I experienced throughout my growing-up house.  MimiBean is many wonderful things, but neat and tidy isn’t one of them.

As a tween and teen, I lived in a room where things were knee-deep on the floor of my room.  If I needed to find something I’d been working on, it typically took at least 30 minutes.  If I needed supplies for a project, it’d be hours of searching.  During this time period, I found it very difficult to be particularly creative.  I never really attributed this to my lack of neatness.  But time does funny things.  I now realize, it is nearly impossible to create (or innovate) in chaos.

This was brought home to me in dealing with the Beans.  As I mentioned, MemeBean often lacks structure.  It’s her personality.  She has the most wonderful ideas and is able to articulate them beautifully, but providing the structured approach to help them get done isn’t always possible for her.  When the Beans were small, she found it a bit restrictive that we run a rather tight ship.  Pick up-clean up is done immediately after playing with toys.  Art supplies are kept all together in some semblance of neatness (harder to do now that the Beans pull them down themselves).  MemeBean felt like this would stifle their creativity.  I thought the best way to explore this was to experiment.  One day, we’d try her approach and pull everything out and leave it a mess.  The next, we’d take out the items we needed, provide a little guidance and structure and see what happened.

In the end, we found that on the structured day the Beans created more and had more fun.  The structure and limits weren’t confining or restricting.  Rather they freed the Beans to focus on creating rather than finding the supplies and seeking out inspiration and such.  If you think of the quintessential artist’s pose with palette and brush in hand… it’s another great example.  The artist doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike and then go mix paints.  Rather her gives himself the structure of having supplies at the ready so that when inspiration strikes, he can move quickly.

I have to agree with Mr. Diab’s concern that somehow innovation has come to equate with chaos and breaking of templates.  Rather, innovation often comes within structure and boundaries.  Thinking of the musical world, if you want to break the rules and be creative, you first must understand the rules.  I came across another interesting article entitled Creativity Must Have Structure.  In it, the author points out that our best inventions unleashed our ability to create (musical notes, alphabet, etc.).  So, all in all in our work-life and our home life, we need to build the time, the processes, and the structures that let us be creative.

Happy Out-of-the-Boxing!