Kids Are Not Containers

Brain Container

This coming Saturday, we’re launching a series on educational choices, so for the next few weeks, we’ll be talking mostly about learning and education here on the blog.

Education is one of the things we’re passionate about. So this is going to be a fun time for us.

But before we dive into the topic, we want to talk about how we view the learner.

Learners are active, not passive. Kids are not containers into which we pour information. They have to be totally engaged for any real learning to happen.

Sometimes they’re like mountain climbers, stretching and straining and carefully considering and planning how they’re going to get to the next level. I have one daughter in high school, and at the start of the year I told her that this was going to be a year of stamina building. Education requires stamina, and building it is hard work.

She wasn’t exactly sure what that would look like from day to day, but she knew it sounded hard, and she was reluctant to sign up for it. But then I reminded her of what stamina is worth in education.

This past summer we did a book club on dystopian novels. The kids had to read nine dystopian novels in nine weeks. Some of them were easy reads, like The Giver, but others were more dense and difficult, like 1984. For Skyler and for Jody’s girls, this was a breeze. A book a week, even a dense one, is easy for them because they have stamina for reading. But for other kids in the group, this was not only a struggle, it was impossible.

When I talked to Sky about the differences between stamina levels in the group, I reminded her that although for this school year, the workload is going to feel overwhelming at times, she’ll be building stamina, and by next year, the same workload won’t be so difficult.

But the truth is, she has to be on board because I can’t force her to learn — I mean really learn. I might be able to coerce her to store information in her short-term memory for a moment or two, but to make the kind of physiological and psychological changes that happen with authentic learning, she has to fully participate. And sometimes, that looks like mountain climbing.

Jody and I believe that the best education looks like desire and enthusiasm. When Amelia Earhart figured out that she loved flying in her early 20s, she did everything she could to get flying lessons. There was no commercial airline industry then, so it was very unlikely that this hobby would ever generate an income, especially for a women in the 1930s. Actually, it cost money — a boat load of it, and this was the during the Great Depression.

When Amelia didn’t have money for lessons, she spent her free time reading books, hovering around air strips, picking the brains of airplane mechanics — learning! I’m sure not everything she read was riveting. She probably had to push through some of the harder and more dry material, but she had a goal. She wanted to be a pilot, and she wanted to be taken seriously.

Sometimes education looks like life. The Dugger family, of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, built their own house. You can bet those kids gained a boat load of knowledge and skills from that experience.

Want to teach a kid how to cook? Cook with them. Want them to learn how to use a microscope? Use a microscope. Experiences are great teachers, especially when the learner is fully engaged.

Two of my sons are interested in film making. I can’t afford to send them to the awesome summer programs offered by great film schools like NYU’s Tisch. But for less than $30 a month, they can have access to all of Adobe’s creative product suite, and for another $30 a month, they can take online courses on virtually any software through Lynda.com. Their passion to learn the material, coupled with hands-on experiences are making for a pretty good education at this point in their life (middle school and early high school).

 

Take a moment to leave us a comment and tell us what education looks like to you, and come back throughout the week as we continue this conversation.

 

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Grooming the Next Generation for Success — A Book Review

Grooming the Next Generation for Success Book Cover

Yesterday I reviewed The Circle Maker, and I said that although it was great when I was reading it, very little stuck with me. Today’s book is the TOTAL opposite!

Rarely has so much of a book stuck with me and actually impacted the way I do things.

Jody and I study parenting techniques and philosophies. We read as much as we can, listen to teachings and scour magazines and websites. A lot of what we read is very good in theory but doesn’t work so well in practice — like having a calm conversation with a 2 year old who in is the midst of a full-blown tantrum. That sounded lovely when we read about it in a recent blog, but it will only make the tantrum worse.

The total opposite is true of this book. When we first got our hands on Grooming the Next Generation for Success: Proven Strategies for Raising the Next Generation of Leaders, by Dani Johnson, we devoured it, and throughout the book, we got revelation up revelation. I’m not sure there is any other book on raising kids that we would recommend as strongly as this one.

We happen to love the work of Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller. We’ve read many of their books, listened to their audio series, read their blog and seen them speak in person, but I can’t say that any one of their books has had the impact that this single book has had on us.

Johnson covers everything from discipline techniques to purity to work ethic and financial responsibility. She writes in a way that makes you feel like you know her and her family, and gives practical tools for real life situations.

In a nut shell — we urge you to get a copy, and read it cover to cover. Then pass it on to someone else. You won’t be sorry!

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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The Circle Maker – A Book Review

Circle Maker

This week I’m reviewing books. For those of you who know me, I am a fairly avid reader. I’d say I average about two books a month, which is no where near as much my kids, who tend to average one a week, but more than the average adult.

According to a recent poll done by USA Today, the average adult reads one book a month. I was surprised that number was so high, considering a recent poll done by the Huffington Post which showed that almost one-third of Americans say they haven’t read even one book in the past year.

When I looked closer at the USA Today poll results, they were counting partially read books in their statistics. So basically, all the people who downloaded book samples onto their i-devices and read through them were counted as having read a book. Does anyone else think that’s Lame-o?!

Lame or not, it actually made more sense to me. Honestly, I don’t know many people who read a book a month, unless we’re counting homeschool families, who seriously throw off the bell curve on this one.

Anyway, as an avid reader, I was really surprised at how long it took me to get through The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson. It was well written and interesting. He did a good job of weaving stories throughout the narrative, and the subject matter was certainly relevant to my life, but for some strange reason, I crawled my way through this book.

The book’s tagline is “Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears.” It kicks off with a story about Honi, a first-century Jewish sage who drew a circle on the ground and boldly declared to God that he would stand in it until his prayer to end a terrible drought was answered. God came through mightily, and Batterson uses this as a spring board into the exposition of the kind of tenacity and stamina it takes to pray your way through nearly any situation.

Batterson does a great job of weaving his own experiences into the narrative, along with the stories of others who have prayed bold and persistent prayers.

As I was reading it, I remember having a number of Aha! moments, and I remember thinking, “Wow! So-and-so needs to read this. They will be so blessed by it.” But only a few months after having finished the book, I can’t remember a single epiphany or why I thought my husband or my mom or Jody or my kids should read the book.

Maybe I need to skim back over it and jot down some notes, because when I was reading it, I really did think it was a great book. I just can’t tell you why at this point. Very little stuck with me.

So, that’s my honest review of The Circle Maker, albeit short. Great in the moment, but lost in the passing of time. Anyone else have a different experience with it?

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Sensible Shoes – A Book Review

Sensible Shoes Book Cover

Last week I finished a book that so moved me and affected the way I relate to God, that I just had to share it.

Our blog is primarily for parents, but sometimes we need to take a hiatus from talking about raising the kids and speak directly to the people who are doing the raising. This book is for all the moms, grandmas, sisters, friends, old women, middle-aged women and young women who read our blog. Could men read this book? I guess so. But make no mistake, this is a girls’ book!

Let me first say, I don’t read a whole lot of fiction. Maybe I should change that, but there are two main reasons I don’t.

#1 – I am a researcher and a learner at heart, and I have SO MANY non-fiction books waiting for me to read that it almost feels irresponsible to read a fiction book.

#2 – When I do get my hands on a good fiction book, I lose all self-control and end up reading the thing from cover to cover in one sitting, ignoring my kids and letting them eat cookies for dinner, allowing my house to fall apart around me, looking like we’ve been robbed, and ignoring all the cries of my business to-do list.

Besides, at this season in my life, I don’t have many free days on my calendar that would allow me to take an entire one to read a good fiction book, so I usually stick with non-fiction.

But something about Sensible Shoes caught my attention, and I had to pursue it. I heard the author being interviewed on Moody Radio, and although I don’t remember what she said that was so compelling, I do remember that I had to pull over to order it from Amazon, right then and there (what did we ever do before Smart Phones?).

Two days later the book arrived in my mailbox, and I began reading it. It’s the story of four very different women who all end up begrudgingly attending a women’s  study at a Christian Retreat Center. Their stories were compelling enough to suck me in pretty early on. The only trouble I had was remembering who was who, but the back cover has a handy summary of each woman that I could flip to when I wasn’t sure. By about page 50, they were real enough to me that I didn’t have to consult the cover anymore.

The author, Sharon Garlough Brown, did a beautiful job of developing characters that you can’t help but love (and sometimes dislike). The raw honesty of her portrayal makes it easy to relate to them. These are four very real people, struggling in very different ways, which are sometimes unnoticeable to the outside world, but as we read their thoughts, we can’t help but find things that resonate.

For the story alone, this is a good read. It’s a page turner. I found myself caring deeply about the people, and I felt compelled to find out what was going to happen to them.

But, unlike any fiction book I’ve ever read before, it’s also a guidebook to very personal spiritual journey for the reader. As you read about the sacred journey these four characters are taking, you can’t help but be challenged to go deeper into the heart of God yourself. The women’s group in the story meets at a Christian Retreat Center twice a month for three months, and at each session, they learn a new spiritual discipline designed to bring them into a greater intimacy with God.

As I read about their journey, I was also learning how to apply each discipline to my own life. So many times throughout the book, I had to put it down and get alone with God and His word.

If you’ve ever wanted to journal but didn’t know how or where to start, Sensible Shoes will help!

I’m now going back through it, reading the things I underlined and figuring out how to incorporate some of these new spiritual disciplines into my life and into my relationship with God.

Come back throughout this week. I’m going to review a different book each day. Until then, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of Sensible Shoes!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Creativity Assassins

Creativity Assassins

All week we’ve been talking about how to stimulate imagination and creativity in our kids. Today, let’s turn our attention to the things can stunt creative genius and stifle innovation.

Screens

Don’t get us wrong, we do watch TV and go to the movies. Our kids play some video games and use social media, but we don’t need to spend much time convincing you that our society has a pervasive addiction to screens. And most people don’t need much persuading that this isn’t a good thing, especially when it comes to creativity and imagination.

My daughter recently spent a couple of weeks with extended family up north. It was the first time she’d ever been completely removed from our family culture for any length of time, and it opened her eyes to the pervasiveness of screens in our society.

Although she loves to FaceTime her friends and spend time on Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and Facebook, and she likes a TV show here and there (especially if it involves a 1200-year-old time lord or a high functioning sociopathic consulting detective), she’s not used to television as constant background noise. And she’s not used to a culture where reading doesn’t take up a portion of everyday or where people don’t knit or crochet or draw or make crafts or build things or garden on a daily basis.

The contrast wasn’t lost on her extended family members either. One uncle, noticing how much Skyler reads compared to her cousin who is the same age, jokingly asked, “So Sky, I see you don’t read like Steven does — lying on the couch, with the TV on and no book.”

Sky couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous lack of books in many of the homes she visited those couple of weeks. She’s used to living in a house where the walls in most rooms are lined with bookcases, full of every kind of book you can imagine.

After two weeks of being steeped in a world of constantly glowing screens, she was relieved to return to a less plugged-in environment. But what she experienced up north was actually the norm. We’re kind of the oddballs on this one, and the culture is worse off for it.

Screens offer a passive experience. Even video games are largely passive, especially compared to options like spinning yarn, making candles, writing stories, hydroponic gardening, canning fruits and veggies, making duct tape purses, singing opera, playing guitar, writing music, wood carving, doing kitchen experiments (all things that happen regularly in the Stahlmann and Hagaman homes — and we are FAR from being as creative and innovative as most of the homeschool families we know).

All that is not to say we’re so great, but only to show that there are so many screen alternatives, and they’re all very doable. We are so, so busy. If we can do these things, anyone can!

Criticism

We can brainstorm with our kids and we can introduce them to the works of great artists and musicians and scientists. We can offer some ideas and creative suggestions (when the ask for them), such as, “You could try adding some color if you want. Or you could maybe give it some extra texture with sand or fabric.”

But we don’t want to say, “What is it? It looks like a mess.” We don’t want to tell kids they have to color in the lines, unless the exercise is to practice being precise. We don’t need to tell them that people aren’t purple or that there are no pink dogs with blue zig zags.

Unless their ideas are dangerous or could be very costly, we also don’t need to tell them that their ideas won’t work. Let them try it and figure out what works and what doesn’t on their own. You may have the next Edison in your house, whose failures will be just as important to his development as his successes.

Along the same lines, be very careful about laughing when your kids perform or say something “cute.” I know of many children who refused to ever take the stage again because the adults laughed when they sang or danced. I understand that they are so stinkin’ cute that you almost can’t help yourself, but for their sake, do not laugh. Smile. Tell them you were amazed by their performance or that you could see they had a great time, but don’t laugh.

Rewards

Rewards are the flip side of criticism and can be just as damaging. The excessive use of prizes and praise deprives a child of the intrinsic pleasure of creativity. Also, when we overly praise a kid, we can make them afraid of disappointing us or damaging the image we’ve created for them. As a result, fear of failure may prevent them from taking the kind of risks that innovation demands.

Control

This one is super challenging for parents who struggle with perfectionism. If we’re going to inspire creativity in our kids, we have to be okay with imperfect products. Let them go out in mismatched outfits. Let them wear crazy, messy hair creations. Let them make birthday invitations and Christmas cards with things glued on backwards or colored imperfectly.

Moreover, be willing to genuinely value their creations. Have some of their artwork matted and framed and hung on the wall. That’s what you do with art. You wouldn’t put a $3000 Steve Barton painting on your fridge, right? “Real” art doesn’t go on the fridge.

Over Scheduling

When we fill every free moment of our kids’ lives with homework and chores and extra curricular activities and social events, there is no time for creativity. Innovation and imagination take practice, effort and lots of TIME!

Don’t be afraid of boredom. We kicked off this week with an important look at the true value of boredom. Click on the link and read about it if you missed Monday’s post.

Rigidity

We’ve got to be willing to embrace some level of mess. We know that this is terrifying to some parents. So on Wednesday, we offered practical tips to manage this and still inspire imagination. If that’s you or someone you know, click here and read that post.

We’ve also got to be willing to let our kids make mistakes and experience failure and disappointment. We’ve got to be willing to let them climb and run and jump. They might get some scratches and bumps and bruises, but they’ll also gain important experiences that build imagination.

A few days ago, my two year old was in his high chair eating dry Cheerios. He figured out that if he kicked his tray, the Cheerios would bounce and that the harder and more rapidly he kicked, the more lively the Cheerios would be. As I watched him I realized that a younger and less wise version of me would have tried to stop him for fear of a broken tray (he was kicking mighty hard) and bruised legs. But I figured if he thought the dancing Cheerios was worth the soreness on his legs, then who am I to say otherwise, and at the end of the day, the risk to the high chair was worth my son’s amazement. He didn’t break the tray after all, but it was still a risk I was willing to take.

There’s a balance that every parent has to find between between being permissive and being rigid. We want our kids to respect our authority (and all authority for that matter), but we also want them to have enough curiosity and daring to possibly change the world. It’s along that fine line that parenting becomes an art form in itself.

Repetitive Activities

Bike riding is great exercise, and we certainly want to challenge this generation to spend more time outdoors. But when bike riding becomes the default activity during free time, we might have to up the ante a bit.

If you’ve got kids who LOVE the outdoors, challenge them to learn how to skate or mountain bike. Maybe they could find scraps and build a go cart and have a race with the neighborhood kids. Maybe they could learn a bunch of old school yard games and teach them to their friends. Then, once they get good at them, challenge them to make their own variations of the old standards.

Don’t let kids fall into passive routines that don’t require much thought or innovation. Pay attention to how they spend their free time, and nudge them out of their comfort zone, forcing them to discover new things.

Friend Addiction

Friends are important, especially in the middle school years when kids are first beginning to figure out where they fit in a social structure. But time with friends can be addictive, and no other generation has had the opportunities to stay connected to friends like this one.

Limit time with friends, and when they do get together, give them projects and challenges to work on.

Limited Choices

On Tuesday, we dedicated 1,056 words to practical tips for setting up a creative environment. When our kids don’t have supplies and resources and tools and even skills at their disposal, it limits their creativity.

We need to give our kids free time, freedom to get messy and make mistakes and the tools to create and experiment. After all, our future scientists and lawmakers and teachers and artists and journalists and entertainers and business owners are living in our houses right now. To the best of our ability, we must make sure we don’t squelch the very things that will one day change the world.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Your Role As Creative Director

This week we’re talking about raising imaginative kids, and today we’re going to focus on our role as our kids’ creative director.

First, we are in charge of establishing our kids’ creative space. Check out How to Build a Creative Environment. For parents who shudder at the thought of the wreckage that creativity can bring, we offered some practical tips to help in How to Embrace the Mess.

Next, we have to give them permission and freedom to explore and create.

Frequent Limits Can Produce In-the-Box Thinkers

We’ll talk more about this when we get into the things that kill creativity, but we have to touch on it here too. We’ve got to give our kids freedom, and sometimes (especially with kids who are addicted to screens or incessantly lap the block on their bikes or want to spend every free minute with friends), we have to impose the freedom to explore and create.

But for many parents, this means letting go of some things. For example, it’s okay to let toddlers empty the bottom shelves of the bookcase. The motor planning and small discoveries involved in the process are building creativity and imagination.

We have to let our kids risk some scraped knees and failed projects and frustration and disappointment.

Remember That The Joy is In the Journey

Don’t focus on the product; focus on the process. If your child brings you her creation, ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me about the colors you chose?” or “How did you think of adding grass and sticks to your creation?”

Stay away from confining questions like, “What is it?” The answer to that question is “art” — it’s art. It doesn’t have to look like a person or an animal or a car to be valuable. Along the same lines, avoid value statements like, “It’s beautiful.” Instead, say, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” And definitely, stay away from criticism. If your daughter brings you a drawing and says, “See my elephant, mommy!” Don’t say, “That doesn’t look like an elephant.” or “Elephants are grey sweetheart, not green.”

How Involved Should You Be?

Obviously, we need to make sure the kids are safe. So, when they’re little or when they’re doing something new that could be dangerous, we can watch from a distance.

If you’re loosely monitoring, keep yourself busy. You could read or journal. You could make your shopping list or write thank you notes. You could work on your iPad or plan the next birthday party or make your menu or grocery list. Make it an enjoyable and/or productive time for you so that your child has the freedom to work uninterrupted, and you don’t feel tempted to cut the time short.

Some kids want their parents’ company while they’re experimenting or creating. If that’s the case, stay interested and involved but without any hint of criticism and without offering much suggestion.

Immerse Kids in Language and Stories

Read together and engage in great conversation. Let kids draw while you read chapter books. That will occupy their right brain and free up their left brain to listen to the story. Listen to audio books together. Use car time to make up creative stories together.

If you watch movies together, make time to talk about them. Tell your kids stories from your childhood. Ask them probing and thought-provoking questions. And encourage them to ask you interesting questions.

Set The Example

Be a creative role model. What things are interesting to you? Do you like to sew, crochet, scrapbook, decorate, cook, garden? Make time to do those things. Not only will you be happier, but you will be setting a good example for your kids.

Be Curious

Look things up with your kids. Find out why the sky is blue and why there are so many languages in the world and why people get sick and why some people have freckles and others don’t and why sometimes people cry when they’re happy.

Embrace Mistakes

Kids who are afraid to fail are less likely to be creative. If your child acts disappointed at making a mistake, try saying something like, “What can we do to change this outcome?” Mistakes can often produce a better outcome. Teach kids to embrace the activity in and of itself and value the process more than the product.

Inspire kids to look at failure in a new way by studying some great inventions that were created as a result of mistakes. Look up the history of these things to find out how failures turned into great inventions:

  • Post-It Notes
  • Ivory Soap
  • Potato Chips
  • The Slinky
  • Penicillin
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • The Pacemaker
  • Silly Putty
  • Scotchgard
  • Corn Flakes
  • Plastic

Be Intentional

Set aside creative time, even if kids aren’t feeling so inspired at the moment. Remember that GREAT quote from Monday’s post? Boredom is a powerful means for birthing imagination. Don’t be afraid of it.

Answer Questions With Questions

Child:  “Mommy, why is the sky blue?” 

Parent:  “What are some things you can think of that might cause the sky to be blue?”

Avoid Clutter

Kids need open visual space to think and create – it gives them physical and mental freedom.

Health Bodies

Support creativity with good nutrition, proper hydration and adequate sleep.

I am ABSOLUTELY sure we missed a great many things. Leave us a comment and share other ways that parents can be excellent creative directors for their kids!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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A Diverse Sensory Diet for Creativity

SensoryDiet

The term “Sensory Diet” was first coined by Occupational Therapist Patricia Wilbarger. Basically, a Sensory Diet is a carefully designed, personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day.

I first heard about it when my oldest child, who is on the autism spectrum, was receiving Early Intervention therapy as a toddler. It’s still used primarily in a therapy context, but I think the concept of a diverse sensory diet has great merit for all kids.

When we think about a sensory diet, we’re talking about the ways that a person gets information from their environment.

  • Auditory Input (sounds)
  • Visual Input (sights)
  • Olfactory Input (smells)
  • Tactile Input (touch)
  • Gustatory Input (taste)
  • Vestibular Input (sense of movement)
  • Proprioceptive Input (body sense)

When most people talk about sensory diets, they’re referring to things that can help an overstimulated person calm down and an understimulated person perk up. We recently helped a local family bring great peace to their home by giving their highly energized and often aggressive son some deep pressure activities. Sensory diets are great for that kind of thing. But for this week’s theme of inspiring creativity, we want to explore a different way of using sensory diets.

If you have a child who may be struggling with sensory issues, check out Raising a Sensory Smart Child or The Out of Synch Child.

A specific sensory diet can do wonders for many kids who are having sensory-related challenges, but we believe that deliberately offering your kids a wide range of sensory experiences can also help stimulate thinking, focus and creativity.

It doesn’t have to be a prescribed daily plan like you would get if your child were working with an occupational therapist. But we can make deliberate choices to help boost our children’s creativity by intentionally offering them a very diverse palette of sensory experiences.

Auditory Input (sounds)

  • In our post earlier this week about How to Build a Creative Environment, we talked about filling your home with a wide range of music.
  • Introduce your kids to nature sounds and white noise, and encourage them to experiment with sound.
  • Blow in bottles.
  • Experiment with making music with various household items.
  • Draw attention to the importance of pauses in music and speaking.
  • Go for listening walks, and challenge your kids to find 20 different sounds as you stroll through the neighborhood.

Visual Input (sights)

  • Give them shiny, spinning, moving objects to look at.
  • Offer a wide range of activities that stimulate hand-to-eye coordination such as threading beads on a string, doing maze puzzles and tracing pictures.
  • Find hidden pictures (Highlights Magazine has great ones).
  • Go through Where’s Waldo and I Spy books.
  • Play with kaleidoscopes.
  • Make shadow puppets on the wall.
  • Play flashlight tag games.

Olfactory Input (smells)

  • Draw their attention to the smell of things as they play (crayons, play dough, paints, markers, glue, etc.).
  • Some animals find their mommies by smell. Play a game where you pair kids up and give each partner a matching smell. For example, one team might have an old film container with coffee beans. Another team might have a cotton ball with lavender oil. Another team might a bag of potpourri. Another pair could have a small bottle of vanilla extract. Each team member holds something with their smell. The whole group then goes out to an open field and is blind folded. They have to find their partner by finding the scent that matches the one they are holding.
  • Have a “Guess That Smell” contest.

Tactile Input (touch)

Give kids a wide range of touch sensations.

  • Hide little toys in a big tote full of rice and let the kids go treasure hunting in the rice.
  • Put a sand box outside or visit the beach. Here in Sarasota, we have Siesta Key – the #1 Beach in America. We’re pretty sure it got that distinction because of it’s amazing sand. Whenever we go to other beaches, which is pretty often, we draw everyone’s attention to the differences in the sand.
  • Let them play in water.
  • Use an electric massager to tickle the bottom of their feet, their scalp, their back…let them experience how it feels different on different parts of their body.
  • Let them walk around outside barefoot. This is a tough one for me, especially because we live in the land of fire ants, but I try to find ways to give them barefoot experiences, like at the beach and the water park and the bounce house playground. If you live in places where the grass is soft (it’s not down here), let them run barefoot through the grass.
  • Cover a table in shaving cream and let them draw in it, squish it in their fingers and rub it on their arms and face.
  • Stock the house with all different textured materials to play with — silk, cotton, sand paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, glass beads, pom-poms, etc.

Gustatory Input (taste)

  • Try different tastes and textures.
  • Have a “Guess that food” contest.
  • Talk about all different tastes (spicy, bitter, salty, sweet, sour).

Vestibular Input (sense of movement)

The body sense vestibular sensation in the inner ear. Amazingly, when we stimulate this sense, it promotes language development!

  • Spend time on swings and slides.
  • Go on amusement park rides.
  • Spin kids on spinning chairs.
  • Bounce kids on gymnastics balls.
  • Swing kids from side to side in big blankets.
  • Watch TV upside down.

Proprioceptive Input (body sense)

Proprioception is the capacity of the body to determine where all of its parts are. The proprioceptors are nerves located in the muscles, joints and ligaments. Some scientists believe that when stimulated, the proprioceptors can help us become calm, focused and help our brain store and organize information.

  • Deep pressure is a great example of how proprioception can help calm a person. When my son was little, he had a lead-weighted blanket and a weighted vest that helped him become calm when he was overstimulated.
  • Ever felt the need to stretch during an intense study session? It might not have been just to loosen stiff joints. Stretching can help relax and focus the nervous system. We are wise to have our kids get in the habit of stretching a few times a day.
  • Running and jumping are great ways to stimulate proprioceptors.
  • Push heavy things.
  • Jump on a pogo stick or trampoline.
  • Have kids play on monkey bars

Stop in tomorrow. We’ll be talking about the things that can kill creativity.

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with nine kids between them (ages 4 to 28) and #10 due in August. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to parent on purpose.

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How to Embrace the Mess

Embrace Mess

This week we’re talking about ways that we can inspire creativity, imagination and innovation in our kids, but we know that for some parents, the biggest stumbling block is the potential mess that creativity brings.

One of our taglines  is “parenting with the end end result in mind,” and building creativity is one of the things that requires us keep our eyes on the results and not worry so much about the process. The end result of fostering creativity is worth it. You are raising imaginative kids who will one day be problem solvers. They need this time to develop the brain function that it will take to become that, but often, the process is messy.

Don’t tell yourself the lie that your kids can get all the creative training they need in school. They don’t have the freedom in school to spend unlimited time and explore and make mistakes and let their imagination run wild.

Instead, let your kids indulge in manageable messes.

  • Let them break eggs once in a while to see what’s inside and to play with it.
  • Let them draw all over the sidewalk and driveway with colored chalk.
  • Let them make mud pies.
  • Let them line your window sills with sprouting plants.
  • Let them cut up old clothes and make new fashions.

Let them do just about anything that’s not dangerous and is not going to destroy something important. Just make sure you include them in the cleanup process.

Designate Creative Spaces

Give each kid their own cookie sheet. They can do art on the cookie sheet, leave the work to dry, and then clean it in between uses.

Keep newspaper near art supplies, and make the rule that no art happens without a covered surface.

Designate good clothes and messy clothes, and let them do just about anything in the messy clothes.

Designate a nail brush solely for messy cleanup and teach your kids to scrub their nails when they’re doing being creative.

Have a folding table with sheets and towels designated specifically for protecting surfaces during messy play.

Set a large tote filled with soapy water just outside the door with rag towels nearby so kids can wash off outside before coming in. If you anticipate that their clothes will be dirty, put another tote out with clean clothes so kids can take off dirty clothes, wash up, put the new ones on and leave the dirty clothes in the bin. That way they won’t track the mess into the house.

My dear friend Chastity lives in the northeast where it snows. After snow play, she puts a tote by the front door and has kids strip in the entryway and put their wet stuff in the tote, so they don’t track the snow into the house.

The bottom line is that we have to give our kids freedom to play, get dirty, make messes, experiment, explore and make mistakes, but there are ways we can do it without harm to the kids or to the house.

Sometimes it’s actually the kid who has the mess aversion. In that case it’s usually a tactile defensiveness. A Sensory Diet can help.

But whether it is you or the kid who avoids the mess, find ways to push through. When it comes to creativity, the ends often justify the means.

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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How to Build a Creative Environment

Skyler Knitting Shop

Embracing boredom helps build imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Although we can’t stuff these things into our kids, we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

Supplies

Stock the house with lots of supplies in easy to reach, organized ways. Recycle glass jars, boxes, plastic containers, and other things to hold supplies. Collect items to store in these containers. The list is really endless, but here are a few suggestions to get you thinking. Just be sure to group like items together and to make it easy for kids to see what’s available and easy to clean up when they’re done.

  • old socks
  • bubble wrap
  • cork
  • googly eyes
  • pom poms
  • popsicle sticks
  • paint
  • a variety of different glues and other adhesives
  • drawing supplies
  • paper of different colors and textures
  • string
  • shells, rocks and sticks
  • straws
  • empty spools
  • bottle caps
  • Nails, wood, hammers, saws, etc

Painting and Drawing

Limit coloring books, but have lots of paper in all different colors, weights and consistencies, and have a wide range of things to draw with (pencils, oil pastels, chalk, markers, crayons, pens, quill and ink, etc.). Encourage kids to use brush alternatives occasionally when they’re painting: string, cotton balls, bubble wrap, potato stamps, q-tips, wine corks, fabric, Walmart bags, leaves…the list is endless.

Encourage kids to use a variety of different surfaces for drawing and painting: old cereal boxes, blocks of wood, tiles, junk mail, t-shirts, etc.

Music

Music speaks the language of the soul. Fill your house with all different kinds of music. If you’ve got cable TV, chances are you have a wide range of music channels. You can also create customized music lists on Spotify.

Play classical, jazz, blues, rock, rap, gospel, Latin, swing, funk, ska, show tunes, country, hip hop, techno, dubstep, Asian, disco, folk, polka, opera, blue grass, R & B, punk, world fusion…play it all! Sure you want to filter out songs with bad lyrics, but there are plenty of acceptable options within each style.

We find that this is a real challenge for some Christian parents. It’s as though they think the only music that’s acceptable to God is on the Christian radio station. God created music, and He loves it! How do I know? The angels sing; heaven is full of music. David, a man after God’s own heart, was a musician, and the Psalms are all set to music.

Encouraging kids to listen to and play music is God honoring because it explores something He created and is quite fond of. Plus, playing music is one of the few activities that actually builds NEW brain cells!

Language Promotes Creativity

Jody and I must sound like a broken record when we say that conversation is king, but we believe so strongly in the power of language that we just have to squeeze it in at every opportunity. Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen! Filling your home with conversation helps build a creative environment.

Encourage kids to journal. Almost everyday we have our kids do something we call sensory writing. For at least ten minutes, we have them sit somewhere unique (under a desk, in the car, in a tree, on the sidewalk, etc.) and write about all the things their senses are experiencing (what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel).

It goes without saying that books are great boredom busters and obvious tools for promoting imagination. Stock the house with books. Listen to audio books in the car. Read poetry and plays together. Read newspaper editorials and talk about them.

Words are imagination building blocks. In fact, according to readaloud.org, the number of words a child has in his vocabulary on entering kindergarten is a key predictor of his or her success.

Science

Stock the house with science supplies and experiment books. Have baking soda, vinegar, glue, food coloring, iron shavings, magnets and other science basics on hand. Home Science Tools has just about anything you could need for reasonable prices.

Fill your bookshelves with experiment books. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Toys

Toys can either be creativity boosters or busters. Avoid single purpose toys — toys that do only main thing. Instead, look for open play toys — toys that can be used in many different ways. Here are some examples:

  • Blocks
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Tinker Toys
  • Legos
  • K’Nex
  • Snap Circuits
  • Play Silks
  • Dress Up Items
  • Dollhouse
  • Play Dough
  • Cash Register
  • Play Kitchen
  • Sand Pit
  • Water Table

Skills

If we can empower our kids with a wide range of skills, we’ll give them more choices for boredom-busting, imagination-sparking activities. With YouTube and Instructables, Squiddo, Pinterest and Google, your kids can learn how to do just about anything.

Arm them with some basic skills to help them build imagination through boredom:

  • knitting
  • crocheting
  • sewing (by hand and on a machine)
  • drawing
  • origami
  • using a power drill
  • using a hot glue gun
  • hammering
  • using different screw drivers
  • using different saws
  • making paper
  • knot tying
  • paper mache

Babies

It’s never too early to inspire babies. Make non-toxic finger paint and play dough. Put the baby in a contained place like the high chair, and let him have his way. Don’t worry about whether or not he eats it; that’s all part of the experience.

Give babies big chunky crayons and blank paper and let them play with it as soon as they can hold the crayon. Again, don’t worry if they want to taste the crayon. Just make sure they don’t bite off a chunk that can choke them.

Line the floor with old towels and pull a chair up to the sink. Fill the sink with bubbly water and a variety of utensils like ladles, measuring spoons and cups and a colander, and let baby stand on the chair and play.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about how to embrace the mess that comes with inspiring creativity. Check back and be sure to leave us a little note!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Embrace Boredom

Bored

“Preempt the time spent on television and organized activities and have them spend it instead on claiming their imaginations. For in the end, that is all we have. If a thing cannot be imagined first — a cake, a relationship, a cure for AIDS — it cannot be. Life is bound by what we can envision.

I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can, however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom. It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves, the ones that long for risk and illumination and unspeakable beauty.

If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”

— Nancy H. Blakey, author of a number of books, including Mudpies: Recipes for Invention; 101 Alternatives to Television; Lotions, Potions and Slime; and Boredom Busters, all from Tricycle Press

Out of boredom comes imagination, innovation, creativity…identity!

In this awesome quote, Nancy Blakey said she can’t plant imagination into her kids, but as parents, we can design an environment that will help our kids grapple successfully with boredom.

That’s what we’re going to talk about this week.

  • Check back tomorrow for a discussion on How to Build a Creative Environment
  • On Wednesday we’ll confront How To Embrace the Mess
  • On Thursday we’ll explore A Diverse Sensory Diet for Creativity
  • On Friday we’ll talk about Your Role as Creative Director
  • On Saturday we’ll expose some Creativity Assassins

Your conversation means so much to us. So please take a moment this week to interact and leave comments. We want to hear your ideas!

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with nine kids between them (ages 4 to 28) and #10 due in August. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to parent on purpose.

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