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Creativity and Fantasy

Einstein

“Dear Mr. Fantasy….

….play us a tune

Something to make us all happy

Do anything take us out of this gloom…”    -Traffic.

 


We’re all creatures of habit. And there’s some comfort there. As teachers and students and parents we often sink into the familiar rather than explore unchartered waters. And that’s really where all the fun is. Kids know that when they are young: watch them play and spin reality into fantasy and back to reality faster than we channel surf.

At times the rigidity and gloom of too many school curriculums can rob them of their creativity unless we as parents allow, encourage and participate with them in creative activities like the one my colleague Matthew Worwood described in his wonderful 11.22.14 post on “ten items that must be included in a dressing up box.” Sometimes I think fantasy gets too much bad press from the sociological/psychological gurus. Here’s another guru for you:

“The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” ― A. Einstein

There are no rules in unchartered waters. As parents and teachers we want to equip our kids with the navigational tools to explore these waters, but too often we are reluctant to go there ourselves. It has been reiterated many times that we are now educating students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Unchartered waters.

It’s often the parents and teachers that need the encouraging to use their fantasies to explore and not the kids.

I used to teach 11th grade English at the high school. The whole curriculum was British Literature. Imagine teaching Macbeth (or Beowulf!) to a room of really reluctant readers at 7:30 in the morning the first week in September. Many of these kids had never read a book from cover to cover in their lives.

I shared a room with Sean Malloy – an amazing teacher but a misguided fanatic Red Sox follower. The students always enjoyed the playful banter between the two of us since I’m from NYC and a die-hard Yankee fan. As we drove to work in the morning passed trailer parks and local diners, we listened to sports radio and often talked of curriculum – and then tried, with mixed results, various instructional strategies to engage the students in Shakespeare.

The students loved our rat-a-tat-tat taunting of each other with regards to our opposing baseball teams. And one morning we slipped into unchartered territory and the whole game changed:

Both classes were reading Hamlet and one of us suddenly asked, “If Rosencrantz and Guildenstern played baseball – what position would they play?

Stop. The room went quiet. Everyone in the room looked at us. What are these teachers taking about? It made no sense. Where’s the logic? Baseball and Hamlet?

And the other shot back, “They’d have to play shortstop & 2nd base – they’re a perfect double play combination!”

And we were off to the races…..

The kids loved it. Instant engagement. We put the names of all the characters from Hamlet on the board and had the students discuss each one – and then had them assign characters in the play to baseball positions based on their personal attributes and their relationships in the play. Collaboratively teachers and students formulated a line-up that bears some resemblance to the following:

-Hamlet – contemplative, reflective, can be rash and impulsive – Center field

-Claudius – shrewd, conniving, tries to control the game – Pitcher

-Laertes = Claudius’ catcher, as he’s receptive to everything the “bastard” throws his way

-Gertrude – charm and grace – desires a good position – 1st base

-Rosencrantz & Guildenstern – Shortstop and 2nd base (double-play combo)

-Horatio – 3rd base – because Hamlet’s discussions with him are close to home.

-Ophelia – (DEEP) left field

-Bernardo or Marcellus – platoon in right field-based on righty/lefty pitching matchups

-Fortinbras – comes in from the bullpen to close it out.

-Polonius – Manager

-Old King Hamlet’s ghost – General Manager – as he gets the wheels in motion.

-Yorick’s skull would be displayed in Monument Park, and the Gravedigger would be the mascot.

The fluidity of the above exercise can stretch way beyond the classroom to spontaneous and creative moments that you can share with your kids. The other night our family was sitting around the dining room table laughing as our three pit bull rescue dogs, Flash, Stella and Arlo entertained themselves and us with an endless series of antics. We started talking about their very different characteristics – at which point my ten year-old daughter (having just finished yet another book in a adventure series about the Greek gods) – asked, “If Flash was a Greek god….which one would he be……”

Back to our baseball team – and for the fun of it –
the statistician:

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ― A. Einstein

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Curiosity: Keep is Alive, Keep it Active!

We’re are all born with natural characteristics that allow us to think creatively, unfortunately many of these characteristics diminish as we grow older and interact with society. There’s a hot debate about education and how some of its methodology might be negatively impacting our creativity. We regularly talk about originality and how children have the ability to engage their imagination to produce and consider many alternative uses and activities with everyday objects. Play is another obvious activity that engages the imagination and allows creativity to flourish, but for me one of the most useful characteristics that we squander as we grow is our curiosity for the world around us. Sitting back and watching my six-month old boy look around a new room always gets me wondering… ‘What’s he looking at now’, ‘what does he make of the television screen, the moon, the stars, the new wall paper’. ‘What does he think they are?’ ‘Something to eat?’ Probably, he’s a baby who’s about to start teething, but we know that as soon as the terrible twos arrive, and even worse, the threes (which I’m living now with my eldest), this characteristic will surpass these basic survival instincts and begin to engage his imagination so that his curiosity can challenge him to explore his world. Unfortunately, he’s likely to get into trouble along the way and as parents we’ll be quick to deliver punishments when his or her curiosity takes them to the electrical plugs, the air vents, the fragile glass objects sitting on the coffee table, and every other thing that you’re quietly chuckling to yourself about right now.

But we have to remember that curiosity is one of the most important characteristics to keep alive in our children, to keep active, but it’s also one of the most challenging. You see curiosity leads to questions that we want to answer, because it makes our children ‘smarter’.  We can brag that our child knows where the sun goes at night, and why the leaves turn a different color in the Fall. Obviously Science has provided us with answers that we want to share and will learn about at school. But lets back up and ask how we came to these answers? It was the curiosity of past scientists or scholars who had a question and wanted to find out the answer. Scientists regularly utilize curiosity to generate new knowledge for our society, so lets be conscious of its value and do our best to cultivate it as parents and educators. I’ve shared a few ideas below that I practice at home.

  1. LUCAS: Daddy where does the sun go at nighttime? DADDY: Where do you think it goes at nighttime? He’s way to young to start talking about the gravity and the shape of our planet!
  2. Take Nature Walks in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Nothing is better at engaging my son’s curiosity for the world around him then finding insects. Challenge them to think where an ant leaves, spiders go, frogs swim, etc. When you find an instinct catch it, take it home, and examine it with your little one. Ask them to count the legs, guess what they eat, investigate the colors. Once they’ve compiled some information in their head I then reach for the iPad and get some ‘Wow’ facts to share. After this experience I always let them go.
  3. Allow them to examine their bodies. Within reason. My three year old does far too much examining of certain parts of his body, but he has begun to discover bones, and muscle which we’ve begun to talk about. He’s even developed curiosity about his size and which parts of his body will grow. These are great questions for a three year old to start asking.
  4. Providing that it’s not scary! Watch some nature and dinosaur documentaries on TV. Dinosaurs have a massive Wow factor for infants!
  5. Ok this is a tough one. Monitor how you respond to his curiosity when it gets him into trouble. We need to be careful that he doesn’t stop exploring objects because he’s scared he’ll get into trouble. If he reaches for something fragile, try and get it before he does, but then careful allow him to explore it and explain why you might not want him to hold it. This will likely lead into a variety of new questions that allow you to divert your attention away from the fragile object.
  6. Finally, children will be curious about the objects that dominate the life of their parents. It’s a big tease to not let them touch the remote controller, sit in the driving seat of a car, or event get to touch the keyboard of your computer. Supervise, supervise, supervise, but don’t shut them out of your world. They’re just too curious!

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Simple bike ride turns into an adventure with a Gruffalo, fairies, a magical wood, dinosaur bones, and a scary forest

I was recently at Cape Cod on a family vacation. Apart from my three year old catching Pink Eye it was an extremely enjoyable and relaxing experience. One of the best things about going on vacation is the opportunity to spend quality time with the family, more importantly the little ones. Lucas, my three-year old terror, can be a handful, but his imagination is something I cherish dearly, and helped turn a simple bike ride into an adventure with a Gruffalo, fairies, a magical wood, dinosaur bones, and a scary forest.

My brother-in-law was kind enough to offer his bike that comes with a little seat for Lucas to sit on. The two of us, bursting with excitement, embarked on our journey around a little beachside community in Mashpee. As we travelled down a path we eventually came to some woodland. At first Lucas was a little scared, calling it a scary forest that has scary skeletons in, but I decided to challenge his imagination to go beyond this current obsession, and come up with other things that might live in the scary forest. To my delight, as its my favorite picture book, he decided that we were in the deep dark wood were the Gruffalo lives, well not just one, lots of them. They were popping up all over the place and poor Daddy had to peddle really quickly to get away from them. After my legs began to burn I needed a change in the adventure’s setting, and with a little bit of encouragement we eventually crossed over into a magical forest with fairies and dinosaur bones in the form of broken branches on trees. I was particularly happy with the fairies as they cast dancing spells on the Gruffalos, which meant I didn’t have to peddle away every time we saw one, also the fairies froze the scary skeletons in their domain so Lucas didn’t have to fear them as much.

On our way back our creative efforts turned away from our adventure and toward the arts with some make up sing-along songs. Obviously it started with a song about Scary Skeletons, but soon we were singing songs about bones, and dancing princess skeletons (they got back in there at the end). It turned into a fantastic bike ride that would compete with an afternoon at Disney’s Magical Kingdom, more importantly, and to the reason why I’m writing this article, simple leading questions from Daddy provided a wonderful opportunity to nurture the imagination and curiosity of my little pal.

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