TEACHING CREATIVITY IN AUSTRALIA

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I was recently reprimanded for drawing with my young daughter. Upon observing this horrendous act – of us drawing together – a very experienced and well-meaning teacher took me aside and gently explained that this kind of activity could be undermining my shy daughter’s confidence. My daughter would see her own work as inferior and thus I was crushing her soul… admittedly not the exact words the teacher used!

What the teacher didn’t know is that before I was a mere mother, inadvertently breaking the rules at this parent-child session, I spent a good chunk of my working life collecting an impressive pile of awards for my work in Community Cultural Development. Helping teachers and students to be more creative was my job. Thus in this instance, I felt I had the appropriate formal qualifications and recognition to draw with my own child without damaging her… but what if I hadn’t? Should just anyone be allowed to draw with children?!

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BLOGGING IN THE CLASSROOM

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This topic strikes fear into the hearts of safety conscious educational leaders, but I believe every school should have a blog, written by the children, and preferably linked to social media.

Having worked with high risk, and extremely sensitive groups in the past I fully understand the reasons why many schools do not have a ‘school blog’ (privacy, ethical and even marketing risks).  But I believe in most settings the potential for learning far outweighs the risk management involved (which can largely be managed with clear process and simple digital solutions).

I’ve talked before about digital literacy in the early years, and how record keeping influences memory and identity. I’ll explain how blogs aid specific class room learning in more detail later, but for now let’s see how my own children arrived at blog writing…

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: BECOME A BUTTERFLY!

In the honor of letter M we’ll be mulling over the Magnificent Monarch Butterfly who migrates to Mexico each year.

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Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. Not all the generations migrate, but every year the generation that migrates will fly around 20,000km to find their warmer climate for the winter! (That’s a long way, as our butterflies discovered after they traveled part of it!)

There are lots of cool things to learn about butterflies in general, and the 4 stages of their life cycle is captivating for all ages:

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: ANCIENT EGYPTIAN JEWELS WITH BUTTONS

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Here’s a little activity to make your children more attractive to the gods!

It is believed that in ancient Egypt both men and women of all classes wore as much jewelry as they could afford. This was to show their wealth and status, but also because they thought it would make them more attractive to the gods.

We’re not quite up for working with real gold in our family (as the upper classes wore) or even copper (as the Middle classes wore) and while we probably could try our hand at a little bead work (as the lower classes wore) we thought we’d shake up history and make some historically inaccurate collars from paper plates, buttons, sequins and glue.

If you are keen to read a very brief overview of Egyptian fashion before you start, I suggest this link.

Then grab your supplies:

  • Paper plate
  • Any items to be ‘gemstones and jewels’ (Ie buttons, sequins, stickers, glitter, macaroni etc)
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • (Paints, pencils etc optional)

Cut a ‘neck sized’ off-center hole in your paper plate, with a cut across at the narrowest part. (This cut is the back of the collar, and will allow the collar to open and fit over the head). Test that it fits the young royals neck before you proceed. (This way they will better understand the finished result before they start decorating.)

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Sit the plate upside down on the work bench and cover in glue.

Decorate as you wish and allow to dry. Wear your creation with pride.

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Of course each child approached this differently; Evie was all about the pattern, Elka was totally into buttons etc. this variation is healthy, and also a good reason to leave any exact ‘how to’ demonstrations out of the picture to avoid mimicry.

You can expand your collection of jewels by creating an arm cuff (toilet tube is perfect) or even a cardboard headdress.

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With all these supplies on hand some of your tots might not be keen to make jewelry, and if they are inspired to create something else than that is even better- let them go forth and create! (Roman had many plans of what he could make, and in the end he chose to create an electronic button disk instead of an Egyptian collar – love the way this guy thinks!)

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PRINTABLE FOR A DIY EGG STORY!

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We were lucky enough to find a fresh chicken egg in our friends new chicken coup, but chickens aren’t the only ones who lay eggs.

First lets talk a little about the magic of finding an egg: Even as an adult, I am swept with joy if I find a little eggshell left behind by a wren. The whole prep class was mesmerised when a girl bought in a sharks egg that she had found. And, there is nothing quite like collecting chicken eggs. The other day we were introduced to our friends new pets: 3 stunning young chickens who (to our collective delight) had produced an egg! The girls took turns nursing the treasured egg all the way home, and tomorrow morning it will be used to make a small batch of our traditional celebration food: pancakes.

Birds eggs in themselves are a structural marvel. Calcium formed so perfectly that it is strong from the outside (particularly to vertical pressure) and weak from the inside (so that the small and weak new creature can break free with relative ease). Not only this, but all eggs contain everything the little creature needs to develop (regardless of what species – platypus, lizard, frog, shark or chicken!) they are amazing, and a marvel well worth sharing with your young ones.

This is a great free printable for you to create your own ‘Brown Bear’ inspired story. (And if your young literary nuts are anything like mine, you can probably recite ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ backwards, while sleeping – yes, that book it well worn!)

Each page is designed by Mrs Wills Kindergarten so your tot can depict their own creature that starts life as an egg. Obviously the template isn’t necessarily the exact shape of a frogs egg, or a turtle egg etc. but the joy of making a little book  with the freedom to decide what will be included (rather than proscribed by the egg shape) makes up for this in my opinion.

If you are up for a full afternoon of craft you may like to layer tissue paper to create your works (Eric Carl style) or alternatively simply hand over a biro and your little artist can complete the book at the kitchen table while dinner is on!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: CARVE YOUR NAME IN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS

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How could you look at Egypt without touching on the captivating subject of hieroglyphics!

While it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that hieroglyphics were the first alphabet, they certainly predate our alphabet and it is a great introduction to early literacy (early literacy from a historical sense, rather than a personal sense, great to add to your timeline!)

We (unintentionally) took a backwards approach to learning about early language: First we used the iPhone to find this great website that simplifies the complex system of writing to an easily palatable kid friendly format. We then noted on paper the children’s names (using the website as our guide.) Then we took our paper and transformed it into a more fun (and historically accurate) medium; the clay tablet.

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Notice this backwards approach to the evolution of the presentation of information? (iPhone, paper, clay tablet – sure we miss a few stages in between, but we’re just after the basics here!)

Once I finally realised that we had made this organic ‘de-evolution’ we put a bit more focus on this aspect. Imagining a world without touch screens and Google – let alone a world before paper and common writing – is a big concept for anyone. (Talking about how there wasn’t always an alphabet seemed almost treason to my kids!)

Here’s a super simplified history of writing that you can use to guide your conversation with your young writers (for more details, look up the answers together – it’s always good to model the finding of information.)

From a very general sense it is widely believed that improved farming techniques (and thus an increase in yield) allowed early communities to trade goods with one another, and as trade increased there was a need for improved notation of the transactions (so, in a sense, very early writing was basically accounting!) As trade increased so too did the written ‘vocabulary’ until eventually ‘writing’ was used for important things (outside of accounting!) like scriptures and such.

The lack of paper and pen in the final stage of this activity (when the kids transferred their name to clay tablets) was particularly good at drawing attention to how the written language evolved from pictorial representations (that are quite difficult to make as marks in clay with limited tools) to a simplified form that eventually evolved into an alphabetic system that we use today.

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Now, I’d love to tell you that we are looking at the industrial revolution (and thus how the printing press brought written language to the masses) shortly, but to be honest my planning hasn’t got quite that far ahead yet!

For now check out the website, write down your tots name together in hieroglyphics. If you’re up for a bit of clay action then simply role yourself a clay tablet and get mark making (sun dry your clay for the authentic Egyptian touch, or cook it in the oven if the current Tasmanian weather won’t allow the sun to reach your clay!)

Come on, you know you want to get those little fingers into some clay!

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E – IS FOR EGYPT, LEGO PYRAMIDS AND DEATH

While modern day Egypt is a great topic, this time we’re just taking our Big History concepts and looking specifically at Egypt at the time that the great pyramids were built.

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The physical pyramids themselves are a great engineering tale, it’s a big topic to add to your timeline, and the cultural significance is a brilliant introduction to the concept of death rituals. (Kids are so fascinated by the idea of kings, pyramids and mummification that the idea of a lost life seems interesting, rather than tragic.)

At this grim point I’d like to note that while death might not be on too many early childhood agendas, I approach this as the mother of a child who (in the process of simply removing spent sunflowers from the garden) realised that everyone she loves will one day die, and then proceeded to sob for hours as it sunk in – one grim reality at a time.

It started with a throw away comment that we were removing the sunflowers because they ‘weren’t alive or growing anymore’… And after a series of small logical conclusions eventually brought her to the realisation that she too would die… and so would her whole family…. and all her friends… This was not the intended outcome of our gardening session, but it hit her like a brick wall.

This was one of the most heart breaking things I have ever had to help my children grapple with, and it seems to have stayed with her. As a ‘reward’ after her 4yo needles she asked to visit a graveyard so she could see where the first settlers were berried (yes, we’d visited the invasion room at TMAG) and even a couple of years on (when she had to write a wish on a lantern to release) her wish was ‘not to die before my birthday!’ (Said with a casual smile as though it’s something every 5yo thinks about!)  … Now I swear that I do not direct her anywhere near the topic of her own mortality, or anyone’s for that matter, but it is evidently something that is important to her!

(Releasing the wish lantern to live to her next birthday.)

While I am absolutely positive that not all children take death so seriously, I feel it’s something we need to build a healthy acceptance of (in our family at least, and dare I say it – death is probably a healthy thing for most westerners to feel a little more comfortable about!)

So, let’s get building one of histories biggest monuments to death out of lego! Woo hoo!

(Check this link for a very brief refresher on pyramids so you can add some facts to your Lego game – we were also given the Egypt book from the ‘why is’ series by a dear friend, and that’s lots of fun if you have access to it at the library/Amazon etc)

Ok. The mission is simple. Get your lego and start building a pyramid. For older kids, let them at it and watch them work it out themselves. (For younger kids they may need some assistance to understand how to overlap bricks etc for strength.)

Unlike the Egyptians, you may wish to start at the top of your structure (with a square block) then build out from there with the more common rectangle blocks. As long as you step out each level, this is all you need to repeat until you reach your desired size.

You may wish to leave an entrance at the base (remember to set some soldiers near your entrance to watch out for tomb raiders – that’s what the Egyptians did to protect their pyramids!)

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As you build talk about how easy it is as you click on the uniformly shaped blocks. Ask your little engineers to think about what the life sized pyramids are built out of… how would they personally do it if they were alive in an Egyptian build? (Listen to their answer in full, then remind them of a few obstacles that might come up in their story – ie there were no trucks, the stones were all different shapes, they were a long way from the building site etc – and see how they solve the problem.)

You may also like to set your lego man in his tomb with all his worldly treasure (that he wants to take with him to the next life.) Perhaps spare bringing the slaves, pets etc (unless you really want to end up talking about death and sacrifice with your tot!) We chose a treasure chest and decorated his tomb.

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Next time you are at a rock beach (or any other place with good supply of rocks) challenge your little builders to make a pyramid out of natural materials. See how they interact with the stones after practicing on the lego (do they remember to overlap for strength etc?) and remember to join in as part of their team – it’s quite fun and a challenge at any age!

I hope to post shortly a little more about mummification (still deciding on the best approach for this one!) and we’ll get some tomb art underway shortly.

Enjoy building your mini monument to death (I mean; ‘fun lego pyramid’) and we’ll see you soon for some more grim adventures soon!

AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES (how are you programming your child?)

Programming is strong language to use when referring to a child, (and as the parent of 2 independent thinkers, I have no illusion that children are robots who will blindly do as you instruct!) but with the ever expanding research into how our brains develop, there is a good deal of ‘programming’ that we do of our children every day, weather we are thinking about it or not. From the moment they are born, what we say, what we do, and what we encourage is shaping our children’s physical brain, and thus determining (in many ways) the way our children respond in adult life.

Of course I fully support the notion that the brain is plastic into adulthood, so I’m not saying childhood experiences fully shape the mind and are irreversible (indeed quite the contrary!) but how our children develop is largely shaped by the experiences that we choose for them.

At 4 and 5 my children are somewhat late starters in the sea of classes. With classes in everything from engineering to dance, lego to piano, chess to soccer, languages to horses riding – the choice is immense, and most of their peers attend at least 2 formal classes each week. To date my own children have had no ongoing formal lessons.

My children have always attended Launch into Learning, or Rock and Rhyme, or Playgroup – and these things have been truly beneficial for my children as they developed. (I might touch on this in another upcoming post). However outside of these ‘parent and child’ preschool activities (most of which encourage free play) we have never partaken in the formal ‘out of school classes’.

This year however my children are ready. They are not too tired at the end of the day, they have plenty of time for free play (something that I believe is essential for childhood development) and they are looking to learn more; they are seeking a degree of formality.

That leaves me with the question of many parents: What should my own children be taught? With so much evidence that experience actively shapes the physical structure (and function) of these young developing minds, the decision has far more impact on their adult lives than just weather they can kick a ball or play a tune.

Of course a common solution is to let the child choose (though parents are often highly involved in selecting what choices their child is offered). Or to partly let the child choose (ie ‘you can choose what ever you like, but you must do swimming as its a matter of safety’.) Another is to go with what the child shows skills for (ie a natural climber might enrol in rock climbing or gymnastics) or in contrast what the child could improve on (ie enrolling a shy child in dance or drama to improve their ability to present.)

Ideally I would like to have my children experiences a range of activities that awaken a variety of different parts of their brain, and indeed to encourage the values I believe to to important. This seems ambitious (especially while keeping in mind that I don’t want to overload my children as I fully support the notion that a child needs free time to develop fully!)

Making concise choices about what to suggest to my own children presents a set of problems that every parent faces… What do we REALY want for our children?

In this presentation by Jennifer Senior she talks of how most parents would agree (regardless of beliefs or parenting style) that the primary thing they want for their children is ‘to be happy’. Senior suggests that the idea of ‘happiness’ is somewhat of an unreasonable expectation of any child (or parent for that matter!) – this may seem like a rather pessimistic statement, but in contrast I actually found it to be quite optimistic in tone and well supported by various studies – the presentation is well worth a watch, I can’t say it better than she does!

After having wished for happiness for so long I found this left me in a difficult position of needing to actively re-define my ambitions for my children as the values that I thought could be taught (indeed with the hope that these may in turn result in happiness as a byproduct of their endeavours, but not happiness as a primary goal.)

What do you value? What abilities or traits do you want to give to the next generation?

For me I would like for my children to have the confidence and self worth that comes from a sense of accomplishment. I would like them to extend their physical skills, as well as their analytical and creative thinking. I would like to encourage compassion for (and a genuine love and appreciation for) other people, animals and the environment they are a part of (man made and natural.)

In order to gain these skills they need to work as part of a team, understand their place in history, spend time with animals, in the environment… The list goes on.

There are many out of school activities that support these things, however the difficulty comes when you need to narrow down a selection to something your children will adore, and will also support the values you believe to be important… all while not overloading the child or sacrificing free play!

My own solution is to address some of the goals through less formal activities (ie camping can be largely child directed, and can address goals of environment and physicality as well as engaging a good deal of creative and analytical thinking – map reading, building, investigating etc).

For more formal lessons we have chosen to space these out over a month rather than have every lesson every week. (Ie music every second week, horse riding once a month and so on). This gives our kids more opportunity to experience a variety of activities without overloading each week to accommodate all the classes. This system gives my children the chance to experience a diverse range of skills (to see where their heart lies) and also ensures that their learning is still largely dictated by them (ie in the extended time between lessons it is their own initiative that drives their learning in each area.)

As my children grow I am sure they will self select the areas that they want to continue on a more regular basis, and the other aspects will fall away to a memory of something they once did. This is our solution to out of school activities. In a generations time we will see if it worked!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MAKE CHOCOLATES FOR FRIENDS!

Each year we set up a small chocolate factory at someone’s house and make simple chocolates with friends – we then divide the creations and give the assortment of chocolates to each family.

This year was a rather impromptu, and on a school day, so the younger members of the families represented their clan in the chocolate making.

If you feel like adding some home made treats to your gifts, then here are our top 3 child friendly chocolate making endeavours:

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White chocolate (melted) mixed with shredded coconut and then simply heaped into blobs of sweet goodness on your foil/baking paper.

We then chose to add some sugar bling to these, just for fun.

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Similarly easy is dark chocolate (melted) mixed with nuts (we like slivered almonds, though any fruit and/nut will do). These then also become blobs of tasty treats on your baking paper.

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Each of these are delicious and very easy for even the youngest hands to master. If you want to get a little creative with an actual Easter egg then you may like to try the following. (Afraid we didn’t do this one this year so there are no pictures to go along with the instructions this time, but it is a simple activity even without pictures.)

  • Obtain a pre-made Easter egg and chocolate chips of the opposing colour. (Ie white chocolate egg with dark chocolate chips, or dark chocolate egg with white chocolate chips.) The colour of your base egg will be the primary taste, so choose as per your gift recipients tastes!
  • Open your Easter egg and sit in an egg cup.
  • Melt you chocolate chips in a separate bowl.
  • Using a paintbrush (suitably clean for edible artworks!) simply paint your own pattern onto the existing egg (using the melted chocolate chips of the opposing colour as the ‘paint’).

If you are ‘painting’ with white chocolate you can even add a little colour paste to your chocolate (just as you would normally when colouring chocolate) and this gave us a range of coloured ‘paints’ to work with. We did this last year and even added a few edible sparkles to our eggs.

Of course once you have finished your chocolates let them set while you make a card to accompany the chocolates, and lick the bowl clean!

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Enjoy your Easter creations.