Children really don’t need to know, on a deep level, that the source of all things is not a multipurpose condiment, to enjoy meditation.
Whatever your religious faith or spiritual persuasion, it is quite reassuring to find the concept of mindfulness being introduced in the public school system. Not having followed a religion as a child, we agnostics just went to the library during Scripture. Last year, the school invited some facilitators to introduce the practices of Mindfulness, and the children really got a lot from this. Visualising a peaceful place – an imagined physical location they could revisit, practicing slowing their minds, actively releasing worries.
For myself, positive affirmations on the bedroom wall and curious essential oils didn’t come until adolescence and I always found them very soothing. But why wait until your children are riddled with teen angst? General miscellaneous relaxing music usually helps children unwind at bedtime, but when it’s really going pear shaped, a shade more focus may be needed.
Someone once referred to my mind as like a can of worms. It wasn’t the most flattering likeness; raw, imprisoned, only able to be accessed with a sharp metal object, routinely used as bait…while my mind can get a bit giddy, I prefer to think of it as a field of bunnies rehearsing an interpretative dance routine…
However, seems my daughter is just a touch like me, so I was looking for something else the other night. The running stream water just makes them think they need a wee.
The whales are a tad erratic I find, and the Tibetan bells a bit funereal. We have our favourite peace, goodwill and larks in the meadow one we listen to routinely ( how about that adaptability huh?) but on this particular night it wasn’t cutting it, so I went looking for some guidance.
Not being a family who owns things like proper sounds systems – we do have an old cd player, but no cd remains unscratched- the meditation music is often googled and played on the computer. This goes against the laws of decent REM melatonin producing sleep, in which no electronic devices or light should be present in the room…but unless I am actually going to hide behind the tapestry and play the lute for 45 minutes, google it is, for now.
So, the guided meditation I chose was great, about 20 minutes, pretty straightforward. I am sure there are meditation recommendations aplenty, but I like just winging it, and seeing what comes up on the night.
Children respond very well to the suggestions put forward in a guided meditation, having more open minds, where imaginative possibilities are not chased out of town with pitchforks.
They are less likely to lie there dutifully like a prone stone, trying not to scratch their noses, and thinking about everything, as in EVERYTHING that could possibly intrude on our mind with its trivial persistence, the tedious thoughts only occasionally punctuated by a cynical …
oh yeah right, like the universe is actually going to support me…
No, children, are not like this at all…they are perfectly comfortable walking towards a rainbow ball of light, their feet lightly touching the silken grass…
So, if you haven’t already, find one your kids like and give it a go, breathe the worms out…breathe the bunnies in…
Just be careful not to choose one that sounds like the background music to Minecraft. Now there’s an Orwellian concept.
Ever gotten to the end of a paragraph and realised you have no idea what you just read? Somewhere along the way, the thought pixies skipped in and tra la la la, each grabbed a corner of your mind and took off with it.
And while in the eyes of the person sitting next to you at the bus stop, you still hold exactly the same pose, eyes on the page, book in hand, you are actually no-where to be seen….. …
You still with me?
All this talk about literacy in recent posts, and to what degree we understand language when we read, reminds me of how often this happens to me these days. Even reading the school newsletter seems a struggle at times. I am reminded of those happy, happy days, BC ( before children), when my mind had not yet turned to applesauce, lying on the special University endorsed grass under a special University tree of learning.
What a luxury those days were, how heavenly to HAVE to read copious amounts of brilliant literature every week , from William Blake, to Jamaica Kincaid.. to …
Postcolonial literature was one of the most interesting and vast journey’s I ever began, and I only just got to the first turn in the road really. The course I took on Indian literature was particularly memorable. We got to watch very early Black and White EPIC Indian films that went for literally 4 hours at a time…we got to explore travel diaries… we got to read…
Well, parts of it anyway.
When I was a child I was routinely sent out of class during reading time to read on my own. There was nothing special about me I just found reading came easily. Thus began years of pats on the head for being able to read and write, and a sense of self worth that came to depend upon those pats on the head. This may explain my interest in literacy issues in recent posts, and how strongly I feel about the impact early reading experiences can have on young minds.
Skip ahead 20 odd years and I was still right in there, following the rules, thinking… I have to read everything …you have to read everything right? Its University, it’s a sacred place of learning, there are unspoken rules…
When it came to the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana , I was determined to read the texts set out for us.
Little did I know most of my peers would not make it to those particular tutorials, having been attacked by cats on their way to Uni, or had the wheels on their car stolen, so, hey what you gonna do… But keep reading…
I remember coming to a point with these texts where, I really couldn’t have repeated their meaning, in a literal sense, but reading had become like a mantra, I couldn’t put them down, the words just washed over me and kept pulling me back in. It was like a meditation.
The time I spent reading texts I didn’t always fully understand, when I should have been concentrating on selective studying, and just getting those essential essays in that attracted the highest percentile marks, cost me in the end, but that story is for another time. Suffice to say, I felt I had a duty to expose myself to the words, at least, or why was I even here, in this place of learning …at such great expense…
This feeling of reading as a meditation, as an energy, has always stayed with me- ( you can get this effect from attempting many texts, such as Finnegans Wake, if the Ramayana doesn’t grab you).
And by the end, you may not have caught the whole act, but you have more than likely glimpsed, as Dennis Denuto puts it so beautifully in The Castle..… the vibe of the thing ..
There was a solemn silence when I had finished..and then my youngest daughter, Magnolia, started one of her own…about…cats..and grass…and cars…and whatever came out spontaneously, but it was delivered with such seriousness, and just the right tempo, as if the sonnets had cast themselves over her like a spell, and she suddenly spoke their language. It was magic.
In a celebration of the spoken word, The Lark invited children, parents, friends, granny, people off the street, to try reciting the poetry of Robert Burns.
To take the challenge, all you have to do is stand on a stone, on a day so windy you can’t keep the hair out of your mouth and recite the poetry of Robert Burns. Get your dog, a passerby, or best friend to help you record your recital and send it in!
Robert Burns is particularly fun to recite. I sat with my older daughter Nuala , who is 8, the other night and we had a go. It was truly the best fun we’ve had together in ages, and so fascinating how comfortable she was with it.
The rules were: No practice attempts- so- eyes on the poem for the first time ever, and off you go….and with all the strange language, the power of the Scottish, part old English, poetic obscurity and all, Nuala was hooked. She would scroll down the list of poems and just pick one intuitively and off she went, until eventually I had to call bedtime.
We recorded about 15 poems in all. These recordings and others from friends and kids in the neighbourhood, will be on The Lark website soon, along with one from a delightful Glaswegian man named Jamie we met on the streets of Sydney.( He is particularly good).
The Rabbie Burns spoken word challenge remains open for anyone who is game!
So! As tempting as reading the 17 Reasons Not To Brush Your Hair This Morning blog might be, keep curious and try different things, even if you feel at first like you are not entirely sure what is being said … for you this might be James Joyce, it might be Stephen Hawking, it might be One Direction-for me it’s The Financial Times..
Let the language wash over you and take you where it will…
How much routine is too much? When should we admit something isn’t working and make a change?
In recent posts I have looked at issues around literacy. Many discussions on literacy are currently taking place, as the seriousness of literacy issues begin to come to light. Have we made mistakes? Should we return to tried and true ways of teaching, undertaken by previous generations ? Should we embrace a range of learning styles and alternative ways of teaching a child to understand content, and concepts? A combination of both?
While much of that discussion pertains specifically to reading and writing skills, I would like to share an article I read recently on adaptability, and how this relates to us all, beginning with our understanding of symbols and developing into a greater comprehension of, and comfort with big things, like life.
Our brain chemistry, social networks and even our basic instinct for survival will resist (the) change. To master the art of the shift, we first need to master ourselves. –
In his article, on the Creativity Post titled Why We Fail To Adapt, Greg Satell discusses the many ways in which we humans resist change, and the subsequent impact this has on our brain chemistry, forming neuron pathways, which in turn affect our behaviour, and create a dynamic in which our ability to adapt becomes compromised.
Adaptable thinking is important when it comes to understanding language. The importance of literacy as open mindedness and breadth of understanding, beyond just repeating back words, and writing them down, could or maybe should, be shot at people’s front doors with a bow and arrow, bellowed from the rooftops, or broadcast over the shopping mall easy listening station.
Quality of understanding in place of haste, would benefit all.
It follows that when young minds are encouraged to understand things holistically , the interconnectedness between things, and the impact of each on the other, there is a greater chance of creating a practice of adaptable thinking.
This usually begins in a family unit, whatever that family unit may look like, and most families practice this already, whether they like it or not, due to the relentless nature of children’s questions. As families become communities, communities become Nations, and so on, it is good to keep those questions coming, as inconvenient as they can sometimes be!
The idea of different kinds of literacy which exist outside of reading and writing, are not new.
American educator David W. Orr, with Fritjof Capra, introduced to the world the idea of Ecoliteracy, in the 1990’s, which investigates in great detail the importance of becoming literate in a whole sense, and the interconnectedness of the systems in our world. This is too big of a discussion for this post, but can be revisited.
In terms of adaptability, Satell’s article outlines the aspects of human activity which inherently resist change. Despite the fact that our world is heavily invested in change, on some level we believe we can’t survive within change, that change is counterproductive because it will require too much effort, that it will create a cavalcade of chaotic events, or that it simply isn’t right, otherwise we would have done it by now. As Satell points out;
While our previous experiences tend to blind us to new developments, those around us will help reinforce common beliefs. In fact, a series of famous experiments done at Swarthmore College in the 1950’s showed that we will conform to the opinions of those around us even in if they are obviously wrong.
But who is this WE, we speak of? When did we become subject to THEY?
Since it makes more sense to keep being who we are, than to upset the whole apple cart and look at another Us, we instinctively set about building little fortresses against real internal change. This behaviour does not go unnoticed by the thriving neuron community in our brains, and as Satell remind us “ the neurons that fire together wire together” meaning of course, that we become less and less able to adapt to new ways of thinking, the more we stay with the known and comfortable.
This is important when it comes to the development of young minds, (and equally so, with our minds as we age,) and draws our attention to the ways in which those minds become influenced early on. Returning briefly to the debate around when to start your child reading, and to what degree instilling language in the brain too early, may take the place of creative thought processes, the same concept applies to whatever we teach our children. That is, if a certain path is taken, and those neurons begin to fire together, then another is necessarily not taken.
If there are ways of keeping your child’s mind open, and increasing their chances at becoming adaptable adults, and then adaptable elders, which in the face of such a rapidly changing world, has got to be a valuable asset, then these are worth considering.
Adapting the old and finding relevance and a place within the new is true evolution, and a concept familiar to many brilliant minds. Satell cites Einstein as suffering in his development as a progressive thinker due to his inability to adapt, where his peers were more able to do so.
Joseph Campbell, talked of the importance of adaptability with deeply re-assuring ease. Having dedicated his life to the study of world mythology, Campbell recognised that universal themes exist across cultures, to be found in their mythologies. But while Campbell recognised mythology as a consistent and repeated pattern of symbolic representation, capable of providing important clues for our life choices, and ways of understanding the choices we make, he urged us to keep mythologies current, to create new stories and new ways of understanding our world.
Embracing the wisdom of the past is important in that it may inform our future, and fortify us in our endeavour to become adaptable progressive thinkers.
So how is this relevant to literacy?
If we view language as a structure imbued with meaning often invisible to us, so too are our cultural stories, social mores, policies, National Holidays, indeed all that surrounds us. When we teach someone to read, but not to understand the whole meaning of those words, we ask them to accept the rules of language, and give over to them.
If you have ever tried to teach someone to read, you will find this moment comes up again and again. That’s ok, and to some degree necessary, as there are many rules we must accept to live in society. But as an early learning experience, for young minds, this experience can be very frustrating, demoralising even, as though they on some level perceive they are giving over their personal freedom to the greater force of the system. If relinquishing this control goes on for too long, we eventually resign ourselves to knowing less than what we are told, and it becomes difficult for us to challenge the status quo as we grow.
Importantly, when we are called upon to accommodate a great need for change, (and the need for change has usually been hanging about for a while before it actually gets the attention it needs,) we then struggle to make room for this change.
Changing our habits to reduce the effects we have on our environment, accepting our individual responsibility as humans on the planet to help those in need, or simply just not having that SAME argument with a family member, over and again.
How to implement change?
Satell reminds us, that it is difficult to build new thoughts when we are consistently exposed to the familiar. You may not be able to accommodate a jaunt across the Himalayas, but there are many life affirming behaviours we can easily adopt, such as taking a different route to work, walking into the cluttered curiosity shop you walk past every day, or depending on your relationship with routine, just having something else for breakfast.
When it comes to literacy, embracing a range of experiences, materials, and concepts,which you may think too sophisticated complex or plain ridiculous for kids are often a huge amount of fun. Perhaps it may follow that such experiences would create neuron communities who get excited about innovation, uncharted grounds, building emotional intelligence, and from there, acceptance, tolerance and compassion. Whole literacy.
For most children, adaptability comes naturally. Happily they are often not yet seared by cynicism, propelled by anxiety, or buoyed by denial, and despite the fact that children have a lot of structure in their lives, they are good role models for adaptability.
What exactly is Literacy, and why is it so important?
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines Literacy simply as: the ability to read and write.
It goes without saying that this is indeed a useful skill. It does not venture to add anything about the quality of that ability, its depth, breadth or authenticity. But then it is the Compact edition. Most would agree that literacy is more complex than an application of reading and writing skills for basic life needs.
Wikepedia sheds some light with:
The term’s meaning has been expanded to include the ability to use language, numbers, images and other means to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture.
When it comes to children’s experiences in their schooling years, the ability to read and write undoubtedly defines, very early on, the quality of their learning, their relationships with peers and teachers, sense of themselves in the world and their self-esteem. They may not be able to manage the level 5 home reader but they sure do understand that it’s not the level they are supposed to be stuck on. Strong literacy skills are rewarded on a daily basis and by default, those who feel they don’t possess them, can feel isolated, and become bored.
We probably all know of, or may have been ourselves a student who “fell through the cracks” at some point during our schooling, becoming overlooked by teachers, believing themselves to be mediocre at best, and in turn pursuing more interesting activities like trying to get paper spit balls to stick to the ceiling of the classroom, or carving broody adolescent messages into desktops.
Despite a National psyche in which the work ethic, productivity, and success is deeply embedded, when we follow statistics, we will find that Australian children do suffer from compromised literacy skills, and this is actually a problem in our culture.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 44% of Australian adults don’t have the literacy skills they need to cope with the demands of everyday life and work.
This is an isolating and disempowering experience for individuals living in a culture that is becoming increasingly divisive.But what to do about it? Do children need to start reading earlier? Practice more? Practice harder?
There are many schools of thought on the processes of teaching a child to read and at what age to begin. Before we had children of our own, a work colleague of my husband’s recounted to us his daughter’s natural gift for the English language. She was, he claimed, reading at the age of one. Not being parents yet, what did we know? So we respectfully leant on the back foot and nodded, in dutiful awe and amazement. Afterwards however, we just couldn’t shake the image of a one year old pawing over The Herald while being spoon fed mashed banana. Parents or not, this was not a possibility we were willing to accept.
As many are aware, there are pedagogies such as those developed by Rudolf Steiner, in which reading prior to the age of 7 is not encouraged, and current studies which point to the negative effects on the development of the brain when the structure of language is installed prior to the natural development of senses, spontaneous play, creative thought, and lateral thinking.
And even if the whole of the Waldorf/Steiner education model is not accessible, or comfortable for families, the basic tenants are still worth considering.
New Scientist points out, that while countries like England, Australia and the US are beginning formal education earlier and earlier, in countries such as Sweden and Finland, school does not begin until the age of 7.
There is much debate about the advantages of early literacy in “setting up” a child for later academic success, but evidence exists to suggest that the opposite is in fact often the case. As with all discussions around what humans ought to do, or not do, there are countless variables and each child is different. When things become systemised and institutionalised, outcomes occur, outcomes which might not have occurred should another path have been taken.
The problem seems to lie in the assumption that play based learning is not equal in value to academic learning, and thus begins a very long and complex discussion about what kind of world we want to create and live in as adults.
While early literacy may indicate to policy makers the promise of more industrious, productive adult citizens, there are many who would not agree, much less posit this as a reason to make the decision on the behalf of very young children, that their play time is no longer valuable to the Nation.
So, given the point of literacy as explained by the lovely Wikepedia,
Include (s) the ability to use language, numbers, images and other means to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture.
There is indeed much room for developing literacy without the use of flash cards and repetition. Most teachers are aware that true literacy is a holistic outcome, but with busy workloads, large class sizes, and multifaceted responsibilities, it can be difficult for teachers to ascertain an intimate understanding of each child’s particular view of the world, and the ways in which this may be creating a detour in their minds.
If you are concerned or confused about your child’s literacy skills, it can be useful to observe their learning behaviours and approach literacy through a variety of learning styles.
The Theory of Learning Styles is fascinating and easily researched. There are three primary styles of learning, The Visual, Auditory, and Kinaesthetic, however, current models divide these senses even further into more complex divisions. An easy way to remember them is the commonly used: See it, Hear it, Do it.
The idea is that we all come to understanding things through different senses, and for most of us, a combination of various senses all at once. To be “concept” literate, might mean you understand the idea of a story, can answer questions about its meaning, and even apply higher order thinking skills such as imagining what might happen next. But you may not be quite so good at getting your head around why the word thought sounds the way it does.
Formal language can seem hostile and counter-intuitive at an age where children follow their intuitive senses rather a lot. Excitement, hunger, fatigue, joy, sadness…”ought says ort… what?!” What does that even mean?!
Sometimes, pushing children to digest the frequently nonsensical rules of language can damage a life- long love of this very nonsensical thing. And that would indeed be sad.
So! Try a different way. Or a combination of styles.
Auditory- My daughter reads aloud to herself. We have come to realise this helps her to understand what she is reading. She also enjoys being read to.
Visual- Visual learners see concepts as pictures. Encourage literacy through illustrations, charts, symbols, diagrams and the act of drawing, while listening.
Kinaesthetic- Tactile and experiential learners relate to role play, theatre, games, and physical activity. For some students, the idea behind a poem might best be introduced in a role play, and then anchored with writing, drawing, and speaking from there.
It helps having a husband who is prepared to wear a cape and a fake beard, to get the point across.
This is of course a simplistic overview of a much more complex approach. But worth looking into. It might not fast track your child up the home reader’s ladder by the end of next week, but there is very little chance that you and your children will not learn a great many things together along the way, big things, deep things, and even come to really love language.
Next time, a discussion on the value of Ecological Literacy for children, and questions about the presence of Financial Literacy in early learning models.
Being a writer is seriously one of the stupidest things a person could try and do. If you are one of those miserably afflicted by Remington dreaming, it’s time to take up something else, anything will do… go now swiftly, while there’s still time.. …oh all right read on if you must, and then let it rest, because… and you know this already…
1. Writers have no career prospects.
Getting published is about as easy as rescuing a beached whale with a cheesegrater. While you are waiting to be published your ego will suffer so extensively that by the time you give up on being a writer you will have the professional confidence of a postage stamp licker, and have lost most of your hair. If you persist, you will find that..
2.Writers cannot say they are writers.
It is impossible to actually call yourself a writer and keep a straight face. No matter how you try and say it, a casual aside, purposeful optimism, raw bravado or self-deprecating cool, something will give you away. A twitch of the nose, an eyebrow, a hair flick. You cannot in all seriousness, be taken seriously, when you say you are a writer. You will inevitably cite your day job first and if you don’t have one, invent one.
3. All writers who do say they are writers, are tossers.
If you do somehow manage to get through the introductory sentence, you will then be required to describe what you are writing about. This second stage, is hardly ever traversed, unless you are Salman Rushdie, without sounding like you are in Grade 2 and you’ve just announced you plan to be an astronaut. However earnest your topic may be, you can guarantee the person listening is not actually listening but concentrating on nodding and shifting their gaze in equal parts, so as not to reveal their inner smirk with a nose twitch, eyebrow or hair flick.
4.Writers can’t speak properly.
Writers are constantly shifting their pitch between the affected English lyricist and the street wise, salt of the earth, common folk.So their sentences come out like this:
Yes I quite agree my dear, One does tend to see things in an awfully
feckin odd, bloody bizarre way
when one is out there on the precipice of one’s life staring into
the bloody great big cosmic nothin’, hey brother.
5. Writers have no friends.
Writers cannot have friends. Any friends they have are fodder for absurdist theatre, in which case they are no longer friends. Friends who are not satirised, feature in tragi-drama, and are equally deeply offended. Any friends that are left after that, are getting ready to leg it as they are tired of you never having any money to pay for lunch.
6. Writers are Thieves.
There are now so many thoughts in the world, that Writers have to constantly google their original thoughts to make sure someone else didn’t say it first. Which they inevitably did. So writers feel disproportionately guilty, false . Indeed, the range of new thoughts available are now so few, it makes a writer feel …. like butter scraped over too much bread, when one would rather feel sort of …unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.
7. Writing poses a serious health risk.
When I was a young adult I discovered my favourite writer Richard Brautigan, had committed suicide. Wha? Ba…? How?
RB was the coolest cleverest, funniest ,most unique Remington wielding individual on the planet. How could he leave like this?
I soon discovered most writers commit suicide at some point in their lives.
8. Writing cannot be eaten or worn.
If you have tried, like me, to sell your wares at the local market, you will discover the true idiocy of this pursuit.
Customer : Can I eat it?
Customer: Can I wear it?
Customer: Ok Bye.
9. Writers are terrible at maths.
10. Writers cannot be happy.
If writers were happy, stories would go like this;
Once upon a time, they all lived happily ever after.
To all you writers who venture on…I take my hat off to you. And yes I am wearing a beret. ..What?…
How much do Australian children know about Australia?
How much do Australian children know about each other?
The question does not seek to criticise teachers, parents or the marvellous array of picture books featuring native animals, but rather begin a conversation about the potential for greater connection between the young people of the Nation, and the way in which this greater connection may in turn develop awareness, insight, critical thinking and empathic engagement with some of the key issues which will define their future.
Chatting with my 5 year old daughter about technology, I began describing to her the way in which people used to communicate by writing letters, sent across vast distances, and usually containing information that was both factual and personal, in that particular blend that is so unique to letter writing.
She remained unconvinced of the necessity of such a thing, so I drew her a quick map of Australia, and quickly filled in various features, loosely based around weather, animals, and buildings. The diversity was immediately apparent, and she had moved from slightly slouched, eyebrow raised scepticism, to a forward leaning posture which showed promise. Imagine, I said, how different each day would be, for all of the children who live in Australia.
Living in small town country village of moderate temperament, she was intrigued indeed by the idea of neighbourhood crocodiles, red soil deserts, penguins and seals and city apartments.
Imagine if you had a friend you could write to, another girl or boy, who could tell you all about their day. And you could tell them, about the river, the chooks and the fact that you only have to step through the back gate and you are at school.
Hmmm she said smiling. And began to prattle away for some time about the many idiosyncrasies that make up our life.
As a Literature graduate and devotee, it is not unusual that I would talk romantically with the children about the tradition of letter writing. They are used to that. But this conversation raised the issue of connection to the country the children live in.
And as a former teacher, I am aware of the place this topic has in the school curriculum, and the space it is given. But I can’t help thinking, wouldn’t it be special if kids told their stories to each other, in their own words. And not just special. Incredibly useful, empowering and positive for their future together on the planet, and as a Nation.
It seems fair to say that adults, for a variety of reasons, can’t always, or don’t always, give the full story when recounting aspects of our National history and Identity. And yes, letters exchanged between children are unlikely to revolutionise the entire Nation’s views on the significant Issues we currently face.
Given the children of today will sooner than we know it, be at the helm themselves, and they are, so capable of open mindedness, tolerance, curiosity, inventiveness and care, wouldn’t it be great if they got to know each other, as children.
Last year I published the first edition of The Lark- Magazine for Children. It is borne of the want to support creative thinking in children, have fun with language, get to know our past, and encourage creative exchange between children based on the enjoyment of artistic expression for its own reward.
It is disappointing, but not surprising to see that creative writing opportunities for children often come in the form of a competition, with the prize being a choice of a play station, mobile phone or tablet. Mild celebrity status is also promised. While technology is integral and invaluable to our lives, it is an uneasy motivator for me, in this instance.
The Lark Magazine hopes to inspire children to recognise the value of their own unique contribution to the Australian, and indeed, Global cultural landscape, and get kids talking, thinking, and problem solving creatively, together.
The Kids Quills Pen Pal Quest, is a call for kids to start writing to people in their lives. In time, it is my hope, that Schools may be paired with a School in a contrasting demographic, for an ongoing exchange. Well, we’ll see.