Monday, April 3, 2017

THRIVING CREATIVELY

The theme of the upcoming annual North Carolinians for Home Education Conference and Book Fair  is THRIVE : Equipping, Encouraging, Connecting.

"Thrive" is a good word;   it means to PROSPER,  FLOURISH, GROW VIGOROUSLY.   That is what we want for our children and our homeschools, right?   We don't want to just "get by", we want to prosper and flourish!  We don't want our children to just be "good enough", we want them to be all they can be!

So the question is, what will cause my family to thrive?  What will allow ME to thrive?  What is the "formula"? What steps do I follow, what curriculum do I buy...?

Psalm 1: 1-3 is a good starting place.

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God. But they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him more closely.
They are like trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail. Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper.

(The Living Bible)



Those words "everything", "day and night", and "always" make me cringe a bit, because I know I don't always do everything God wants me to do.  But I know this is God's blueprint for how to THRIVE.  So just because I don't do it perfectly doesn't mean I shouldn't try, and do the best I can. This is where I want my children to start as well.

Proverbs 11:28 says

Those who trust in their riches will fall,
    but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

(NIV)


So here, thriving is equated with righteousness, which means living a moral, virtuous life that is in accord with the character of God.  Because God created mankind in His own image, we have the ability to live in line with His character. That means that we reflect God's nature. 
We are creative because God is Creator. 
We are spiritual beings because God is Spirit.  
We communicate because God communicates, and is the Word. 
We are intelligent because God possesses all knowledge and wisdom.  
We are relational because God is  tri-une, and personal, creating mankind to be in relationship with Him   
We understand morality because God is a moral being, holy and pure.  

When we embrace and nurture these qualities in our lives and in our families, then we are able to THRIVE, living as God created us to live! 

Let's talk about one of the characteristics of God - CREATIVITY.

What is creativity?  One definition is "the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, etc. and to create meaningful NEW ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations."

When you think OUTSIDE THE BOX,  when you find NEW and ORIGINAL ways or methods for dealing with tasks and obstacles, you are being CREATIVE!  


We want our children to be leaders who are innovative, who come up with new ideas and better solutions, whether in the workplace, the church, the community, government, school, or family.
Creativity is an integral component to a thriving economy, a thriving church, a thriving community, and a thriving family.

Creativity is not about being able to draw or paint, although those are creative activities.  It is making things, solving problems, cultivating beauty, exploring ideas.   It is a key part of being "educated", and feeling  fulfilled as a human being!



Why is creativity important?  Supporting the fact that creativity is part of God's character and developing our innate creativity allows us to THRIVE, numerous studies, such as this one here,  have found that practicing creativity improves both emotional and physical health and well-being. 
  • increases feelings of positivity; improves mood
  • reduces stress and anxiety
  • improves ability to resolve conflict
  • increases self-confidence and sense of purpose
  • increases spontaneity
  • contributes to emotional and physical healing
Developing and practicing our God-given creativity helps us to live healthier, happier lives!

What if I'm not creative?  Your innate spark of creativity might be dormant through lack of use, but it is still present!   How do I know?  Because Colossians 1:16 says

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him."

Genesis 1: 27

 "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." 

God was lavish and bold and expressive in His creation!  Pastor and author John Piper writes:

"If you are God, your work is to create out of nothing. If you are not God, but like God - that is, if you are human - your work is to take what God has made and shape it and use it to make Him look great." 
 ( Don't Waste Your Life, 139)



Young children express their creativity very well. Anyone with a toddler has been amazed at the ingenuity displayed when he pushed a box up to a chair so he could climb on the counter to open the cabinet to get to the shelf where you hid the Oreos behind the box of brown rice!   Think of the imagination that is typical of preschoolers - imaginary friends, dress up costumes, tea parties, blanket forts, made-up songs.  But do you know that measures of creativity and imaginative thinking fall drastically once a child starts school?



In a 1968 study on creativity by George Land,  98% of the 1,600 three to five year old children given a test on divergent thinking scored at the highest, or genius, level.  When that test was given to those same children at 8- 10 years old, only 30% scored at the genius level.  The number dropped to 12% when they reached 13-15 years old.  The number dove to 2% when the same test was given to over 200,000 adults over the age of 25.    What happens to children between the ages of 5 and 25?  Well, school happens.  The conclusion drawn by Sir Ken Robinson is that modern education, which emphasizes learning for a test and giving the right answer, stifles divergent thinking.  

EDUCATION is not a mechanical system, where you put in raw material, manipulate it in certain ways, and produce a consistent end-product.  Education is a HUMAN system.  There are certain conditions under which people THRIVE!  Look around you. Where is that happening?  Look are your children.  Are they thriving?  If not, what conditions need to be adjusted?


If you are a mother, you are creating something beautiful every day!  You are creating art!  Every hug, every kiss, every pat on the back, every nose wiped, every lesson taught, every meal prepared, every tear wiped away, every prayer lifted is adding to the color and texture and design of the beautiful life that is entrusted to you. 
And you are more creative than you think!
  • creative in getting your kids to eat vegetables
  • creative in stretching a pay check
  • creative in getting a reluctant child to do his lessons
  • creative in finding time to be alone with your husband    

Creativity is like a muscle that needs to be stretched and exercised.  The more you use it, the stronger it gets!  Just because I cannot run from my driveway to the end of my street without feeling like I'm going to die doesn't mean I don't have the ability to do so. It means I haven't used those muscles in that way in a very long time.  If I start slowly and am consistent in practicing, bit by bit I will develop those muscles and regain that ability.  I may never run quickly or gracefully, but that doesn't mean I can't do it!

Stretch your creative muscles!  Some possible creative pursuits that you might explore with your children are
  • GARDENING
  • WRITING -  letters, a blog, short stories, poetry, a journal
  • DRAWING
  • SCULPTING
  • HANDCRAFTING  -  sewing, knitting, rubber stamping, candle making, jewelry making, etc
  • COOKING 
  • MAKING MUSIC
  • PLANNING - birthday parties, unit study celebrations, church functions, family reunions, support group events
  • DECORATING  -  your home for seasons or holidays,  
  • PHOTOGRAPHY
  • DANCING / CHOREOGRAPHY
  • ACTING
  • STORYTELLING 
  • DESIGN - fashion, landscape, graphic, more efficient ways of doing things, 
  • BUILDING -  blocks, LEGOs, woodworking
  • DEBATING



STORY

"The Story of Gillian Lynne"   ~  paraphrased from the book The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.

Gillian was only eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned.  She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly.  Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class - one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian's attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her.     Gillian wasn't particularly concerned about any of this -  she was used to being corrected all the time, but she really didn't see herself as a bad child.  However, the school was very concerned.  Finally the principle wrote to Gillian's parents, saying that Gillian obviously had a learning disorder of some kind and it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs.  This was the 1930's, and classroom inclusion and accommodations were not yet the norm.   Today, Gillian would probably be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and put on medication. But the ADD epidemic hadn't been invented at the time and wasn't an available condition.

Gillian's parents sprang into action and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst.  The doctor, an imposing man in a tweed jacket seated behind a large, oak desk, asked Gillian's mother about the difficulties she was having at school.  While he didn't direct any of his questions to Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time.

Eventually, the adults stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat down next to the little girl. "Gillian, you have been very patient, and I thank you for that, " he said.  "But I'm afraid I need you to be patient for just a little longer.  I need to speak to your mother privately for a minute. We're going to go out of the room, but don't worry. We won't be very long."   The mother exited the room and the psychologist followed, but first he leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.

When they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian's mother, "Let's just stand here for a minute and watch what she does."  There was a window in the door, and they stood to the side where they could watch Gillian but she couldn't see them.  Nearly immediately, Gillian was up off the couch, moving and skipping about the room to the music, looking at the various things on the shelf , humming to herself.  After watching for a few minutes, the psychologist turned to Gillian's mother and said, "You know, Mrs. Lynne.  I don't believe Gillian is sick.  She's a dancer.  You should take her to dance school!" 

So her mother did exactly what the psychologist suggested.  When Gillian walked into the dance school for the first time, she immediately felt at home.  Here were other people like HER. People who had to MOVE to think!  She started going to dance class every week and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her.  She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world. When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York.  She met Andrew Lloyd Webber and he hired her to choreograph some of the most famous musical theater productions in history, including "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera".  

Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future who some considered "special needs", became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time -  someone who brought pleasure to millions, and earned millions of dollars doing it!   This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes and saw who she really was.  Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. 



















This story is not meant as a criticism for anyone with a struggling child, but perhaps inspiration to take a second look at what makes them tick, what brings them joy, what conditions let them THRIVE!  All children need unstructured play time in which to daydream, come up with their own entertainment, and make their own rules!  Some children really do need to MOVE in order to THINK!  My middle child was exactly that way, and because we homeschooled, I could let him wiggle, sit in a rolling chair, toss a tennis ball, squeeze silly putty,  hop on one foot .... whatever he needed to do in order to concentrate on the task at hand.

Some of the ways we can help our children nurture their natural curiosity and creativity are:
  • banish perfectionism  - allow for experimentation, dabbling, and mistakes
  • don't be afraid of messes -  creativity can be quite messy at times;  but messes can be cleaned up
  • provide space, time, and tools for a variety of artistic expression -  markers, paints & brushes, all kinds of paper, scissors, glue, old magazines, yarn, fabric, tools & wood, clay, dirt, costumes or old clothes,  musical instruments, cardboard tubes and boxes, puppets, 
  • listen to all kinds of music
  • read! - stories, fairy tales, poetry, biographies
  • ask your child to think of new ways to do things around the house  - encourage creative thinking and problem-solving
  • teach your child not to compare themselves to others - comparison is the thief of joy!!!  Creative pursuits are very individual, and often two people will approach the same subject in very different ways
Creativity is a vital part of the abundant life that God created for us.  Another benefit of creative activities is the ability to bless others!  The fruit of your creative labors can be enjoyed by others, can touch the lives of others, and build community. 



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Don't Lose Sight of the Forest for the Trees

This is especially for new or new-ish homeschoolers.



One thing I encourage all new homeschoolers to do is to write a paragraph stating your reasons for homeschooling. You likely have given this a good amount of thought at some point, and may have a "list" in your head. It is important to write it down and keep it someplace where you can refer to it from time to time.... because you will forget!!
 ~in the midst of winter when you are snowed in and everyone is sick,
~in the midst of struggles with learning to read or figuring out fractions or convincing your son that punctuation is necessary, 
~in the midst of trying to manage laundry and sports practices and grocery shopping and lesson plans,
~ in the midst of frustrating days and sleepless nights, 
you will hear yourself saying "Why did I think this was a good idea?" and YOU WILL NEED TO REMIND YOURSELF. 



Many years ago a speaker at the NCHE Homeschool Conference told this story, and it has stuck with me. This woman was head of a support organization in CA, and they required all their families to submit a statement of their reasons for homeschooling. One day a homeschool mom came to her, very discouraged, saying that after getting back her children's standardized test scores, she and her husband had decided the children were not doing as well as they'd hoped and that the kids would probably be better off in school. The leader pulled out the written statement that this family had submitted when they started homeschooling, and read it over for a minute.

 "You say you are disappointed with your children's test scores and think they should be back in school. But I don't see high test scores anywhere on this list of reasons you gave for wanting to homeschool in the first place. This is what you wrote."

And she handed the paper to the mom to read. The statement included things like growing up in a safe environment, building strong family relationships, having freedom to teach from a Christian worldview and include God in their daily lessons, protecting their children's innocence and allowing them to learn at their own pace and to develop their God-given abilities using materials that fit their individual learning styles.

"Have these things changed? Are your children still benefiting from the things you wrote here?"

 The mother admitted that she had lost sight of those reasons, and perhaps the standardized tests were not the most important part of this whole picture. She left much encouraged, with a copy of her written statement to show her husband.



There is an old adage, "Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees."
Keep the big picture in mind, and don't let one small detail or struggle derail you.