Tagged: curiosity

Every Challenge is also a Chance

Challenge and Chance

As parents and educators our primary concern is keeping our children safe. Along with safety we spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for our children’s success in life. Sometimes the two of those concepts seem at odds. Actually, if you dig in, I would suggest that you might find they’re not.

This morning my three older children (6,4, & 2) were playing a game that involved pieces just small enough and just large enough to be choking hazards for my youngest child (1). So, while his brothers and sister played this game he was bound to a high chair. He was miserable.

We tried to distract him in every way possible. We made silly faces. We made silly noises. We dances silly dances. We offered him a variety of food. He screamed, he cried, he threw the food. Nothing would satiate this poor child. All he wanted was to play with his siblings.

We were confident in our adult-knowledge that he could not play this game. It involved manipulating the little pieces with a small plastic tweezers. We “knew” that he could not do that. We “knew” that he would try to eat the pieces. We “knew” that he could choke on the pieces. Therefore we were doing everything we could to make it so that he couldn’t and wouldn’t play the game. It turns out what we “knew” wasn’t exactly true.

Sometimes it’s important for parents and educators to think out of the box. Instead of always protecting children from life’s challenges it’s important that we provide children with safe opportunities to be in challenging situations. As parents and educators we should consider looking at all challenges as simultaneously being such opportunities.

In my own life, looking bath on my path, I can clearly see that every single challenge I’ve experiences has also been an opportunity for learning and growth. When I’ve reflected on learning and growth and subsequently shifted my thinking and/or developed new skills sets, that learning and growth, born out of challenges, has enhanced my life. Even challenges that have caused me discomfort, triggered fear, or produced hurt have only made me stronger and pushed me toward becoming the best I can be (still becoming by the way).

I believe that children become better at grappling most effectively when they’re given opportunities to grapple and challenges to grapple with. Every challenge is also a chance.

Shortly after doing everything we could to keep our little guy (who’s actually quite big) from playing the game he was pining over his siblings moved on. He didn’t. Eventually he got to it. But guess what, he didn’t choke. In fact, he didn’t even attempt to eat the pieces. Instead, he carefully used the tweezers to move them from place to place. I was amazed that he had the fine motor skills to get the task done. This kid looked at the game as a challenge and was determined to overcome it.

In hindsight I realized and remembered that kids can do amazing things when they’re given the opportunities and support to do them. I realized and remembered that anything is possible, even when it’s outside of what we adults think we know. I realized and remembered that every challenge is also a chance.

The children we serve, both at home and at school, are at various places along developmental timelines. Like us, they are neither perfect nor stagnant in their imperfection. Like each of us, none of them can or should be defined by any one decision or any one moment in time. Each of us is a work in progress.

With the safety and wellbeing of children in mind we must consider pathways to independence. It’s critical that we keep progress in mind along with the idea that pushing through challenges with mistakes as catalysts to successes is going to best equip them with the tools they need to be happy, independent, and successful throughout their journeys…even thought it ain’t easy. Some would argue that nothing worthwhile ever is.

Live, listen, learn, lead, and always bring your best.

Losing Makes You Win Better

Losing to Win

A Story. Three of us were on the couch this afternoon. My 6-year-old and I were watching the Spartan’s take on Penn State. My 4-year-old was playing on my phone. They were both eating some scrambled eggs. I was munching on some left over pizza.

Every few minutes little brother would groan, whine, shutter, pout, and then settle back into the game. It’s a pretty cool game. You’re a square with a face sliding along a friction-less plane. You can jump by tapping the screen. The objective is to avoid obstacles along the plane. The obstacles become increasingly complex as you advance.

Little brother is pretty good, but nobody can keep going indefinitely. At some point you (the square) are bound to hit something. Then its back to the start, or to whatever benchmark you made it past before the tragic but inevitable hit; hence the “groan, whine, shutter, pout, and settle back in” pattern.

Finally I asked, “What’s wrong, Bud?”

He shrieked, “I keep losing!”

Before I had a chance to remove the device from his hands in favor a much-needed break, big brother, without looking away from the game and with a half-mouthful of scrambled eggs nonchalantly commented, “Actually, that’s good.”

He wasn’t teasing. He wasn’t pushing buttons. He wasn’t being silly. He believed what he was saying like he believes that even a tiny taste of asparagus is a bad idea.

Little bother shrieked even louder, “It isn’t good!”

Big brother, as impartially as before, and still without bothering to distract himself from eating or watching basketball, replied, “Actually it is.”

This second effort, relaxed and indifferent as it was, caught little brother’s attention. He looks up at the big guy. “Why?” he asked through a whimpering tear.

This time big brother looked up. He looked him straight in the eye and informed him with every bit of sincerity that, “Losing makes you win better.”

“Oh,” sighed little brother with an emerging sigh of contentment accompanied by an expanding whole-face smile. Then, not only did he joyfully return to his losing streak, but also he pointed out each loss with celebratory exuberance as it came.

A Statement Dissection. The kid didn’t suggest that losing has the potential to provide information about winning or that experiencing setbacks is likely to instill a combination of motivation and extended knowledge, he stated the losing makes you win better.

Losing. Nowhere in his utterance of the word was a negative connotation so much as implied. It was a good thing. It wasn’t bothersome or frustrating, but rather a piece of the “winning” puzzle. “Losing,” as this very young student of life presented it was highlighted as a stop along the journey. Moreover, it was highlighted as a recurrent stop, not to be frowned upon or dreaded, but to be relished and celebrated for it’s tremendous and innate powers. In fact, it “makes you win better.”

Makes You. The suggestion here was not that you could dig into each loss, analyze and reflect on it, and then pull out some prophetic insights that would have you headed toward achievement. No, this thing “makes you win better.” You don’t have a choice. It makes you! Awesome.

Win better. Paging Dr. Dweck. Can you say growth mindset? Maybe it was the beginning of the new Peanuts movie when Linus called out, “Remember Charlie Brown, it’s the courage to continue that counts!” Maybe it’s that kids aren’t jaded or cynical. Maybe this kid simply gets it (he does seem to have his mom’s smarts). Whatever it is, big brother doesn’t think of winning as something you do, he thinks of it as something you keep doing along a spectrum of “better.” Awesome again.      And as if that isn’t enough, he’s teaching it to his little brother, which takes some pressure off of me. More time to eat left over pizza and watch Sparty stomp. Speaking of which, is it a coincidence that our five losses, as horrific and heartbreaking as they each were, seem to have made Sparty win better? Watching those three-pointers sink is quite a thing for died-in-the-wool Spartan.

It works, my friends. Don’t fight it. Savor and celebrate those losses. Rejoice when they’re yours and support the process when they belong to your children, your students, your friends, and your loved ones. Don’t fret. Don’t feel bad. Feel good. Even through the challenges our occasional (or even frequent) losses bring, keep a positive heart with a foundation of learning and growth.

Truly, losing makes you win better. I know because some of the best advice I get comes from the little people I serve, and the moment I heard it I understood that this bit was spot on!

Live, listen, learn, lead…and always bring your best!

Saying A Poem

Kids Can Fly

A Story:

Recently my six-year-old and I were walking into a store when we heard an Ambulance coming up the road. I kept walking until I felt a tug on my coat.

“Dad,” he said to me, “Momma told me that when you hear an ambulance driving up the road you’re supposed to say a poem for the person inside.”

I understood that what his mom actually told him was that he should say a prayer for the person inside, but I really dug the translation (so did his mom when I reported out later on). I didn’t correct him. I simply nodded my head in agreement and support.

Anyway, we stood there for a moment. He let his hand slip from my coat and then rise to his chin, settling in the classic “thinker” pose as he tends to do when he’s deep in thought (the beard is yet to come). I just watched. He was giving it some intensely penetrating attention. He authentically cared about this. I could see on his face that he needed to get it right.

What an interesting piece of the childhood puzzle. We weren’t standing outside of just any store. We were standing outside of 7-11. The big guy stopped cold in his tracks on the way to get a treat. He felt that saying a poem for a person in an ambulance was more important than eating a donut with sprinkles on it. He knew that there was likely someone in need of some positive energy and some healing thoughts, and he was intent on delivering just that before moving on with his life.

After some serious consideration he indicated that the poem was ready to share. In hindsight I might have written it down or recorded it on my phone but it just wasn’t that type of moment. I don’t recall exactly how it went but I remember the sentiment. His poem expressed the hope that healing would happen quickly.

He meant it too. We stood for a moment. I gave his hair of bit of a rustle, expressed my pride and offered some affirmative feedback regarding the practice and his dedication to it, and then we went in for our teat.

Connections to Life, Learning, and Leadership:

This situation marks one of the many times I’ve noticed a child act with genuine compassion, even along a stalled path to treats, celebrations, and/or rewards. Kids are connected to people with extreme purity. They’re connected to those around them as defined by their curious natures. They seek to understand themselves and others from a place of innocence in part because everything is about growth for them, and in part because they’ve not been hardened but skepticism. What if we could harness that innocent curiosity and compassion?

I say we can. Parents and educators, let’s continue to encourage it in our children by taking every opportunity to suggest ways that they can express compassion and support it when they come to it on their own. Let’s also lead one another by allowing children to be our role models as we relearn this incredible skill from them and enforce it within each other and ourselves. Then let’s model it to one another and celebrate it in those we serve. Let’s say poems for one another as often as the idea arises!

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Press On.

Why Is The Moon Following Us?: The Immeasurable Joys and Benefits of Genuine Wonder and Imagination

My life is predominantly filled with motion and noise.  It makes the moments of calm quiet seem decadent and luxurious.  I happen thrive on the motion and noise, in large part because it gives me stuff to reflect on during the decadent, luxurious moments of calm quiet.  It’s all integrated in to my health, wellbeing, learning, and growth.  I need both paradigms for optimal functioning in either.  I need to be consistently infused with input from the world, and from the people I work with, live with, and otherwise spend my time with.  I also need to step away from that input in order to dig into making some sort of sense of it.

As I consider the lens through which this particular needs-realization was conceived I can’t help but wonder about wonder.  That is to say, I’m feeling curious about curiosity…which is kind of fun.  I’m thinking about its connection to imagination and how profoundly that connection has influenced and enhanced my life so far.

I remember being a really curious kid.  I remember consistently feeling compelled to make concerted efforts at exploration, discover, and understanding.  I don’t recall if I ever truly lost that compulsion, and I can’t say with any degree of certitude that it was ever even diminished in me, but I can report that being almost always surrounded by kids seems to have enriched it.

So much is new and exciting to kids.  Everything is about breakthroughs and amazement.  I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Did you see that!” or “Look what I found!” in any given day.  Typically, when I inquire or turn to look I see that the incredible thing a kid is excited about discovering is a worm, or an airplane, or a little dog wearing a sweater and boots, or something else that adults might mistake for less than earth shattering.  Adults make lots of mistakes.  It’s ok…we’re learning.

Not only do kids teach us that wonder and imagination are a great combination for joyful, engaged learning, but they show us how to fearlessly participate in both.  Do you ever find yourself sitting in very important meeting thinking that you have something to say or ask, but you don’t say or ask it because your worried that the very important people your with will subsequently impart harsh judgments upon you?  Little kids typically don’t.  Sometimes I do.  I try to fight it as best I can…but regardless, I do.  Little kids seem to find everything and everyone equally important.  It’s a cool way to view the world if you ask me.

But wait!  Thinking like a little kid, what if the something you have to say or ask is actually very important?  We rarely know how important a thought or a question is before we put it out into the world.  I think it would be a shame, and frankly a relatively selfish act, to withhold a potentially very important thought or questions from a group of very important people in a very important meeting.  Furthermore, might it be ok to say something that turns out to be not so important?  Most people I know who are truly seeking meaningful development are willing to consider, and even interested in hearing any and all thoughts and ideas…very important of otherwise.  In fact, some adults I know are much like little kids in that they too find every thought and idea to be very important.

Kids tend to say what they’re thinking when they’re thinking it, and simply because they’re thinking it.  When they’re little, they either don’t weight their thoughts and ideas on an importance scale, or again, they believe that all of it is important.  I would argue that for that and other reasons little kids have a lot to teach us about exploring and articulating our curiosities.  They’re great models of innovative thinking and courageous expression.

Somewhere along the line toward adulthood that capacity seems to weaken, but I believe that it also lingers within each of us, that it remains ready to be tapped at any moment, that kids can lead the way, and that there’s something really important about whatever it is that fuels, nurtures, and perpetuates it.  I have found that articulating my excitement over thoughts and ideas is one key ingredient in my genuine wonder and imagination, and that my genuine wonder and imagination is a key combination for my positive progress, in learning, leadership, and life.

Last night on the way home from swim lessons my three-year-old sat quietly looking out his window.  Finally, as we were getting close to home he asked, “Daddy, why is the moon following us?”

Do you remember wondering the same thing as a kid?  I do.  It made me think about why I haven’t been amazed by that phenomenon in so long.  Maybe because it’s ridiculous…everyone knows that the moon isn’t following us.  But as I remembered wondering about it I remembered how exciting it was.  Incredible!  I rethought my position.  Maybe the moon is following us!  Oops, I almost slipped into wonder and imagination surrounding a clearly ridiculous notion.  On the other hand, I kind of liked it.

Do you remember the immeasurable joys of wonder and imagination?  I think that there are significant learning and leadership benefits in doing so.  I would suggest that we might each look to kids for inspiration in that area, that we might each consider and reconsider our positions on believing in ridiculous notions and articulating those beliefs, and that we might each dig down deep for the innovative thinking and the creative expression that’s just waiting to be tapped within us.  However, if you have or do decide to go down that road I would further suggest that you do so with extreme caution…you just might like it too!

Live. Learn. Lead.

 IMG_8057

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

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.

 IMG_7639

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.

IMG_7123

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.

 IMG_6080

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.