Perseverance

Today I watched a child working with some boards to create some ramps. It was quite a system that he set up:

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At one point, he had a really hard time balancing the boards on the different cones and objects that he was using for that purpose. I watched him closely to see if he would get frustrated, but he simply kept right on working and adjusting, trying to get everything to fit and stay the way that he wanted it to. When he was done, the results were very impressive.

I have watched children like this for a while. When they are creating and they are really in that creative zone, they don’t seem to get as frustrated as they would if they were being asked to do something or if they aren’t in that zone. They work harder and smarter and really focus on what they are doing. They don’t really give up until they get so frustrated that they have to walk away – and then they walk away. They don’t fuss or cry or scream, they just simply walk away.

The differences in attitude between the children who get in this zone and the ones who don’t are so astounding to me. I experiment with different materials in the classroom all the time to try to find things that allow children to enter into this state of focus. Open-ended materials, loose parts – these are the materials that guide children into flow. They are much better than the plastic toys that most manufacturers market as the best toys for children. Children don’t need fancy toys to create. They simply need real, found materials, some time, and some patience from us. When they have those things, they have super-focus and the perseverance to build amazing structures, all on their own.

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What We Do With Free Time

In the roughly one-third of the day that is free of obligations, in their precious ‘leisure’ time, most people in fact seem to use their minds as little as possible. The largest part of free time – almost half of it for American adults – is spent in front of the television set. The plots and characters of the popular shows are so repetitive that although watching TV required the processing of visual images, very little else in the way of memory, thinking, or volition is required. Not surprisingly, people report some of the lowest levels of concentration, use of skills, clarity of thought, and feelings of potency when watching television…the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and quality of life.

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychologybof Optimal Experience

Thinking About Art

On Tuesday, I am presenting Project: Preschool’s inaugural workshop series: Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom. I am super excited and nervous about it, as it will be the first time that I have presented my own material, outside of this blog. I have no doubt that everything will be fine, because I have spent the past two days making sure that everything is prepared. I even found a huge technical glitch today that I thought had been resolved months ago – I am definitely learning the lesson about checking behind myself.

Over the weekend I have had a thought bouncing around in my brain. It never really rested and solidified until today. I was thinking about children and art. Since the workshop is on creativity (and I am working on another one related to art in the classroom) I have planned for participants to complete an art project. But in the beginning, I had prescribed what they were supposed to create while doing the art. The thoughts that bounced through my head were questions about why I was structuring the workshop activity in this way, especially since I am discussing the points of motivation having to do with autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Obviously, prescribing an end that participants should meet would give them a purpose, but I’m not sure that is the type of purpose that I am going for. It doesn’t give participants autonomy, because I am telling them what to create. I guess I could argue for mastery, because participants would get better at creating whatever it was that I told them to create, but to what purpose am I telling them to make it?

If you are confused yet, I am sorry. But the entire thing made me stand back and take a hard look at just what exactly I was calling “open-ended” or “child-centered” art. Of course, sometimes when we do art, we do have to prescribe an end. But for most art projects, simply giving children materials and letting them create at will teaches us a lot about their interests and their character. It also shows us what skills they have and what they need to work on, and gives them the freedom to experiment with tools and materials in ways that interest them.

I’m sure that I will be thinking and talking about this subject more after my workshops. One of the cool things about teaching is that you are able to learn as much as you are able to teach. I am looking forward to learning more from other teachers while we discuss different aspects of creativity, and I am looking forward to diving deeper into the activity that we call art.

Keep Brainstorming

This is the sixth in a twelve-part series based on an article by Michael Michalko entitled “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking.” You can view the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth parts by clicking on the links.

My first idea was to offer live workshops for teachers. It was a good idea, and I am still putting it into action. My next good idea was for online workshops. I have that idea waiting in the wings. I have thought of many great ideas for expanding the scope of Project: Preschool, but since the business is still a baby, it isn’t ready for any of these ideas yet. I have been brainstorming about workshop topics, and constantly making the ones that I have already thought of even better.

I keep brainstorming and thinking about the direction I want the business to go and the ways I can create something tangible for it. Michalko does a very good job in his article listing some of the possibilities that were there for other inventors, but weren’t pursued until later, by other people. The key is to never stop thinking about what is possible, about what directions you can take an idea, and about how you can make your ideas better.

This goes for the classroom as well. As teachers, we should never become complacent about what is happening or what is in our classrooms. Classrooms should be dynamic places, constantly changing to add new experiences to children’s lives. We should always be thinking about how to improve upon what is there and how to tie each area of the classroom to what is currently being learned. And if we get a new and better idea than the one we had before, we should use it, because children deserve our best ideas.

We should also be encouraging children to build upon the ideas that they have. It seems sometimes like they do this naturally, but it is our job to make sure that they never get out of the habit of trying to improve upon the ideas that they have, or to pursue any idea that they have.

Imagine the Possibilities

This is the fifth in a twelve-part series based on an article by Michael Michalko, entitled “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking.” By clicking on these links, you can view the first, second, third, and fourth posts.

Possibilities are everywhere, and your mind is capable of coming up with a lot of ideas and possibilities. Michalko urges us not to discard any idea on the basis that it might be too far out there to achieve: “When trying to get ideas, do not censor them or evaluate them as they occur. Nothing kills creativity faster than self-censorship of ideas while generating them. Think of all your ideas as possibilities and generate as many as you can before you decide which ones to select.”

In my classroom, I have come up with a million ideas. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…” is how the idea usually starts, and then I brainstorm ways to make it happen. Some of my ideas are way out there and some of them are more low-key, but I always take each one into consideration – especially since I know that any idea can be altered if it has aspects of it that may not work. I have been grateful for the co-teachers that I have had that have been the voice of reason from time to time, and I have learned a lot from ideas that I have implemented that had unintended consequences that I could learn from. Creativity and learning is a process, and censoring ourselves in the middle of that process may mean that we don’t learn as much about what could be as we could have. And it may mean that our children miss out, as well.

We need to pass the skill of brainstorming ideas on to our children in the classroom, too. We need to let them know that it is okay to have some wild and crazy ideas, because through those ideas come the gems that mark real creativity and innovation. We need to respect them enough that we don’t censor their ideas, and teach them how to turn those ideas into methods and ideas that work. This is problem-solving at its best, and the businesses of today are looking for people that know how to problem-solve in these creative ways.

So go out there and imagine the possibilities!

 

Training Your Brain to be Creative

This post is the third in a series based on the article “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking” by Michael Michalko. You can view the first post here and the second post here.

Whenever you are in the process of learning something, you are training your brain in that area. New connections are made between neurons in your brain, strengthening your ability to accomplish the tasks that you have been practicing. While we think about practicing in order to increase our ability to do things like play sports or musical instruments, it also helps to practice other skills that we want to learn – even being creative.

Like a lot of people, I used to view myself as someone who isn’t creative. I looked at things that other people created with envy, wishing that I could be that creative. It took me a very long time to realize that I could be creative like that. The two keys that I found: a vision and determination.

I started out with a vision. Because I have done so much independent research into learning, thinking, education, and creativity, I felt that I could offer my knowledge to others. I created a vision of what it would look like to offer workshops to other teachers so that I could pass on my knowledge to them. I broke down the vision into pieces and tried to figure out what I needed to do to make each piece happen.

Then came the determination.

I had to MAKE myself do something toward realizing that vision. Every day. I couldn’t skip a day, or I would get lazy. My brain would stop coming up with ideas. I would stop trying to figure out how to implement them. I would stop imagining the end result. I would stop dreaming. And working.

I set a goal every single day, and set out to accomplish it no matter what it took. Some days were harder than others. Stress gets in the way sometimes. I have two kids, a full time teaching job, and I am going to school part time, so finding time to plan workshops gets tough. But the motivation is there. I love the vision and the knowledge that I have. The idea of sharing that knowledge with others inspires and motivates me. Working every single day toward realizing that idea and that vision has made it easier to do. I am now in the marketing phase for my first workshop, to be offered in a face-to-face (as opposed to online) format. Every time I hit a new phase, I have to push myself again. Each phase is harder than the one before, but each phase brings me closer to realizing my vision.

It takes work and determination to put forth the effort to train your brain in anything. Many of the people who have written about creativity say that creating a routine is essential. It helps to train your brain if you have a routine, and it helps keep your brain involved in the process if you take time to be creative frequently.

Everyone has the capacity to be creative. The key to training yourself to be creative is to find your passion, and then use your vision and your determination to work on that passion.

Creative Thinking Is Work

This post is the second of a twelve part series based on a post about creativity by Michael Michalko.

I saw a very interesting video last night. In it, a boy named Jacob Barnett gave a TEDxTeens audience some insight into how to be creative. In his very young way (he is 14), he told the audience to stop learning and start thinking. Now, this is a boy who was put in special education when he was younger. His parents were told that he was autistic and would probably never talk. Since he had that diagnosis and was put in less restrictive learning environments, it gave him time to think about other issues. Now he is filling out college applications and having Princeton physics professors trying to disprove the work that he is not only doing, but publishing research papers on.

There is a disconnect between what learning is and what thinking is. This disconnect is caused by the nature of our education system. Jacob Barnett encourages teens and others to stop learning for twenty-four hours and start thinking about something that they are passionate about. He recognizes the motivators: the ability to autonomously think about something that you are internally motivated by because of passion. 

He told a room full of teenagers to stop leaning on others for their knowledge and start thinking for themselves.

Doing this is hard work, especially if you haven’t done it before. However, once you begin to allow yourself the time and  attention that it takes to immerse yourself in your passion, it spreads through you like some sort of disease – only much, much better. Your brain begins thinking and making connections, and it is an exhilarating feeling to know that your brain has the capacity to do that much, to make that many connections. It is addictive; I would rather spend any vacation time that I get working on the ideas that I put forth in this blog or researching other ideas to put forth or present than do anything else. Because of this addiction that I now have, I am working harder than I have ever worked in my life and am busier than I have ever been in my life.

Creative thinking is work. It is hard work.

I have created many things. Many workshops, many blog posts. Most of the workshops that I created before were not that great. Some of my blog posts aren’t that great either, but I keep typing away because it is what I am passionate about. I work hard every day to create a workshop that will be inspiring and will allow participants to learn in their own unique way. It takes a focus and a passion and a patience that I didn’t know that I had. But I do, and you probably do, too. Find your passion and the rest will come with it.

This same type of focus and passion are necessary for an effective creative classroom environment. I am constantly changing things in my classroom to find out what works and what doesn’t. I work hard to apply the concepts that I discuss here in the classroom environment to make sure that they work. I have to be patient, because sometimes results don’t come right away. I have to be flexible, because sometimes the children have a different agenda than I do. And I have to be focused; I can tell when I didn’t plan very well. The children can tell, too. There is not a moment in my classroom when I am not working. Even when the children are sleeping, I think about incidents that happened throughout the morning, what they mean, and how to extend learning because of them. I think about individual children and what I need to do to help them learn. I think about class projects that I want to do. I plan how I need to change materials around the classroom to help them learn different things. Teaching, like learning and thinking, is dynamic. It should always be working and evolving, never sitting still.

Creative thinking is work. I am working harder now than I ever have in my life, but I love every second of it.

Things That Are Not Taught About Creativity

I ran into an article about ideas and beliefs that we are not taught about creative thinking. It really spoke to me because there are so few people who truly view themselves as creative. I used to be one of them, but through finding what I love to do, who I am, and how to express who I am through what I love to do, I found my creative self. I want to help others find their creative selves, as well. The article cites twelve points, and my next twelve blog posts will cover each point as it relates to the field of Early Childhood Education.

POINT ONE: YOU ARE CREATIVE

As I said above, there are so many people out there that feel that they aren’t creative. It simply isn’t the case. The article points out that creative people believe that they are creative, and people that don’t believe that they are creative don’t feel the need to put forth the effort to be creative.

I think that there may be a little more to it than that. Yes, creativity does involve an attitude – a certain way of thinking about yourself and your surroundings. But some people feel trapped by circumstances. In early childhood education, I know a lot of teachers that want to be creative, but feel like they can’t. Maybe they feel that the administration won’t go for their ideas. Maybe they just aren’t sure where to start. But part of being creative means taking the risks that are associated with it. Talking to the other people that have an affect on what goes on in your classroom can go a long way. Starting small and work your way up to the big ideas.

One of the factors involved in showing creativity as a teacher in Early Childhood Education is to ensure that our creative ideas do not endanger the safety of the children in the classroom. As teachers, it is our job to come up with creative ways to teach children, as well as keep them safe. Administrators are also responsible for the safety of the children, and are ultimately the ones who answer to the parents. Because of this relationship, it is a good idea to be in communication with your administrator about your ideas. I know that I have had several ideas that, while they were wonderful, wouldn’t have been as wonderful in the execution. I tend to think big, and because of this it is vital that I have a sounding board, someone who will listen to the idea and find the issues with it that need to be ironed out before the execution. An administrator can be that sounding board, because in most cases they have been in a classroom environment before. Because of their responsibilities to the center, the staff, and the parents, they are uniquely positioned to be a vital resource when it comes to ideas about what will work and what won’t. Administrators also tend to respect those who come up with new ideas, and who are not afraid to take risks associated with executing new ideas.

The bottom line is that everyone is creative. If you don’t feel creative where you are, you may be in the wrong place. If you feel that you have road blocks when it comes to showing your creativity, you need to examine what you think those road blocks are and work on getting them out of the way. I am a firm believer that a person cannot be truly happy unless they are unleashing their creative potential in the field that they love. Because of this, it is vital to make sure that you are doing something that you feel is worth your time. It brings to my mind the Holstee Manifesto. Check it out when you get a chance.

 

Twelve Things You Were Not Taught About Creativity by Michael Michalko

 

Five Things Learners Expect From Their Educators

I ran into this article about what learners expect from their educators. In light of what has been mentioned about motivation and creativity on this blog in the past two months, it is interesting that a lot of the ideas fall directly into the line of what is necessary for creativity. I urge you to read the article and see the connections for yourself:

5 Things Learners Expect From Their Educators

“Let’s Make a Band!”

I had the privilege of working in the Kindergarten Prep classroom in my center for a few hours on Friday. Friday is “Show-and-Share” day, so the children were excited to show me the toys that they had brought from home. The boys brought cars and super-hero themed items for the most part, and a couple of the girls brought dolls. But the item that created the need to make a band was an electronic drum pad that one girl brought in.

She had been sitting at the table playing with the drum pad when I happened to notice a book in the music area called “How to Play the Drums.” Excitedly we opened the book and began to talk about the different types of drums in a drum set. Soon the whole class was gathered around as we matched the sound of each pad on her set (there were four pads) to a different type of drum pictured in the book. The really fun part was when she asked me to teach her how to play – I grabbed a set of rhythm sticks out of the music area to use as drum sticks. After trying in vain to approximate some sort of drum set rhythm on the electronic pads, the girl gave up and said to the class, “Let’s make a band!”

What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary, in my eyes. These children, who I have seen antagonizing and bickering for weeks, worked together to create a band. They each grabbed instruments out of the music center, and set themselves up in the largest space they could find. One child grabbed a rhythm stick and designated himself the conductor. He led the children in fast and slow rhythms. The girl with the drum pads passed the set off to another child and went in search of an item to use for a microphone. She sang her heart out! She had an amazing voice and an even more amazing stage presence. The children took turns playing different parts of the band – completely voluntarily with no help or guidance from me. It was a completely cooperative effort and the kids made it happen by themselves.

Sometimes I think we forget how capable children can be. When I see experiences like this, it always blows me away. We forget about the power of working together toward a common goal, and we forget about what can be accomplished if we just back off a little bit. All it took was a little spark, the drum book, and the idea was born. Through one idea, the children created something of value to them. Of course, being the teacher that I am, I came up with a million projects that could be done to extend the experience in a million ways. And at some point I will have the opportunity to do those projects, when the musical urge comes to my own class. It shouldn’t take long; children love music. But this experience shows how much children are capable of when that spark happens and they are given the freedom to act upon their own creative urges.