Sunday, February 19, 2012

Natural Curiosity

I love the internet. I was sitting there thinking about creativity and learning and suddenly something pops up and points me in a little different direction.This picture floated around Facebook. It shows a subway in Washington D.C. Everyone is rushing by as a someone is playing a violin over near the wall. The point of the message is that people should stop to watch beauty.

Here's the story:
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Evidently this isn't the first time this has happened. One commenter says that Paul McCartney did this same thing in London, and no one stopped.  And, yes, paying attention to beauty around us IS an important thing we need to do. But what  I noticed about the story is that the children DID notice beauty.  They didn't look past him. They craned their neck to see what was going on, only moved along by their adult.

That natural curiosity is inside all of us. But after years of schools ringing bells, ending class times just when it was getting interesting, or even just making the presumption that each class time should be allocated X amount of time - no more, no less, we have essentially buried our natural curiosity. I used to think it was squashed out of us. But now I think of it more as heaps and heaps of deadlines, priorities (usually someone else's!), forced competition, and urgency. Those are what come from years and years of classroom exposure.

When we lived in Alaska, we used to go to a science museum called the Imaginarium. Clearly they believed in the benefit of hands-on learning, as each exhibit was about exploration and discovery. We would go every month with other families in our support group. My son would often gravitate to the fossil area. It was a giant sand pit with trucks and back hoes you could use to find the bones and stones that were buried below. Lots of times, the kids would spend their time building forts out of the sand piles, or setting up Indiana Jones inspired settings.

I remember the first time I took my kids to the Imaginarium. We were part of an organized class for the first hour, then we could spend the whole day there afterward if we wanted to. Often that's exactly what we did.  The kids had ended up in the sand pit/fossil area, and I was sitting with another mom.  Just as we were relaxing, in stormed a crowd of kids from school.  They were close in age to our kids, and there were a lot of them. I turned to the other mom who told me, "Just wait, they won't be here long." There was room in the sand for them to join ours, but they didn't. They just watched what our kids were doing. I didn't notice any commenting, nor did I notice that they really wanted to get into the sand. They talked among themselves for a few minutes, and then their teacher handed them a slip of paper - something for them to check off which exhibits they saw - and then she moved them to the next area.

I could see them from where I sat, and they didn't try to engage in anything that would take any time. They picked up a giant balloon wand, once or twice. They gently touched some noise maker. But they didn't stick with anything in particular. And then it was time for them to move to the next area and ultimately off to lunch.

I was struck by the thought that they weren't really engaging anywhere; they weren't encouraged to. And after years of bells ringing and teachers determining the amount of time they should focus, they simply kept it all at a very superficial level. They were rushed through with no time for exploring. Because exploring - really exploring - DOES take time. And all those kids in school missed that opportunity. They were basically being conditioned to set aside their natural curiosity. Over time, they'd forget about picking it up again.

Still, videos like this remind me that it's still in all of us. Some of us held tighter to our natural curiosity. So when the shackles of school were removed, they could easily reach through to rekindle that curiosity that was waiting for them. The rest of us take a little longer to reacquaint ourselves with that which is in us.

And then some of us, our children that were given time to discover and play, won't have to go looking for their natural curiosity.  It's been a big part of their lives all along.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Children's Story Choices

When I think about the books that I read to my children, 
is it any wonder they are outspoken against any injustices they see?

Not sure which ones these are?
Top Row: Butter Battle Book, The Sneetches, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax
Bottom Row: Yertle the Turtle, The Grinch, Green Eggs & Ham,  Horton Hears a Who

This doesn't even include Oh the Places You'll Go, I Can Read with my Eyes Shut, Oh The Thinks You can Think, The Birthday Book, Marvin K Mooney...

They say it's the little things responsible for shaping who we are or how we think.  Night after night, we read Dr. Seuss until all of us fell asleep.  And these were the words we heard as we were nodding off...

When I started looking for the Dr. Seuss quotes, I stumbled onto the fact that Universal Studios was putting out The Lorax in theaters in March.  Initially, I added the video of  The Lorax movie trailer.  But a few hours after I uploaded this blog piece, my friend Bettina wrote to tell me that there's an even BIGGER story here! It seems my kids weren't the only one influenced by Dr. Seuss.

A 4th grade class in Boston were dismayed after watching the initial trailer. The movie wasn't holding to the the environmental theme of The Lorax, there was barely a mention of the trees at all!   

These 14 children launched The Lorax Petition Project through  They saw similarities between our world and the world of the Lorax.  Their petition was circulated around Twitter and the internet; in one month, they generated 57,000 signatures.  

They wrote:
The Lorax movie, with its millions of dollars in advertising and massive audience has the potential to help heal the Earth. This movie can show the world we should not take our sky, water, trees, and animals for granted. It could inspire more and more people to treat Earth with the same respect you would give a child.We’d like to see the movie live up to the potential of the book. We’re encouraging Universal to make an improved Lorax movie website that Dr. Seuss would be proud of.
And the good news is, THEY WON! It's fascinating to see how quickly the internet, and especially social networks can empower people make a change in their world.  "No matter how small."
 Heartwarming, isn't it?

Their Video Request:

Here's the Movie Trailer. And it's being released on Dr. Seuss's Birthday!!! Do you have that book, Happy Birthday to You - it's a traditional birthday reading here. Still.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Love A Party!

I love February and March! It's the time of year when EVERYONE in my family was born!  I used to say, "We stick out the Birthday Flag, and don't take it down till Easter!" and that was the truth!  Here's the deal, I LOVE parties. And I ADORE my kids. So put the two together and WOW! that's going to be fun! And it was. So many other families were content with Chuckie Cheese or a simple Pin The Tail on the Donkey. But not us.  We got creative and had a blast!

We had years where we hired puppet masters or clowns. Once we had an unemployed zoologist bring his "private stock" - hedgehogs and pythons, mini-gators, and tortoises. We built teepees and forts, horseback riding and Secret agent parties. We rented a cabin in the mountains, listened to wolves howl in the valley while we told jokes until our sides ached.  We had tea parties and pinatas, fairies and farms. We had movie themes: Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Alice in Wonderland (stage and film) and Batman movie marathons. We even had a Pet Party - and invited everyone to BRING their pet to our house! That was wild! Even Alyssa's dentist showed up with her dental assistant - and their turtles. They said, "Who can resist an invitation to party like this? It's a once in a lifetime thing!" 

We held scavengers hunts for 30 teens, and even had a teen party where too many people came. Phones were stolen and the ITouch playing the music was even taken. (Everyone was standing around saying, "What happened to the music?" and then, "Oh noooo!"  We went to Medieval Times, Joe's Crab Shack, and even a Fortune Teller.

As the kids got older, the parties got a little smaller. More family dinners. Less hoopla. It always started with Breakfast in bed - raspberries and cream puffs for Katie, homemade Chocolate Pie for Michael, Alyssa preferred to go out to IHOP! We really went all out and completely based the party on what the child was "into" that year.
I forgot to mention that the FIRST birthday party - Michael's 1 year old birthday - we buried my dad that day. We went to my cousin's house in Kansas afterward. They bought a cake at the bakery and we sat around and watched Michael put his hand into the frosting. I'm the youngest of the cousins, and they seemed to think this is what all babies should do at this age. I didn't really get it, but I was having such a mixed emotional time: MY baby's first birthday…like this? I think everyone felt a little sorry for me.  Michael was totally oblivious.  He DID discover that he LOVED cake! And, hey, there was no where to go but up from there, wouldn't ya say?  We did travel back to Austin and held a real birthday party, where I made a cake and did crazy wild decorating, with friends and family there.  It wouldn't be the last time we'd have multiple parties for one kid!  But sometimes I wonder if that shaped me. Who knows?

Anyway, all of this would be way too much to list out - regardless of how much enjoyment *I* would get out of it!  That would be 59 birthday parties to describe. And even I know that would really be asking too much of my blog readers!  But good memories shouldn't be forgotten. this year, Alyssa turns 18, Katie turns 21, and Michael 23.  Michael will be in Nicaragua. Hopefully SKYPEing like he did at Christmas.  Katie will be in New York City. And while she's somewhat of a homebody, her friends have decided to take her out on the town!  Greaaat. But she'll have fun, and that's really all I care about. Alyssa will probably do something special with her fiancĂ© (I'm still not used to calling him that!) I'm not sure what I'll do this year for mine or for Ron's.  Last year I had a lot of fun all weekend with friends and family. 

But what's a mom to do? Especially a mom who loves to celebrate her kids' birthdays - when her kids are grown and it's just not in the cards anymore?  If you've read any of my recent blogposts, I've been wallowing a lot. I turned 50 this year, my kids moved out, my baby got engaged, I'm menopausal, I turned 50, I burst into tears at a moment's notice. I'm REALLY feeling sorry for myself these days. But I LOVE this Birthday Time. So it is not going to go by without some kind of fanfare. I've been pondering my options.  I DO know that I'm going to make a special gift for each of the kids this time. I had started Birthday Scrapbooks for each of them. But with the onset of digital photographs, and my propensity to start projects and never get back to them, the scrapbooks didn't get done. The kids would excitedly fling them open, hoping I had put more pictures in.  Next year, I'd promise! 

We did video for Ron for Father's Day this year.  I'll upload it here, in case you want to do a little memory lane walk with the Patterson kids and their daddy. So I've been toying with the idea of a Birthday Video for each of them. I'd scan in all the pictures that are floating around from their birthdays.  Find some good music to put in.  (Did you know that Facebook wouldn't let me post Ron's Father's Day video because we used music that didn't belong to us? I actually BOUGHT some of the music off of ITunes, but it just wouldn't take it. So be forewarned, in case yo do this too!) 

The only drawback for the girls' birthdays - their 18th and 21st is that I'd like to include the pictures from THIS year. This looks like the best bet for Michael, because I can't really send him anything. He'd be able to see his video and watch it whenever he wanted.

My Option 2 is something I just ran across today: a website called 
Wouldn't it be cool to have a book of your childhood birthday parties? It doesn't have the craftiness of scrapbooks, but it's faster to do. And I like them a lot.

So I'll let you know what I decide. I guess you'll have to subscribe or follow or whatever you do to find out later what we choose. It's gonna be great, I can tell you that. Because I LOVE to celebrate my babies' birthdays!  

And I love laughing with kids who just got skates!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Carnival - Behind the Scenes!

I'm really excited that we could revive the Unschooling Blog Carnival. If you haven't gotten a chance to look at it, please do! It's so funny because I had no idea what a Blog Carnival was just 6 months ago. I remember seeing someone host it - maybe Linda Dobson with her Parent at the Helm?  She had all these links to other people's blogs but I was going there to read more of what Linda writes! I couldn't figure out why I was being redirected to all kinds of other places!

Then I stumbled across the Homeschool Carnival - which has been running for 6 years, WEEKLY!  That is so impressive to me. They were kind enough to let me participate a couple of weeks in a row, I read more from the links at their site, and soon I was up to speed.

For those who don't know, the Blog Carnival is simply a collection of blog posts under a particular theme.   In our case, the general theme is Unschooling. But we've decided that that's too general. We are selecting a theme each month and requesting blog posts to correlate (albeit loosely) with that theme.

For the Unschooling Blog Carnival, we opened with the theme of LOVE.  It was interesting to see how different people interpreted the theme. I really liked how we took a Beatles song - All You Need Is Love - and after pulling the lyrics out, placed the different blog posts near the lyric that fit best. It didn't always work, but it was fun to try to do this with a little creativity. This particular rendition of the song is so great! We just stumbled over it. It has a very Wizard of Oz feeling to me. It starts in black and white and then when John Lennon begins to sing, it moves into a colorized version. And it's not a big staged rendition. There are people sitting on the floor around them - including a very young Mick Jagger! - and they're sitting on stool singing away. In the end, protestors with signs come walking through the song. It's very "60's" feeling; so I just love it!

We were a little worried at first when we didn't have a lot of submissions. I had put the word out on a few Facebook Group Pages, but the submissions weren't coming in very fast. I was visualizing the Homeschool Blog Carnival which has TONS of blog post submissions. I had 3. I thought it would be much easier to contact bloggers, but it turns out that many bloggers don't include their email address at their blog. Was I supposed to just leave a request on one of their posts? I wasn't really sure what to do. Frank had sent a WONDERFUL blog post, but he opened with a comment about his penis. Was I really supposed to lead the Grand Opening of the Carnival with the Penis Piece? lol I asked a few more friends, some came through, others postponed to next time. Nevertheless, just when I was getting seriously worried, the blog posts started coming in. Hopefully, the word about the Unschooling Blog Carnival will spread, and we'll just keep growing it!

And for those who are asking, "OK, but why?" Here's my best answer. I am in this transition time as a mom. My kids are grown and leaving the nest. Yet, I've spent all this time studying, talking, immersing myself in learning. And the most joyful way to approach learning seems to me to be unschooling. So I did the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) last November - 30 posts in 30 days, I learned a few things about the blogging community as well as about myself. Mostly I learned how shared projects like this can connect people. So that's one of my goals with the Carnival, to increase the connection among Unschooling Bloggers.

I'm working hard to add more creativity into my life. It's my word for the year. Christine Kane writes about "choosing a word" in Resolution Revolution: A Better Way to Start Your Year. Last year, my word was Focus. I had so many things that had to be completed, if I just allowed myself to drift in my typical fashion, I would never have gotten anything done. OR I would have regretted missing things when I pulled my head out of the clouds.  But this year, the word is Creativity.  When I'm working on creative projects, it just makes me more joyful in my life in general. So, January's Creative Project was the Unschooling Blog Carnival.

But one of the true blessings about stepping toward my creativity is that I was able to rope in invite my friend Cydney Romano to help me with the Carnival. She does a little blogging at Recording the Atoms. She is SO creative and I just knew some of that could rub off on me. Plus, after the NaBloPoMo in November, I made a discovery! In addition to being a wonderful artist, Cydney is also an incredible writer.  I'm so happy to have another connection with her! And everyone will be so happy that she's agreed to work on the Unschooling Blog Carnival too!