Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. ~African Proverb

Adversity: distress; affliction; hardship; an unfortunate event or incident

At some point in time, we all have to deal with adversity. The question is, how do we deal with it? As a bibliophile, I believe that any answer can be found in a book somewhere. There are non-fiction works of all sorts dealing with just about every known form of adversity under the sun. There are also fiction works that show-case characters who have to deal with some of the same hardships found in life. The trick is in adapting the literature to our own lives.

When my children have to deal with adversity (whether in their own lives, the lives of people they know and love, or just watching the evening news) I have a tendency to find a book about such issues. Immigration, learning disabilities, poverty, discrimination, and death have all been topics I've searched for and found books covering. The conversations we have about these issues differ once they've experienced these situations through another set of eyes. If you have never experienced the sickness of a loved one; where do you begin? If you have never had to deal with discrimination, how do you cope with it when it occurs around you? If you have never read about poverty, what words will you use to comfort a friend who is faced with it?

I firmly believe that it is a disservice to our children to "protect" them from all the bad things out there. I know, everyone wants their children to be safe, but it just isn't possible to protect them from all the hurts that are out there in the world. I believe that it's better for them to learn how to deal with adversity at an early age than to shock them once they've "left the nest". I'd rather my children never got hurt, but that just isn't possible.

A person who has overcome adversity is a person who has empathy for others. I would like my children to embody that. I strive to embody that. To that end, I read. I read about all kinds of things. I read to understand. I read to get clues on how to deal with situations that are difficult. I read to learn how it feels to be on the other end.

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem. ~Theodore Rubin

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No strings attatched, unless you're a marionette.

"As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood." — Jim Henson

Yesterday afternoon at our small library, we got to create some puppets. Okay, there was no I in the "we" part of that statement. The kids sure had fun, and I had fun watching them. This project was part of the Creativity Tank; a program in which teaching artists provide opportunities to develop and express creativity through meaningful art experiences. This program is sponsored in part with money from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage fund. (Where the rest of the money comes from, I'm not sure.) And yes, I got most of that information off the poster that was hanging up in our window advertising this event.

I have a fondness for puppets. I'm not exactly sure where it came from, but there it is. Maybe it's the fact that you can use them to say things in a tone of voice or accent that you can't use in everyday conversation. You can use them to say things that you just can't say in everyday conversation without looking a bit foolish. How often do you get to say, "Kaaa-zam!" without people giving you weird looks. If the puppet on your hand says, "Kaaa-zam!" and gets weird looks that has nothing to do with you. It's a puppet, and puppets say things like that. Sometimes, they even say things like that with a sort of weird English accent. And with a crazy low voice. While looking at you funny. Obviously, hand puppets are my favorite.

The kids made Fimo Puppets. Stick puppets made out of clay. As you can see from the pictures, they turned out great! Here is a great way for kids to learn how to express themselves without using words. They can shake their heads yes or no, turn away from you as if giving you the cold shoulder, get in close to show their interest, and the list goes on. It's a good learning experience without anyone being aware of it! How do you express yourself without using words? How do you read the body language of other people? These are good things to know. It certainly takes practice. It also means you need to be aware of things going on around you. Important life skills. All from a puppet!

Who knew fun could be so educational?

A big THANK YOU to Brandon W. for taking pictures of the puppets!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

10 Minutes a Day

To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.

~George Kneller

10 minutes isn't a lot of time. Everyone can find an extra 10 minutes in their day. Right? Okay; maybe not every day, but most days. Would you consider doing something creative for 10 minutes a waste of your time? Writing, doodling, sewing, crafting, painting, singing, the list goes on and on for creative activities that you can do for 10 minutes. It's good for your brain, or so researchers say. Granted, I didn't read all of the wikipedia article about creativity--there was a lot of information there. In the world we live in, thinking outside of the box is becoming more important. I think we should all take 10 minutes a day to do something creative.

Oh, you're not creative? Hunh. Good thing I have confidence that creativity can be fostered in even the oldest of old dogs. You don't need to buy yourself a pack of colored pencils and a sketch pad. The first step in getting those creative juices flowing is to take 10 minutes to just sit and observe. Use all of your senses to absorb what is around you. Smell the smells, see the sights, hear the sounds, feel your surroundings, taste the table. No, scratch that last one. See if you notice three things that you've never noticed before. See if you can see something new in a place that is familiar. Observe without passing judgement. (Extremely difficult if you're observing a huge pile of clutter that may or may not be of your own making.) If you can do this every day for a week, what will you find yourself observing that you had never taken the time to notice before? If you train yourself to find the new in the old, what would you observe in new situations that you maybe wouldn't have before? The possibilities are endless.

I brought up the 10 minutes of creative time because last week I was at Spotlight On Books: A Conference for Adults Focused on Youth Literature; where I got to hear a few different authors speak of their writings, and an illustrator about his artwork. I enjoyed hearing about how they work. Author Alison McGhee remarked that she takes 10 minutes every morning to just write. Write whatever comes to mind. Once the 10 minutes are over, she puts it away. It's an exercise in creativity. I thought about that. Ten minutes isn't very long. It's do-able. The Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had an article about author/illustrator Nancy Carlson and how she started a blog of doodles. Another exercise in creativity. Her doodles are just 10 minutes (or so) of time; and they may feature some of the characters from her books drawn in different ways. Ten minutes to draw whatever comes out of your pen. Fascinating. Two people in two days doing the 10 minute thing. Definitely do-able. Granted, we're a few days past last Sunday when I figured it was do-able and I haven't done anything. On Tuesday I did sit in the sun and observed things. I wasn't terribly non-judgemental though. I think I only lasted a couple minutes before heading off in search of the rake.

I hope I can remember to take 10 minutes a day. Ten minutes to quietly observe, ten minutes to draw, ten minutes to write (haha, this post makes up for a couple weeks worth of 10 minutes). Now is the perfect time of year to get in the habit of observing. Watch as little by little the leaves start popping out on the trees, listen to the frogs croaking, smell the pollen, feel the sneeze building up inside of you. Now is the time of year that the world outside changes on an almost daily basis.

If you need more inspiration on building up your creativity, I found an interesting article on the Scientific American website. 7 Ways To Cultivate Your Creativity. Go ahead, click on the link. Go ahead, sit quietly and soak in the things around you. Go ahead, allow yourself the freedom to think outside of your usual box.

I promise, it's fun!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Ignorant American

It appears that spring has finally sprung. The sun has been shining all day, and people are outside walking around without hats, mittens, boots, scarves, and the rest of the northern Minnesota winter attire. Granted, it's supposed to snow a little bit on Saturday. April snow showers don't last long, so that's okay. Spring means it's time for me to start planning the Summer Library Program. Okay, I really should have done this while it was still winter, but I just don't work that way (by "that way", I mean in a timely manner.) I broke open my Summer Reading manual yesterday afternoon. I think I know how I'm going to work it this year. The theme; as mentioned before, is: It will be a good opportunity to explore some stories from around the world. The kids in our communities can become world travelers via the summer library program this year. We'll see if we can learn something about other countries.

Americans are known to be pretty ignorant about other countries in the world, but maybe this summer will nudge our kids towards a more competent future. I wish I could say that I know a lot about the world: who's in charge, issues facing other countries; but honestly, I have to look at a map in order to remember exactly where any country beyond North America is located. At the meeting for the kick off of the summer reading program, we played a game of "cross off the boxes". Each box had some kind of "find someone who". There were plenty of children's library workers there, and it was pretty sad that out of all of us, only one person knew the Prime Minister of Canada--and that person wasn't even in the room with us. It was the receptionist who knew. Bully for the receptionist, not-so-bully for the rest of us. It was a rude awakening for us. We are ignorant of other countries. Everyone in the world has heard of Barack Obama, and we expect that everyone know who he is. Do you know who Stephen Harper is? Right, he's the Prime Minister of Canada. How many current prime ministers or presidents can you name? I know I can't name very many. I-G-N-O-R-A-N-T. What can we expect our children to learn about a world we know nothing about?

I suppose our kids should not be the only ones reading around the world this summer.