Category Archives: Creativity

Beyond the 3 R’s

row of students

Besides the usual reading, ‘writing, and ‘arithmetic, I’m all for teaching our kids alterative paths of learning that will serve them for life, and not only to shine on standardized tests.

Taken one of my favorite blog posts, from the site Zen Habits, about forming life skills, I’d like to share ten ways both parent and teacher can help your child flourish this school year and beyond without textbooks:

1. Frugality.  No, you can’t “have it all,” and frankly, don’t need to. Teach about being content with what’s already  in your life, and treating all things with care and appreciation.

2. Critical thinking. This is something that is a  forgotten art, due to so much info overload, and the mantra of supplying the “right answer”. Let them explore the whys beyond the whats, and don’t be afraid to have them ask questions.

3. Charity. Learning to share one’s money and times is so important in becoming  a well-rounded humanitarian. Giving to others and to worthwhile causes strengthens character, and a sense of connectedness to others.

4.Compassion. “Walk a mile in my shoes” is not merely an oft-heard saying, but true. When we can develop the habit of empathy for others, the urge to put others down, or be inconsiderate is less likely

 5. Reading. Not just for book reports only, reading can open doors to ideas and experiences that can’t be found on the computer or TV screen. Let kids see us reading for the pure joy of it,, and they’ll pick up the habit.

6. Motivating oneself. Setting and achieving goals is how one moves forward. When our kids learn how to set their own sights for a desired outcome, they are better equipped to use their inherent creative powers.

7. Listening. It’s one thing to be constantly talking, but there’s another aspect to that—keep quiet and listen to the other person. Just because one is quiet doe not mean you’re only waiting to get your own point in. Listening is as important as talking to someone. That’s how dialogues are formed.

8. Paying bills. Meeting financial obligations, no matter how small, develops trustworthiness, and also, the being aware of reasoning behind creating those bills in the first place. Being n debt is not a given, but a choice that far too many of us have gotten ourselves into.

9. Anti-competition. Now that’s a hard one, as being No. 1 always seems to be desired, and at times, necessary, to have success in life. As adults, we too, need to step back from so much competitiveness, and focus more on teamwork and cooperation.

10. Finding a purpose. Teach our kids that they are here for a reason, to make a difference on this planet, to enrich the lives of others. They are not accidents of life, and need to be constantly reminded of their originality, and how to put it to use wisely. In doing that with the young ones, we also reinforce  that we are here to create lasting contributions and relationships.


Unable to connect the dots of thinking

children-thinkOne of the tasks I do at one of my sites is assist middle- and junior-high  students with critical thinking/character building activities.

Working with 4th through 8th graders, I am constantly amazed at how far too many kids don’t really know “how” to think reflectively. When given a quote to respond to on paper, the majority of students hit a brick wall, and were not skilled to verbalize clearly, if at all.

For example, one of the quotes was Gandhi’s “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Students were asked to show how this statement applies to their lives, in more than just a sentence or two. First of all, they didn’t understand what the statement meant. [These were 7th and 8th graders.] Then, they went on to just re-copy the words. Or, they were unable to formulate any thoughts beyond that sentence or two without expressing frustration, extreme fidgeting, and/or being terribly grammatically incorrect. Anything that required looking beyond the surface of an obvious answer was uncharted territory, and they were stymied.

Even whole-class discussions before the writing proved fruitless, as the simple rules of courteous dialogue weren’t followed. It’s difficult to share ideas when students constantly horn in and belittle, instead of  listening to each other.

Rather than get upset, I held brief one-on-ones with the more willing students to find out where their heads were at. For starters, most of them had never heard of Gandhi, or his accomplishments. Then, they didn’t feel it was important to be an agent for change; they were more pre-occupied with iPods, and new shoes. They actually saw “thinking” or reflecting as being “too hard” or just busywork. What they wanted was more mindless worksheets, where supplying the “right” responses was equated with true learning in their minds.

Practicing expository writing with clarity and purpose outside of standardized tests had little or new appeal, and showed up in their finished products. Rather than learn to see revising and editing as steps on the journey of critical thinking, they went for the easiest way out– just fill up a page with words, whether they related to the quote or not. To them, seeing a full page meant “getting the work done,”  not expressing a personal idea.

What concerns me is that being educated nowadays has shifted focus from being a well-rounded individual who is productive, into becoming a reservoir of hollow facts ready to spout off at any time, only to “sound” smart, but not really understand.

Most were able to recite the latest lyrics, ad slogans, and current slang, but overall, incapable of answering the deeper “why” questions, feeling that this skill is not really necessary for academic success. How sad it is that they are missing out…..

Driven by Perfection

  It’s too bad that many of the children I teach have let their imaginations lay dormant when we start on  a new lesson.

  One of the things I do is try to steer away from so much white paper, and use colored paper,  using creative folds, tape, etc. to create something different while learning the lesson’s objectives. As a kid myself, it was a joy to “do something different” like write my spelling words on green paper, or make a booklet with that day’s social studies facts.

   However, I’ve noticed a trend at my schools where the kids are afraid to venture beyond that sea of black ink on white.  I wanted them to make a foldable chart of eight sections, and we were going to put a Spanish word in each box, and illustrate the meaning that word.

    But too many of them got stymied after making the first horizontal fold, and became confused by further folding, even though I was modeling it with them.I had to as, “Do you ever do this in other classes, or at home?”

   “Oh no,” many of then chimed out.  “we’re not allowed to do stuff like that—that’s not ‘real’ school.”

    I was thoroughly surprised at that—as a simple act of creating something with a colored sheet of paper was considered frivolous. So, by the time many them had gotten the folds correctly, they became frustrated that the folds didn’t crease exactly (!) or that their drawings were a millimeter off center. I had to quell constant cries of “I messed up,” by assuring them that even those        would-be mistakes and smudged lines were part of the learning process. But too many of them responded with—“I can’t make a mistake; it has to be RIGHT .”

      The absence or low presence of including creativity and the arts as part of the school day is sad, as it takes more than competency in literacy and math to be a well-rounded person.