Tagged: curiosity

La La Land: Encouraging Imagination Propels Growth

Yesterday was a day of imagination for the Berg family.  After breakfast my wife and I took our crew to a great local play place.   It’s a combination coffee house/miniature replica of the city.  There’s a miniature bank, barbershop, music store, restaurant, grocery store, etc.  There are plenty of dress-up cloths and other imagination amenities like play money, play food, play shavers and blow driers, little instruments, and toy cars.  The kids love it.  They run around enthusiastically pretending for a couple of hours while we try to keep up and join in where we can.

Next we headed home because the little ones needed food and naps.  The big guys and me left them to it and headed back out again.  We met up with our cousins at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA).  You might not think that an expansive fine art museum would be a good place for a five-year-old and a three-year-old to enjoy an afternoon adventure, but it is.

The first thing we ran into after spending some time enjoying the gigantic stairways was a huge marble corridor filled with ancient swords and knights’ armor.  We needn’t have gone any further.  Talk about bright eyed and bushy tailed!  But further we did go.  We saw mummies, statues, and paintings.  We joyfully ran from room to room through humongous columns.  Our imaginations were in full effect.

As if that wasn’t enough we stumbled upon a theater where a puppet show was about to begin.  We found our seats and stared at the stage for the next hour or so.  This was no ordinary puppet show.  This was the real deal.  I was amazed.  They were amazed.  We couldn’t take our eyes off of it.  It was a troop out of Chicago.  I use the word troop because that’s what they said, but it was two guys.  One played the guitar and sang the story while the other masterfully anthropomorphized a range of wooden characters from Giants to birds.  The puppets varied in size from ones that needed to be carried to ones that needed to be worn.  It was phenomenal.

The story was great too.  This giant wanted to preserve his beautiful garden.  In an effort to do so he made it into a “kid free zone” with a big wall and a sign.  What he didn’t realize was that doing so caused it to be cold and dark, like his heart was with that restriction in mind.  When the wall that he built cracked even a little bit and children were once again able to slip into the garden for play and pretend, all of the flowers and the peach trees began to blossom again.  In the end the giant was able to see the big picture.  He realized that the joyful and imaginative play of children is actually propellant of growth, and not a destroyer of gardens.  I think it was based on an Oscar Wilde story.

Later, after considerably too much chocolate milk and far too many skittles (don’t tell my wife), the boys were on hyper drive.  Still in the museum, their imaginations were running wild (along with their bodies).  When I was finally able to wrangle the three-year-old I said, “Oh boy, Bubba…I think you’re still in La La Land.”  On the drive home my five-year-old asked, “Is La La Land a real place.”  This kid comes up with some great questions.  They all do.

I told him it is.  We talked about imagination, possibilities, and potential (in a little kid type of way).  I hope that my kids never lose their incredible access to, love for, and faith in imagination.  I hope that I never think it wise to distance myself from that energy in an effort to preserve a garden, keep a living room tidy, or diminish the volume in my now bustling home.

Yesterday I was reminded with great clarity that imagination is the thing that drives progress, that pretend play is holistically joyful and productive, and that La La Land is a great place to spend time having fun, learning, and growing.

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Learning Is Fun…Don’t Forget It!

My five-year-old and I made sight word cards to practice at home.  We typed them up on the computer, printed them out, glued them to a poster board (he chose yellow), cut them out, laminated them, put them under a pile of heavy books for the night so that they would be nice and flat, and then we went to sleep dreaming of the finished product.  When we woke up, they were ready to go.

I thought that they would be good for practicing sight words; makes sense, right?  After all, they are sight word cards.  Turn out the big guy was thinking that they would be good for having fun.  Guess what…they actually are!

We made up this cool memory game where we flip them over and line them up like the real memory game.  Each player gets to flip two over to see if there are any matching letters in them.  Each time you flip one over you have to read it.  If the there is a matching letter in the words you have to point it out, and then you get to keep the set.

If there are two matching letters, like in “he” and “she” you get to get really excited about it, then point it out, then laugh and high five the other player/players, and then keep the set.  It’s a real thrill to get two matching letters!  After the game its over you get to count how many sets you each have, then you get to figure things out like how many you have together and how many more one of you has than the other.  Turns out, math is as fun as reading!

When we first started using the cards the kid knew less than half of the sight words.  Now he knows them all.  Granted, he’s not cranking them out the way he’s supposed to with sight words, but he knows them, and he’s certainly on the path.

The best part is that I have to pry him away from the cards in order to get him to stop “playing” with them.  He has to eat and sleep…he can’t just learn sight words and math all day and all night!  He pleads, “Just one more game daddy!”        It reminds me of two things.  First of all, there’s no substitute for a strong partnership between school and home.  We simply must support one another in setting high expectations for our children and fostering a love for learning in each of them.  Secondly, we can never forget that learning is fun!  When kids get excited about it, we’re responsible for fanning the flames of their excitement.  When they’re not excited about it, we’re responsible for working to understand them well enough to be able to provide them with exciting learning opportunities around every turn!

In what ways is learning fun for you?  When was the last time you shared that fun with your students or your children?  If it’s been a while, give it a shot…you can’t beat it!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Just Curious: A Simple Strategy to Model/Foster Engaged Learning

Yesterday my children and I spent about half an hour sitting on the porch just before bedtime.  It was a beautiful evening!  I sat with my five-year-old, while my three-year-old and my one year-old collected rocks, named bumblebees, and practice lifting each other up (the one-year-old is not so good at any of that stuff, but she’s great at trying!).

A kid on a scooter rode past.  My five-year-old said, “I’ve never had a scooter.” I asked if he’d like one.  He replied, “Yes.”  I told him that we could ask mama when she gets home.  He agreed, and then we went back to sitting in silence for several moments before we spoke again.  Here’s how it went when we did (he started):

“Can you talk to G-d?”

“Yes.”

“But G-d doesn’t have eyes.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Well, G-d talks in different ways than we do.”

“Like in Spanish?”

“Well, like when flowers grow, or the sun shines, or babies are born…that’s G-d talking.”

“And like when scooters are made?”

“I suppose.”

Now it seems clear that part of his motivation was the scooter wanting, but this wouldn’t be the first time he’s expressed profound and almost visceral curiosity. This kid wants to know stuff!  I’d like to be able to teach him everything he wants to know, but (and I hate to admit it) there are many things that I myself don’t know.  It reminds me of an old joke.  Two old men are sitting in a café.  After several moments of sipping in silence, one of the men states, “Life is like a cup of tea.”

The other man looks up, scrunches his eyebrows, raises his shoulders, rubs his chin, and finally asks, “O.K., how is life like a cup of tea?”

The first man replies, “What am I, a philosopher?  How should I know?”

There are some things that we know and can explain, there are some things that we just know, there are some things that we just think we know, there are some things that we believe, and there are some things that we suspect.  However, we can be curious about and explore anything and everything.  And when we teach kids to learn that way, we don’t need to be able to teach them everything.

Curiosity comes very naturally to children…it’s included, and it acts as a catalyst to engaged exploration.  It’s truly powerful.   As educators, we must work to harness that power through targeted instructional practices and connected classroom management.  I really appreciate the “just curious” modeling strategy for that purpose.  Before the introduction of a new concept or the start of a new lesson, say something like, “I’m so excited!  Today were going to explore (insert content, standard, skill, or idea)!  I’m just curious, how does that work,” or “Why does that happened,” or “Do you guys know anything about that?”

I believe that in response you’ll get at least some excited engagement; a decent start.  Stress exploration as the process that you’re going to engage in, and then modeled what authentic and excited engagement looks and sounds like.  When reached out in that way, you’re inviting your students to be partners in learning.  You are engaging in the process with them.  I’ve found that the, “just curious” approach can be effective across the curriculum.  When it’s implemented with authenticity, it can truly drive a culture in which curiosity leads to exploration, in which it’s not only safe to be wrong within the course of learning, but it’s expected, and in which multiple pathways can lead to discovery and achievement.

As you know, kids look to adults for much more than information.  They look to us for examples of how to behave, how to learn, and how to communicate.  Modeling learning as a process that begins with curiosity and moves through exploration, one that’s enhanced by positive partnerships, and one in which trial, error, adaptation, and the repetition of that cycle is critical for the achievement of intended outcomes, is a viable way to develop an effective learning culture in your classrooms and your schools.  Consistent modeling of active and engaged learning promotes active and engaged learning in those we serve.

They say that curiosity kills the cat.  They also say that the cat has nine lives. Maybe the cat is designed to try, and fail, and explore, and move forward, and try again, and fail again, and continue that way along a pathway of learning and growth until he reaches his ninth life.  Maybe each of our goals, and each of our intended outcomes has nine lives.  Maybe we can look to the cat for inspiration on how to achieve those goals and intended outcomes.  Let’s be sure that we don’t stop trying, even and especially when we fail.

One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison is, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to success is always to try just one more time.”  I think that modeling curiosity as a catalyst to learning and growth is a great way to give our student license for that kind of ongoing effort.  What do you think?  What do you know?  What do you think you know?  How do you model effective learning to your students?  Just curious.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.