Friday, April 18, 2014
The Playfulness of Creativity
Creativity dwells within a playful spirit; of this there is no doubt. If eyes contain a playful sparkle, you can be certain that a deliciously creative scheme is lurking ready to spring from just around the corner. This creative sparkle is highly contagious and extraordinarily irresistible to children who have not yet swallowed themselves up in a plethora of doubts and self-consciousness. We learn to push the sparkle away, however, as we grow older because it feels silly and childish and an extremely inefficient use of our highly structured, scheduled, and accounted for time. Our time is far too important, far too valuable to be frittered away in pointless child’s play. Really? We readily relinquish that playful creative sparkle in exchange for the joyless lockstep of nebulous beige uninspiring “keeping up with the Joneses” expectations. We draw ourselves closer to the comfort, security and measurability of conformity. But why? If the trade that we so eagerly choose does not set us in a happier place, then why do we not offer greater resistance, ask deeper more probing questions, or at least attempt to retain remnants of playfulness for weekends and holidays? Why do we walk away so very easily from that which makes our heart light and our smile lasting? As we move away from the creative sparkle, we clearly seem to lose a little joy, a little lilt in our step, and a little piece of our ability to see possibility, because these things are all swirling around within the wonder and delight of playfulness. Why do we allow ourselves to be herded down this sad and tired path which so easily can become a sad and tired rut? Why do we opt for sparkle-less when we surely could choose sparkle-full? Why are we surprised and then disappointed when we cannot come up with a new idea, a new plan, a new solution, a new possibility, when we have deliberately discarded the playful sparkle which is exactly where all of this originates. Perhaps it is time to discard the clock, loosen our too-tight bowties, and regain our sparkle. So, as an elementary creative drama teacher, I am allowed the excellent privilege of playing every day. Bliss. Sparkle. Joy. No one plays better creatively than children, whose eyes and hearts are filled to the brim with sparkles and whose imaginations are perpetually ready to fully engage. For example, to the kindergartners I mention that a blue heron is sort of a shy seeming bird with very long legs; let’s walk like blue herons. Instantly, twenty perfect blue herons fill the room. Let’s walk like a scissors. Twenty snappy scissors. Let’s swish like a sprinkler. Twenty spectacular sprinklers. And on and on we play and could easily continue forever this way, because children never ever run out of imagination. They never run out of playful sparkle. They never run out of new ideas, new stories, or new reasons to play. Growing older does not have to mean turning our backs on that glorious, happy, wonder-filled sparkle that thrives on a playful spirit which drives imagination, creativity, and ultimately innovation.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
What A Beautiful Mess
Untidy. Creativity is frequently on the untidy side because if one’s imagination is to fully cut loose, it cannot be troubled, encumbered, or held guiltily captive to neat and orderly cleanliness. We were city slickers, albeit creative city slickers, who moved heart and home to the country, place of boundless imaginative exploration and wonder amidst rolling acres and nature’s treasures. Toys schmoys. All we needed was to be outside, for high adventure existed everywhere in nature’s magnificent playground. In every season, the creative tools of play included: rocks, mud, creeks, sticks, flowers, trees, ravines, leaves, and winding mysterious paths. The cast of our creative play included: brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, several Labrador retrievers, a few barn cats, and occasionally invited guests such as parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, but only if they brought their imaginations and didn’t mind getting muddy. Imaginations grow and flourish in this wonderfully rich potting soil known as the countryside. It was late October, and the colored leaves had all come down. Rain had soaked this leafy carpet leaving a rather spongy, springy floor. The paths of the ravine as well as its steep sides were covered in this soft, springy, muddy carpet. It looked delightfully slippery to the very knowing eyes of the cousins who were well acquainted with every nook and cranny in every season of this beloved playground. Guests, friends were coming over to play while the moms shared coffee and conversation. The guests were very neat and clean and looked unmistakably like inside playing kids. We were crushed but readied our inside play accouterments to accommodate our guests. Could we play outside, they queried? Really; it’s a bit dirty out there? We never get dirty; it would be fun. Yes, it definitely would, but are you sure? It’s really, really dirty out there. Good. Okay then. So off we cousins went with our guests to the slippery slopes of the ravine, while the moms enjoyed their lovely, quiet fellowship. Time and mud and hilarity and unmatchable fun swirled around these cousins and guests as run after run after run after run we rode down the side of the ravine on the back of our pants. Caked head to toe in thick, thick mud, we all looked as if we had been dipped in creamy milk chocolate, and the sight of us to one another evoked constant, raucous peels of wild laughter from each of us as we trekked back to the house. Our mothers saw us coming from a long way off and surely heard us as well for they met us at the door with cameras first and then towels. They knew the deep value of creative play, they knew the blessing of play’s joy, and they knew that under all of that mud, which would eventually wash away, there were gargantuan heart smiles and spectacular memories of some slightly untidy, delightful childhood play that would last a lifetime.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Sealed With A Kiss
She was a concert pianist. Renowned. Revered. Her praises were highly heralded among all who boasted of membership in the local musical intelligentsia. I was six and had been playing songs from the radio on the piano by ear since I was three. The look, the sound, the feel of our piano sent ripples of unexplainable joy through my soul from the moment it arrived at our home. I couldn’t get enough of it. Music was beyond magical to me. She was the best. Seemed a match. Lessons began. Her persona and flaming red hair filled the piano lesson room and would have certainly intimidated this young student had my eyes fixed on her, but they didn’t. Her piano was spectacular, and its black lacquer elegance was something I had never seen; it completely captivated me. Saturday morning lessons continued with a growing sick-feeling in my six year old tummy because she was mean. If I played an incorrect note, she slapped my hands off the keys and shouted to begin again. If she heard one of my fingernails click on the keys, she would take me roughly by the hand to her bathroom, where she’d clip all of my nails. She impatiently and icily barked and snapped and slapped and clipped week after week, but how was I to know that wasn’t the appropriate manner in which to teach and learn piano playing? I didn’t know much at six, but I knew I longed to play the piano. Her too red, too much lipstick, which blaringly accentuated the non-encouraging words which shot out of her mouth like spit, wound up on my cheek at the culmination of each lesson as she seemed to like to seal each lesson with a big fat kiss. There, take that home as a token of my love and devotion. Yuck. Eventually I learned that if I brought my sweet grandma to my lessons, Meanie turned kind; what a performer! Grandma was thrilled to come along and I was thrilled to have her. Grandma, with her bag of tatting and gentle, happy spirit, attended granddaughter’s piano lessons with pride and enthusiasm never minding that she was hearing the same eight note songs over and over and over again; her smile never faded. Grandma was the best, most encouraging audience, and her unassuming presence reigned in the meanie who thought she was a teacher. Lessons with her didn’t last too long as her true colors manifested themselves at the first recital when her not-so-subtle tactics of humiliation, fear, and harshness appeared for those with eyes to see. Not all with great skill deserve the privilege of teaching. Young minds, full of curiosity and hope, are ever so willing to trust the hand of the one who offers to help them learn. In offering that hand, one must be absolutely certain that one has fully recognized the gravity of receiving that precious trust from a child. Teaching bears responsibility as no other.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Kids Are Kids, Families Are Families, And Kindness Is Kindness The Whole World Over
A graduate course in Cross-Cultural Educational Trends was going to lead me on a grand adventure across the ocean, to a cozy, beautiful town in southwest England. I was to live with someone I had never met or even spoken with, observe and serve at a Church of England primary school for about two months, and find my way to various places across England for meetings with professors and other grad students in this course. There were neither cell phones nor computers. It felt very far away. I felt very alone. I felt small and not particularly brave. Students must feel these very feelings whenever they need to start in a new school, in a new town. I would never down-play or disregard or discount or minimize the weight of that emotional strain ever again. Lesson already learned before even setting foot in the classroom or the host’s home. My host was extremely generous, compassionate and very kind. She was an outstanding teacher and an excellent friend. Our two mile walk to school each day was filled with endless conversation along narrow English country roads lined with flowers and dotted with cottages. Our daily walk took us right past a quaint, busy bakery where each morning the fresh, delicious smells beckoned us to stop for our breakfast of a warm hot cross bun. Many lessons were learned on our walks and many more lessons were learned in the classrooms and among the precious and very welcoming families. Children are the same everywhere. They love to play and sing, run and laugh, ask questions and tell stories. Families are the same everywhere. They love their kids, attend the kids’ games and concerts, and do the best they can. Neighbors help neighbors. Kind, gentle words lead to kind, gentle responses. Food brings people together. Sports bring fun. Music brings life. Laughter brings health. Communities are proud and are full of stories. As is always the case, there was significant book learning that was covered and tested in the course, but the life-changing piece of the course was unequivocally relational and emerged in the sweet connections made with these lovely, gracious new friends.
A Closing Thought To Taunton
Farewell my friends of recent days
To heart and home you’ve op’ed your door
And gently guided in your ways
A foreigner of distant shore.
Though words fall short when meaning’s deep
The best I have to share
Is in my heart for you to keep
A candle burning there.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
As we very excitedly prepare for our celebration of Grandparent's Day at school, I am clearly and deeply reminded of the powerful, beautiful and unconditional love that connects the hearts of grandchildren and their grandparents. In a world of endless busy-ness driven by a frenetic and ever-accelerating pace, there remains a gentle, peaceful, affirming place where hearts can be quiet, where smiles and hugs abound, and where there is always time for a story; a grandparent's lap. May the highest priority of this relationship never be underestimated. We love our grandparents so much.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
A Little Drama In The Science Lab
I had seen it done countless times. All successfully. I had tried it and done it successfully numerous times myself growing up in the country with all of the neighboring kids and all of the projects and games involving buckets and water. It always worked. And it was something close to magical to see because despite the spinning around and again, not a drop of water ever spilled. It was the perfect five minute science filler that would stir awe and excitement and leave the kids saying, “Wow! That was cool!” From there, it was straight to lunch and recess with big science inspired smiles. It wasn’t a particularly big bucket and it wasn’t overly filled with water, but the entire exhibition was just right for the first grade scientists for whom it was designed. We went outside with the necessary accoutrements, sat in the grass, and prepared to be amazed. After a very brief and simple explanation, I spun the bucket three or four times not spilling a bit to an accompaniment of gleeful ooohs and ahhhs. “Please show us again!” “And again!” Perfect! As we were lining up for lunch, Nathan asked, “May I try it?” Why not? “Sure, Nathan!” After two successful spins, Nathan’s spinning arm picked up some momentum, rapidly. “Nathan, it would be really good to stop now; you did a great job!” “I can’t!” Faster. Faster. Then, in a move such as one would make to jump in on a double-dutch rope jumping game, I moved in on Nathan’s spinning arm. It stopped in midair, upside-down, drenching us both, but saving his arm. Silence followed charged with a certain amount of awe, fear, disbelief, and hilarity. One quiet giggle pierced the silence; it was Nathan. “Wow! That was cool!” he erupted. Uncontainable giggles. Then off to lunch and recess with big science inspired smiles. Perfect.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
Why did my mom have to die? Why do I have cystic fibrosis? Why is my brother in a wheel chair? Why does my family always yell? Why do we have to move again? Why do they always pick on me? Why is my dad never home? Why is school so hard? So easy? So boring? Why should I care? Why? Tell me why. These and infinite others like them are the unanswerable questions that fill the hearts and minds of students on a daily basis. Sometimes students are able to gather their swirling, troubling thoughts and articulate the unanswerable questions, but usually they cannot or perhaps will not which leaves the young burdened heart and mind simply full of hurt. A mind and heart so full has little room for new learning material, because preoccupation with managing those things that hurt is indeed consuming. Life is hard. Lives are very complicated. At the same time teachers are consumed with the ever-looming, pressure-driven questions such as: How will these students pass these tests? How can we possibly improve our scores? What happens if we don’t? How can I individualize instruction, cover all standards, show continuous improvement in scores, encourage each student to strive towards higher order thinking and questioning, follow each IEP plan, aspire towards teaching and learning through multiple intelligences, and still allow time for discovery, curiosity, creativity, and collaboration? How is what is being asked of me even humanly possible? Inwardly all of us, teachers and students alike, are slowly, desperately drowning in this sea of unanswerable questions, because we are silently and overwhelmingly weighed down and stressed. Despite this, we all learn to maintain our “press onward” veneer and go through the motions of daily accomplishment. It’s a pressure-cooker. A time-bomb. An extremely tragic elephant in the living room. Metrics are being generated and collected and assessed and pronounced upon, yet no meaning has been made with respect to student learning. We have accepted this unfortunate but very measureable learning façade while completely neglecting truth, connection, depth, substance, authenticity, relational support, honesty, and a realness through which genuine, life-changing, meaningful and exciting learning can occur, hearts can be tended to, and compassion can reach in to share the hurt, even if answers cannot be found. What we have created in an effort to best serve our students is a number monster that feasts on the time needed to reach, teach, and inspire our students. How can we not recognize this? What will it take to correct our error which continues to ripple out in ever widening circles of despair?