Tag Archives: imagination

The Vital Importance of Diversity

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“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by.”

What a Wonderful World – Thiele & Weiss

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If we care about mankind and its future, if we care that the most powerful nation on earth has a leader who does not believe in science and who puts immediate gratification above concern for future generations, then it is time that we make a radical shift in how we view education within a global society. The mill of school grinds along, and we are glad that it does, but changes in how we teach at the fundamental level have now become critically important.

“Most of what we teach children today is going to be completely irrelevant to the job market in 2040 or 2050.”

Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens

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 We cannot survive, much less thrive, if we build walls and keep people out. It is through the permeable sharing of ideas and cultural nuances that we build on our own reservoirs of knowledge, compassion, and the ability to live in harmony.

No one would dispute that teaching our children to share is a good thing, one of the basic elements of social-emotional relationships. When we share, we learn. We show others our good intentions, and they show us theirs. Bridges are built and alliances are formed.

The concept of respecting one another begins at the earliest levels of education. Even preschoolers can understand that their blue marble of a world spins in a beautifully complex solar system. They can grasp the idea that there are lands across the seas where people speak differently and go about their day in different ways, yet share the same joys and sorrows that we do.

We cannot coexist in any kind of peace if we fear each other, and we cannot imagine anything better if we don’t begin to encourage critical thinking skills and the uses of imagination in our schools.

Children feel a close affinity with the creatures of air, sea, mountains, and forests that share the world with us. Have you, lately, looked at a picture book of animals as closely as they do? They have an innate curiosity and empathy that, rather than dismissing as ingenuous, we need to recognize for the wisdom that it holds.

The question “Why?” is asked primarily by children less than seven years old and the greatest philosophers and scientists of all time. Think about that.

Yet we proceed, beginning in elementary school, to encourage students not to ask,  but to answer questions- to memorize facts, figures, and formulas. It is no wonder, then, that the trajectory of education becomes a long distance race to get into a good college, secure a high paying job, and then, finally, get down to the business of living.

The way our competitive education system works is that children learn early on that it is better not to think outside of the box. That imaginative thinking, flights of fancy, and creativity, at best lowers their grade point average and at worse, gets them labeled “weird.”

We are, grade by grade, inadvertently teaching our children not to think more deeply than a test requires.

Worldwide-scholars, tech companies, scientists, educators, politicians, medical researchers, and thousands of others share knowledge; effectively creating networks of ideas that often lead to radical breakthroughs in their fields. When we think and feel and work together at the global level, we nurture compassion for the hungry, the suffering, the refugees of war, all those in need, because the faces and the voices of humanity become real to us. We cannot understand others without interacting with them, any more than we can understand what water is just from knowing its chemical formula. When we  foster bonds with different nations we all benefit. Our minds expand in many different ways as we share thoughts and our hearts grow in equal measure as we become more viscerally aware of others.

Without making a definitive change in both our education system and our budding nationalistic and isolationist politics we are in serious danger of losing our ability to engage innovatively and diplomatically. It is unwise, if not foolish, to be unaware that our entire planet is an eco-system, not only from the standpoint of biology, but on deeper levels of cognitive connectivity. We need clean air and water and we need to believe in and take responsibility for climate change, but we must also believe in mutual respect and tolerance despite different skin colors, religions, or ideologies. It is vital that we begin to teach, starting at the earliest levels of education, that we are the caretakers of our world, not its rulers.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/09/epa-scott-pruitt-carbon-dioxide-global-warming-climate-change

Resist

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“A machine that, when you touch the button, it makes the ocean clean for the whales and dolphins and even the sharks.”  Ava – Age 6

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

The Power of Poetry

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Poetry is often looked upon as irrelevant, a part of another era, when people had more leisure time, less distractions; when conversation was an art, and life wasn’t so frenetic. Yet, it is well documented by linguists that children who have early exposure to poetic verse and the phonemic and syllabic sensitivity it brings, have an easier time recognizing individual sounds and learning to read.

Poetry is the heartbeat of literature. Begin a rhyme in a room full of children and watch what happens…a sudden attentive stillness. Even babies, who can’t yet understand the meaning of the words, are entranced by the patterns, repetitions, and rhythms:

I am Sam

Sam I am

That Sam-I-am That Sam-I-am!

I do not like that Sam-I-am

Do you like 
green eggs and ham?

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

I do not like 
green eggs and ham.

Dr. Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham

Rhyme draws attention to the ending sounds of individual words – alliteration to the beginning. The musical language of poetry rings and reverberates, creating in the child a fundamental joy in literature.

But should the reading of poetry end with nursery rhymes? The emotions that poetry evokes are universal. As children grow older, the reading and writing of poetry can help them to cope with vulnerable truths that are too fragile to share in other ways…love, pain, death, transcendence…feelings not likely to be discussed on Facebook:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wvnQcm3SZE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Reading aloud one’s own poetry creates a forum for individual expression that inspires confidence and pride. To communicate profound feelings and see that others share them is a transporting experience. In a school system that stresses the head – test taking, memorization, grades, and competition – poetry celebrates the heart. In this increasingly homogenized culture, poetry’s power lies in its originality-whether wild with rage as in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, or soft with the tenderness of e.e.cummings’ somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond, poetry connects us intimately and immediately to our deepest feelings.

The language of poetry encourages inventiveness with words. Hope is “the thing with feathers” (Emily Dickenson). Eyes are “the window to the soul”(Shakespeare). Poetry conjures images that broaden and enlighten the mind. Metaphor and simile invite the reader to look at life in different ways, using unexpected correlations that inspire creative thinking:

The fog comes

on little cat feet

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on

Carl Sandburg – Fog

From the rocking rhythm of early lullabies to the healing strength of dirges, the simple truths of poetry cross all cultures, all boundaries. Introduce poetry early to share the wonder of words with your child, but don’t lose track of how poetry’s elegant, eloquent elucidation can inspire us throughout our life

Why Doing Absolutely Nothing is Important

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“Not all those who wander are lost.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

The modern world is a hectic one. Between school, sports, dance, music lessons, karate class, and other extra-curricular activities that fill our children’s days, there is precious little time for them to be alone with their thoughts. To be alone with one’s thoughts is to let the mind wander…to imagine. When the brain is free of distractions thoughts become reflective, and unexpected connections are made that expand consciousness.

Daydreaming enables us to revisit our memories. Allowing time to process these intricate emotions leads to deeper understanding of ourselves and others. When children are given the time to ponder they begin to take leaps from what they know to what they don’t know. Often, these original ideas are sweet, innocent, or funny…but they are, unmistakably, inventive, and show the developing mind at work.

When a child daydreams, no one can intrude on his fanciful imaginings. He is free to explore, to make unique, whimsical associations that are the seeds of creative thinking. We live in a culture that values productivity, but, ironically, frowns upon the very dreamers who are the gateways to inspiration and invention. Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

It is not only composers or poets who benefit from daydreaming, but scientists, mathematicians, and engineers as well. MRI research has revealed that, during a daydream, areas in the brain associated with complex problem solving are activated. Scientists now believe that daydreaming is as important as the dreaming we do at night – a time when the brain works hard to coalesce and consolidate learning. Neuroscientist and human development psychologist, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, in an article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, states that daydreaming is vital to learning, ultimately strengthening cognitive abilities such as reading comprehension:

http://pps.sagepub.com/content/7/4/352

Daydreams can reveal truths that are not visible in the too bright light of everyday activities. Like a candle, or a star, they can help to lead us in the right direction. Let daydreams inspire your children. In a world that shouts for their attention, encourage and respect these quiet, thoughtful moments. Let’s teach our children to value the beauty of silence and their own fantastical inner worlds.

Read for Health

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While no good parent would feed a child nothing but junk food, unfortunately, many parents do not pay attention to what their child is ingesting through the seemingly always accessible electronic media. We all know that entertainment has become increasingly violent. It is not as often addressed that it has become alarmingly superficial and mean spirited. If a child is being fed these messages for many hours a day it becomes a daunting task to undo the damage. The average American child uses some kind of electronic device for 7 hours a day while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour per day for 3 to 5 year olds, two hours for 6 to 18 year olds, and none at all for children under the age of two.

Studies show that immoderate use of television and video games lead to attention deficits, anxiety, and difficulty with concentration. It is very important that parents monitor the time and the quality of all electronics their child is engaged in. Take the time to determine if your child, through this media, is being encouraged to develop the kind of character traits that you hope she will begin to emulate.

Books offer a respite against the frenetic world of electronic entertainment. They introduce characters that are more than just vehicles designed for bouts of combat. Books slow your child down and increase his attention span. They nurture imagination and creativity and, unlike passive screen time, make demands on your child to think deeply. They are an important part of a healthy diet for your child’s mind.

Words Connect Us

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The phrase “Use your words” in relation to encouraging children to express themselves has been around long enough to have become an iconic idiom. Normally it is used in conjunction with reminding a child that hitting, biting, throwing one’s self on the floor, etc….are not effective ways to communicate. But have you ever thought about saying to a child who is behaving properly,“Use your words”?

This blog is about the importance of establishing a love of literature early in life and the connection that reading has to the developing mind. Curiosity, creative thinking, imagination, attention span, and even social skills are all heightened through early exposure to books. Words connect us. Conversations, whether with a 3 year old or an 80 year old, inspire us and help us to see from different perspectives.

After all, what are books if not voices on the page…voices communicating stories to anyone who cares to listen. The author’s voice may tell stories of fairies, baby animals, princesses, dragon fighting, how to make a kite, or what lives under the sea…whether fiction or non-fiction, a book explores new thoughts that expand the heart as well as the mind.

All day long children are bombarded with peer pressure, expectations to perform, to obey, to excel, to be quiet when they feel like talking, to talk when they feel like being quiet. They are enticed with glossy packaging and advertisements designed to convince them that happiness lies in material possessions. Reading is free of all that. A book takes a child to a simpler, less intrusive  world. It sets their mind to dreaming and makes them smart.

What a beautiful gift to give a child, and it is as simple as using your words.