Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Peaceful Sigh

My daughter, Kylia, has a wonderful friend, Megan. Megan loves horses! She doesn't have a horse of her own, so when she was about 13 years old, she began volunteering at a local therapeutic riding center.

Each morning, her mom would take Megan to the farm. When they arrived at the barn, Megan would open the door of the van, and inhale deeply. Then with a dreamy expression on her face, she would sigh, "Ahhhhh... Doesn't that smell wonderful?" Megan's younger brothers, who were still in the van, would grimace, hold their noses and pull their sweatshirt hoods over their faces, while saying loudly, "Eeewwww! Close the door!"

Recently I read an article about a man who had attended a busy convention. One afternoon, everyone was given a few hours to unwind after a particularly hectic meeting. Most went to the pool, or to the golf course for a quick 9 holes. This gentleman decided to take a walk. His walk led him to the nearby stables. He had the same reaction that Megan did... a peaceful sigh. His mind was flooded with memories of growing up on his parents' farm. He remembered the feeling of the horses' soft noses nuzzling his hand to get a lump of sugar. He remembered quiet afternoons under a big oak tree, where he heard only the whooshing of the horses' tails as they chased those pesky flies. He remembered brushing the horses, and the gentle rhythm of their gait, when he rode. He returned to the convention in a far more relaxed state than most of the other attendees.

All of us have things that bring that feeling of peace and contentment. I love to sit near the ocean or the lake, or near a waterfall, and hear the water crashing on the shore or the rocks. Ahhhhh...

Maybe you love to rest your cheek against the downy softness of a newborn's hair, or to climb to the top of a mountain and drink in the beauty that surrounds you. Maybe the aroma of homemade bread baking in the oven brings that blissful smile to your face.

It doesn't always have to be something quiet or soft. I remember many days of sighing deeply as I crested a hill near Lexington, Ohio, to hear the roar of the racecars at Mid-Ohio Race Car Course. And the smell of those fumes..... Ahhhhh... OK, not everyone will agree with that one, but, for me, it was wonderful!

When you have one of those days, or weeks, or months of madness and mayhem, take the time to find one of the things that you love to do, or see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch, and savor it! Ahhhhhh...

Now don't you feel better?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Are You Too Helpful?

A few years ago, I taught an enrichment class, called "Creative Math." There were about 15 boys in the class. Some of them loved math, and some were in the class because their parents made them take it.

This class did not include much arithmetic. It focused on math found in more creative endeavors, like design, music, and art. One activity involved making tangrams... those geometric shapes that can be placed in various patterns to create swans, ships, houses, teapots, dogs, etc. I gave each student a square of heavy construction paper, and then told them step by step, how to fold and cut that sheet of paper into the 7 tangram shapes. They listened carefully, and did a beautiful job of folding and cutting.

When they each had the 7 shapes on the table in front of them, I explained that their new task was to put the shapes back together so that it would look like it did before we began folding and cutting. In other words, put it back into the original square shape. Easy! "Wait... how did we do that?" Hmmm. "Did I lose a piece?" "Is this a trick?" Minutes ticked by, and some of the boys began working in teams. Others, with wrinkled brows, fervently moved this piece and that piece, trying to remember all the steps involved in creating the tangrams. The room hummed with creative thinking.

In the meantime, a dad, who had been watching the whole process, leaned over the shoulders of a team of three boys who were eagerly trying one approach after another. Reaching past them and sliding pieces around he said, "Try putting this piece here, and that piece over there." I suddenly heard a sad, "Oh...." The three boys said, "We got it." But there was no enthusiasm in their voices. I told them that was great work, and they answered dejectedly, "but we had help." I will never forgot the sad looks on the faces of those three boys, now sitting slumped back in their chairs.

Other boys in the room now looked at the solved puzzle and moved their pieces into the same configuration. What had been an excited and involved class, suddenly became a very sullen group. The dad explained, "I just saw them all struggling, and I thought if I could just give them a little hint, it would make it easier."

I think there are many times in our lives when it is really important for us to find our own solutions to problems. We need to dig for information, on our own. We need to brainstorm, on our own. We need to make mistakes, on our own. When we work hard to find a solution, and we succeed, the elation we feel for that hard-won success will carry us through many more situations in our lives. Because we solved that problem, we know we are capable of solving other problems in the future. It helps us gain confidence. What we learned from solving that one problem, can be applied to future problems. We become better creative and logical thinkers. Our abilities expand exponentially.

It does seem to be in our nature to try to help someone who is struggling. We want them to see the answer so that they can move on, but when they haven't invested themselves in discovering that answer, it becomes far less meaningful to them. They haven't seen the pieces fitting together one by one. They haven't experienced that "aha moment" when the way becomes clear. Instead of an excited "YES!" they may instead simply say, "oh."

There will be many times in your life, when your help will be welcomed and appreciated, and there will be many times, when you will be so happy NOT to have helped. As your child shares with you, the excitement of discovery, you will both shout, "YES!"

By the way, if you ever need help... just ask.

"In order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not to do the next time." ~Anthony J. D'Angelo

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Young children never seem to run out of questions... Why are there birds in so many different colors? Where does the gas go after you put it in the car? Why are toes shorter than fingers? How do fish breathe underwater? Why do people have hair? Where does the wind come from? Some questions make parents smile. Other questions make them squirm. Many questions leave parents scratching their heads.

There are parents, and teachers, who think children ask too many questions. Questions can interrupt other tasks. They can cause embarrassment, if the wrong questions are asked at the wrong time, or in the wrong place. Sometimes there are questions that seem so nonsensical that they don't deserve an answer.

When my children were young, a flood of questions would begin the moment they opened their eyes each morning. I answered the questions I could, and helped them find the answers to those questions that had me stumped. Sometimes I would give them hints to help them discover the answers on their own.

Many children stop asking questions as they grow older. Some stop because they are told that it is annoying when they ask too many questions. Others stop because their questions are met with laughter, or because they hear comments about the silliness of their questions. Many stop because they worry that everyone will think they are ignorant if they ask. That's sad, because questions are one of the greatest learning tools we have.

I have discovered that when children find answers to their questions, in many cases, it leads to more questions. If you are looking for a way to inspire learning in your child, and in yourself, be grateful for those questions. Let your children know that you are glad they asked.

Today, take time to listen to your children's questions and help them find the answers. And, while you're at it, ask a few questions yourself! Asking questions and discovering answers can lead to a lifetime learning adventure!