Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gleaned from Tomorrowland

The story behind the movie Tomorrowland is the reason we need to teach risk taking. Continued hope and optimism rely on those people who care enough to dream - and take chances - in order to fulfill those dreams.

We live in what is often a very negative society and, not surprisingly, it is the people who continue to dream that keep us going.

Some causes are real and others might be imagined, while a few are immediate, and local, and still more are global. The key though isn’t the cause; it’s the people who are willing to fight for whatever that cause might be.

The question posed in the movie is: Can one person’s optimism be enough to change the destiny of the world? I want to believe the answer is yes. Optimism is as contagious as negativism - and yet it seems as though, in this day and age, the negativism is winning.

Causes tend to be pushed by displaying the ugliness of the situation. Compassion is a powerful emotion and certainly heartstrings are pulled by pathetic, brown-eyed starving children, but sending a check, or going online and charging a donation to a credit or debit card, only relieves the guilt that those of us with plenty feel when we see such sadness.

What if what we saw caused people to actively want to be involved? What if, by watching a documentary, the viewer would be left saying “I want to be a part of the vision?” What glorious changes could be made! 

Everyone has gifts. Some people are good with their hands. Some people are good with numbers, others are good with words. Some people are great thinkers and organizers, while others are great encouragers.

What if these gifts were identified and encouraged? I’m not talking about pigeon-holing people based on their abilities, I’m talking about making room for the gifts and talents with which people are born to grow, develop and ultimately flourish.

Life has to take place. We need to do the mundane things like eat, work and sleep, but maybe they wouldn’t feel so mundane if, as we did them, we knew that there was time and space for our dreams too.

 Some of the qualities that can’t be measured are potentially the most powerful.

As we see children taking risks, lending a hand is nice, but maybe words of encouragement and optimism that the child will reach his goals would be more helpful.

The problem with lending a hand is that the message can be perceived as a lack of faith in the capabilities of the child. It can also be perceived that the adult doesn’t think the child is smart enough. Maybe it could be misinterpreted that the activity needs to be hurried along and that it isn’t worth the time it would take if he were to do it on his own.

Getting something right the first time doesn’t hold nearly the value of something that has been fought for. Rarely is an invention right the first time. Trial, error, and frustration make the final victory so much sweeter because the battle that is waged gives the ultimate outcome value that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

If a child asks for help, try asking questions rather than providing answers. Guide the child toward their own hypotheses and conclusions. They may not have success the first, second, or even over many trials but, in the course of the experience, they are learning so much!

If you ask the child the right questions, the child will learn to ask the right questions themselves. By allowing a child to pursue an idea and seek the outcome, the child is learning to persevere. Stick-to-it-iveness seems to be a skill that is growing harder to find.

It is easy to go to the computer and see a problem solved, but it is nothing compared to tossing balls of different sizes out a window all at once to see if they really do land at the same time and doing it again and again just to be sure! 

Building a tree house, learning a skill on the skateboard, learning how to bake biscuits all take persistence and the ability to keep going even when the task seems harder than the child bargained for. Yes, it would be less frustrating for the child and also the adult to take things in hand, but the child will always remember when the project ceased to be their own. As an adult, you will know too, because the child will walk away and possibly never take up the task again.

Today’s hectic lifestyle doesn’t lend itself well to long periods of free time for a child to pursue a task in this manner. Rather than think - yes, but what the child does instead has value, too - I would suggest that the time be closely re-evaluated.

Dance lessons, sports, piano lessons, and any other activity that can be imagined have value, but at what cost?
Does the child have time to just do nothing?
Can the child take the time to dream without other tasks encroaching on that time? Can he just be?
Is there time in the child's day along with practice, to noodle out a melody, play with words, create a dance, or throw the ball with Dad?

It’s impossible to place a value on time to play and explore. I think that’s why the opportunity has grown so scarce.  You can place a value on lessons and sports, because there are tangible results - your wallet gets thinner, you go to a game, or a recital. There is a scheduled beginning and an end.

Open ended play may never look constructive, it might look downright idle, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks value. Occasionally, there will be a tangible result, sometimes there won’t be. Often it is the process that holds value for the child – a puzzle to be solved. Once the solution is obtained the creation is set aside and a new challenge takes its place.

Two things need to happen in order for a child to have the sort of time it takes to experience this sort of play. Both things take tremendous commitment on the part of the adults in the child’s life.

The first is to make the time.

Turn off the TV, the computers, and the game consoles so that you can demonstrate what leisure time looks like – which leads to the second thing:

You have to be the example.

You can’t say “go play” with any conviction, if you aren’t willing to give up the very things that are hindering your child’s chance to play.
 Find a new hobby or rekindle an old one. Open a book and read to the family in order to spark their imaginations! Talk about what you did as a child! Take time to do nothing. Play a board game and when your child says that it’s lame, encourage them to create a way to do it better.

It’s easy in that sort of situation to think in terms of disciplining a bad attitude, but what would happen if, instead you agreed and challenged the child to make it better and then play with the new rules? (Yes, there will have to be a time when the need to follow the rules and the bad attitude is addressed but, the peak of frustration probably isn’t the best time to make the point anyway.)

In short, create opportunities for your child to see that life is full of possibilities!

In the midst of the cruelties of life there will always be optimistic dreamers who, by nature say, “I know things are bad, but what are we going to do about it? I just know there has to be something we can do!”

There are others who need to be taught that there is always hope – a solution is just an idea away – and they will also begin to look for ways to engage and make life better for others.
Just as very few things have to be absolutely perfect, very few things are absolutely hopeless.

By encouraging higher level thinking skills and creativity in our children, we may also be encouraging the optimism and hope that will enable them to take the sort of risks that can lead to positive solutions regarding some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Final Words
(and so it begins)

If I had one last thing that I was allowed to write, this might be the time to do it.  Teaching kids that risk is to be embraced rather than feared it the greatest gift we can give them. In order to take a risk you have to be brave and a little bit foolish. Maybe, a better word is adventuresome. I love children and I want them to be able to approach life without fear. I don't want them taught that the world is a scary place and that terrible things will happen when they take chances. The unknown should be embraced and anticipated with enthusiasm. If we can't teach that to children, then we shouldn't be teaching them at all. As adults, we are required to make so many decisions! From the time we are about sixteen, many of these decisions are life changing.

What do I want to do with my life?
What college will help me attain my goals?
Do I really want or need to go to school or is there a better route for me to take?
Do I want to buy a house?
What car should I buy?
Is this the person I should marry?
Do I want children? 
How many children do I want?

These are no small choices, yet today, aside from what to watch on TV and what to wear (maybe), there aren’t a lot of choices a child can make on their own. I’m exaggerating, but many choices are limited and directed by adults. Kids need the opportunity to make really bad choices. They need to fall off the monkey bars, walk into door frames with paper bags over their heads, and get punched in the nose. They need to be able to fail tests, be told they aren’t working up to expectations, and not given a second chance because they will work harder the first time if they know they can't do it again right the next time.
Children need to know in their hearts the satisfaction of a job well done, that they tried as hard as they could and eventually succeeded without help from anyone. They need to know that it’s time to find the next thing to do without being prompted or patted on the head and told how good they are.
Children can’t be taught self respect through being praised. They need to get dirty and do things on their own. I don't know if some great educational philosophy teaches these things, but I hope they do.
Every time a child takes a risk, whether it’s wise or foolish, they are empowered because they have been educated by themselves. No one has saved them, no one has encouraged them. They have gotten there under their own steam and it is a lesson they won't forget anytime soon. A child doesn't need to hear “I told you so” when they can make their own mistakes.  They don’t need to be warned to stay safe multiple times while having to take it on faith that whatever it is they are driven to do is going to do permanent harm. There are very few things that cause permanent harm or are fatal. Sometimes, it's even more dangerous to prevent curiosity from taking its course because you can't watch a child 24/7.
As parents, teachers, and caregivers, rather than thinking in terms of what will keep a child safe, maybe we need to think in terms of what will enhance a child’s future. They really are not the same thing.