FIRST PUBLISHED FEB. 1, 2015
The holidays are over and my thoughts are once again veering toward the upcoming summer binder in preparation of our granddaughters' month-long visit. I have written about the Activities, Arts & Crafts and Creative Thinking sections in previous posts. This week I want to reflect a bit more on Creative Thinking. It is vital to the intellectual growth of each of us to nurture our minds, think outside the box and delve into problem solving, as these are skills that will benefit us immensely no matter what age we are.
Our summer binder thus far includes activities to enhance detecting skills, let us ponder life's mysteries and big questions, encourage creative writing, give us opportunities to find out more about one another and discover ways to make a difference in the world. I have already shared with you how much Jain and Sofia love answering the Deep Thoughts questions and how much we relish their answers. We highly recommend gleaning questions for your own children and grandchildren from myriad sources on the Internet, and in books and games. Following are some of our favorites:
Unplugged Play by Bobbi Conner
The Book of Questions and The Kids' Book of Questions by Gregory Stock
Would You Rather?
You Gotta Be Kidding!
Love It! Hate It!
Gather Round: a Restaurant Game
Playing detective is one of Sofia's favorite things to do. She loves to solve murder mysteries and tries to figure out who committed the crime before the police do. One of her favorite shows at the moment is "Murdoch Mysteries," set in the late 1800s in Toronto. I supplement this curiosity with photos from the Internet and call it "Camouflaged Critters." These are photos of well hidden animals in natural surroundings. They can be seen, but you have to look really hard to find them. We go a bit deeper with this activity by helping them look for camouflaged critters on our hikes or in the neighborhood. This not only makes them more aware of their surroundings but aids in developing a deeper concern for saving the environment. If you want to see the kinds of photos I'm talking about, do a search for a cat hidden in a tree trunk or horned adders beneath sand. That last one is hidden so well it might make you wary of watching your step!
Viewing an image on the Internet of a single red leaf on concrete, I was amazed how it tricked my eyes into seeing it as a pair of lips. What else, I wondered, could be seen in nature or in objects that aren't really there? So, last summer I presented a challenge to the girls to be nature detectives and look at items differently. We saw lots of faces on tree trunks. Sofia spotted a scary face in a backpack. Pretzel chips became a head with two eyes and an O-shaped mouth. A bear-like animal appeared on a bathroom tile. And Jain stared at a spot on a restaurant coffee pot before realizing it looked like an Indian girl kneeling. (You can see these images in the slide show above.)
This year I will have them become art detectives. Norman Rockwell's paintings are great because there is usually a lot going on in each one. The goal is to look intently at a painting and try to memorize as much as possible in one minute. Questions are then asked about certain details to see if they can be recalled. Games like this help children gain an appreciation of art and also enhance memory, make them more aware of their surroundings and emphasize attention to detail — especially useful skills if one intends to become a detective!
Creative writing runs rampant in this family. One way I like to encourage this is to present Jain and Sofia with a ton of pictures, either from magazines or the Internet, and have them write a story based on those photos. Last November I showed them photos of trees, things made from trees, treehouses, hobbit houses and gorgeous nature scenes I gleaned from the Internet. I was thinking of writing a story with them called "People of the Trees," but decided to have the two of them write it together instead. Jain and Sofia are both still caught up in mystical tales (think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, et al) and I can't wait to read their magical story! If they haven't started or completed it by the time they're here, it will be a great project to do during quiet time while Grampy and I are working.
As far as making a difference in the world, we often choose from the Deep Thoughts list questions that take us in that direction. We also focus a lot on developing virtues and recognizing them in others. I cannot say enough about the Bucket Filling books by Carol McCloud and urge you to check them out on her website at www.bucketfillers101.com or at amazon.com. They encourage positive behavior and show children the effect actions and words have on others. The bucket is a metaphor for your heart or soul. Positive behavior is bucket filling, which makes you feel good about yourself. Negative behavior is bucket dipping, makes others feel bad and is something we don't want to encourage. To make this idea a bit more concrete, I bought four little $1 buckets, printed out virtues on pieces of paper and cut them into individual words. After discussing the virtues and making sure the girls understood what each one meant, everyone in the family was asked to look for opportunities to recognize them in each other. If, for example, they noticed someone being kind the word "kindness" was placed in that person's bucket. The goal is to be on their best behavior every day so their own buckets will be filled, as well as try to fill everyone else's bucket. It's so uplifting to know how much they love this activity!
Incidentally, our friend, children's singer and songwriter Red Grammer, has collaborated with the author and created a CD to accompany one of the Bucket Filling books. We encourage you to add these wonderful resources to your parenting and grandparenting inventory!
I close this post with a reminder to balance the more serious creative thinking activities with those that create laughter and goofiness. Jain and Sofia beg to play the "telephone game" and crack up when the last person reveals the message that was whispered down the line and it ends up completely different from what was originally said.
For pure silliness that often erupts into gales of hilarious laughter, be sure to have Mad Libs on hand! Not only do these time-tested gems improve and vary the use of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, but you won't be sorry by the sheer delight they give everyone. Our granddaughters get the biggest kick from reading the completed stories and are often laughing so hard they can hardly get the words out. The stories that make them laugh the most get a star at the top of the page so they can find them more easily to read again.
Whether you're participating in meaningful conversations with your young charges or being completely goofy, remember, as Grampy says, HAVE FUN!