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Creativity in Children

I have been musing about the Creativity, why it is unpopular among those who simply cram the memory for exams, and what the purpose of creativity is.

Just as in music, the space between the beat is just as important as the sound itself, the space to play and question between bouts of subject 'training' is equally important. If we provide the skills to analyse and create, then the areas of knowledge themselves will come to life.

For example, so many piano students don't listen to music per se, they may do if requested but music is a vibration that travels through space and hits our eardrums! We have to listen to it to 'get it', we can't simply lift it off the page and regurgitate. That playing is so often 'wooden' and 'lifeless'.

So, ask Alexa to play music, choose a different composer or band each week, and enjoy! 

PS this week's composer at Meteor is Brahms, enjoy the big textures and Romantic phrases.

Aesthetic Education

Did you know that the term 'beautiful' and 'kind' are interlinked at preschool? The concepts of aesthetic development increases informative activity and physical development (Gore) so put go to galleries, look at paintings, listen to a variety of music and play in nature!


THE BENEFITS

Everyone is different; I recall great days playing as a tot in the garden with my own vegetable patch, my swing and my cat. Motor skills are developed outside, alongside the 'know-how' eg swinging upside down, taking risks, independent play, rough and tumble etc, all of which will help them create, problem solve and relax as adults.

Set aside playtime.

Empathy

This week's Blog topic is Empathy. 

I'm sure you, like me have met some adults completely lacking in empathy or understanding and wondered - what if?

What if it was teachable to children, what would the lesson plan look like?

Well the answer is that it is not only teachable but necessary in order to achieve community cohesion too, in all our futures.

Babies develop an understanding by 18 months old, that people's actions are guided by an intention, with more advanced reasoning following later, around the age of 5 or 6. Therefore it is no surprise that parents who model empathy raise more empathetic children and so the cycle continues positively.

Studies also show that if people feel very comfortable, they are not as empathetic towards others who aren't. Experiments included 'slime' versus 'soft fabrics'; those who felt uncomfortable demonstrated more empathy towards the other participants in the test. Now there is one for another, more political blog about social class!

The science bit:

The part of our brain responsible for empathy, to override and correct our ego and possible narcissism, is called the Supramarginal Gyrus (No? Nor did I!). The SG is part of the cerebral cortex and when the SG doesn't function properly, or is asked to function too quickly, then it limits our capacity for empathy!

My own layperson's theory here is that with everything having to be socially instantaneous, our poor Supramarginal Gyrus can't cope with the sheer about of info, speed and emotion coming its way. It functions poorly, leading to an upswing in ego and narcissism, as shown so often through social media. No wonder our children are confused, we are too, as the adults!

So, what of our children, who are growing up in a somewhat mixed and often toxic online culture? How can we teach them empathy?

This quote from EmpathyLab, a group put together to research models of best practice, says 'Teaching Children in a way that encourages them to empathise with others measurably improves their creativity'. Their findings are from the University of Cambridge studies with Design Technology students in inner London schools. Cambridge has always been globally recognised for engineering, and they used a set of 'engineering thinking tools' to examine specific categories, such as emotional expressiveness and open-mindedness'. At the end of the study the intervention group was 78% higher in creativity than the control group, despite starting 11% lower.

So what for us as adults? What can we do to foster empathy amid a sea of fixed opinions and fake facts?

I think a combination of modelling and freedom is key. Why are we so creative as a species? Because we can empathise with the pain of others, through art, music, literature et al.

What a blessing that is, keep loving and empathising.


Anita

Surviving Lockdown - An Essential Business Podcast by Mark Ryes Voiceovers

Anita MacDonald runs Meteor Tutors, an online music school which provides bespoke musical tuition across the world. In some ways she was ahead of the curve when Covid-19 hit, and has some useful advice for businesses having to change to a more online proposition during lockdown.

Click the link below to listen to the Podcast >>

Tenacity

Tenacity, and triangles.


'Let me tell you the Secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.' - Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

The long and winding road is never a straight vertical line. We are often thrown a curved ball and this is where we learn to be tenacious. Particularly over the last year or so, where we have all observed this in our move into the new normal.

But how do our children learn tenacity for life?

Tenacity literally means grip. Like a limpet, holding onto a rock against the ferocity of the ocean, tenacity means we hold firm when all around us can be stormy.

We often protect our children from many experiences we have had, but tenacity shouldn't be one of them. Think of a time when you held on, and then think about how you'd give your child a safe space to learn this skill.

An educational setting is their safe space. How to commit and persevere with an instrument or voice, or problem, or spelling, or formula. 

This brings me to my next point 'Tenacity is the ability to hang on when letting go appears most attractive'

Often we as parents doubt ourselves and allow our children to give up their hobby, studies, etc as they 'don't want to do it'. Is it that they don't want to do it, or have the parents set them up for failure by not supporting them effectively?

Having experienced ALL sorts of parenting models over the last 36 years of teaching, I'd say the most successful parents have two main attributes:

1. They don't allow their children to give up once committed

2. They therefore ensure their children achieve success by being tenacious with their practice.

The first point is important. If they are going to start lessons, there will be an end date at some point, but not now. You'd like lessons? Ok let's give it an end date or grade and then we will begin. I will invest my time, finances (instrument purchase, lessons) and you will practise in return. 

This leads to point 2 where oversight is important. This is where parents often lack tenacity themselves. One recently gave up her child's lessons because it interfered with her own social life on a Friday evening.  That 'wine o'clock' scenario could be a much needed short term boost, but parenting is for life, and tenacious parents breed successful humans. 

This is not to confuse tenacious with hovering parents, wringing their hands, worrying and externalising or texting the tutor with the smallest issue. It is a calm set of instructions, carried out daily and repeatedly, and leading to success.


The Triangle of Tenacity

Often I hear criticism on online fora from teachers regarding 'pushy parents' and this can be true if the parent is forceful without their own 360 reflection about their own tenacity. We should try not to blame the teacher or other external factors for our child's lack of progress, merely the lack of tenacity. Then we have to carefully unpick where that has slipped.

When tenacity is shown by teacher, parent and student, I call this the 'Tenacity Triangle' and that is where the magic happens. 

We as teachers at Meteor Tutors are committed to success for every student we teach, and those clients who accept our expertise and advice and deliver their side of the tenacity triangle are rewarded greatly.

A book I have been reading is 'Raising the Kanneh-Masons' by Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason. You may recall her son Sheku played at a Royal wedding a few years ago. Her other children are equally gifted, and reading her musings, I am reminded of the sacrifices and tenacity shown by parents of successful children.

I have a few clients who follow in Kadiatu's footsteps. They are single minded but gentle in their child-rearing. They insist upon practice, but balance this with outdoor activities, martial arts, painting, and charity work, and above all, love.

I mention the last word, as I was brought up in the opposite extreme, so there are some exceptions to the parental rule. I found my own tenacity for completely different reasons and as a form of escape, but it took many years for me to work out the magic increases more with familial love and respect.

So if today, you want me to sum up tenacity, it would be 'strength with purpose, delivered with love and respect.'

Have a wonderful week of practice and learning.

'Success is often not a matter of talent, but a matter of tenacity' - Nathaniel Bronner


Future Proofing

'The process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimising the effects of shocks and stresses of future events'

I think a lot about the future. Not in a pensive way, just an excited 'kid in a candy shop' kind of way. After all, my generation live in the best time to be alive; one foot firmly in the pre-Internet past and another in the AI future. Isn't it great?!

This was something that always interested me, as an Assistant Headteacher in 2002, I already used fingerprints for Library books as I was tired of tickets being lost. Then added that to lunches so there was no difference between free school meals and other children, no-one knew which account a fingerprint came from, so stigma free.

More recently we started Meteor Video Software long before Covid necessities, so it was a seamless transition for our clients.

For those of us erstwhile 'Cassandras' who like to predict trends, we often wish there had been more in Government for the last few years!

Anyway, the main issue in Education prediction and strategy has always been that people are educated themselves. That means they can have a two-dimensional view of Education as a whole, as they automatically think back to their own experiences. 

And there is the rub - their own experiences in the past and of the past are used to predict the future. 

How do we open our minds to the futures our children may possibly experience? When my daughter applied to a top University, their Computer Science applications were up tenfold on the previous year. Lots of students are planning careers in IT where other more mainstream 'good occupations' would have previously been top of their list.

I find in teaching, that many clients are behind their children  in the realms of IT, Apps, programming, etc and obviously most would be. However they still try to divert their children towards previously (and still) respectable careers, due to their own educational and historical bias.

My question to you as parents is: Is this suitable future-proofing for your children and grandchildren?

I am part of a huge network of Digital nomads, living in other countries than those that employ them. This is a huge sea change in employment and obviously Governments will have to catch up with the online surge, not only due to Covid, but also nowadays a lifestyle choice.

My own children (both working in tech) are not particularly interested in owning property or 'stuff' but all about experiencing and living life to the full. So many of their generation as similar, 'have backpack and iPad, will travel and work'.

Are we aware of this, as parents, employers, unions, countries, etc? If we don't like it, do we let them do it anyway, as they are in a much better position to see the here, now and future than we are?

Of course, every generation has to find its way. To me the major difference today is that our children will be competing in an increasingly AI market. Automated supermarkets, banks, stores, robots delivering goods, robots building machinery, analysing statistics and going to the moon.

So, instead of perhaps more traditional careers, think about researching Data science, business intelligence, machine learning and AI engineering, research scientists et al. If your school doesn't offer Computer Science and IT courses, then change school. That sounds draconian but that is my advice.


May the Force be with you!

Risk Taking

'So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?' Hunter S Thompson


In 2012, my late husband and I jumped a wall onto Bondai Beach in Florida, looked around and thought, let's drive the car along it. We did, and were in a stately line behind assorted bikers and other likeminded friendly lunatics driving on beaches and having fun. Some were hanging off the back of pickup trucks, margaritas in hand.


There was a small 'ahem' from the back seat and we turned around to see our kids looking at us with horrified expressions. Comments followed such as 'you will damage the tires', 'we will miss our flight' and other assorted risk averse mutterings.


We looked at each other and shook our heads at the younger generation. Wasn't it supposed to be them hanging out of a car on a beach? What had happened to make them so risk averse, and us such ageing risk takers?


Years later, my partner and I jumped into the car in 2020 with necessities and dog, and drove to Italy to escape another depressingly grey UK lockdown. Since 'The Great Escape' we have been rewarded in ways we didn't dream of, new farming skills, a donkey, another dog, and some chickens. New language, new friends, new hobbies, new experiences. Lots of people count us lucky, I don't believe that luck plays any part in our own decision making, merely the measurement of risk versus happiness.


Since the pandemic, we have all watched the growth of fear, control and risk-aversion making people stay in their homes, not venture out at all and become depressed. Someone said to me recently, the rules aren't the same here in Italy- so different levels of risk stop at the borders of countries? Or do we use daft political and general opinions to affect our own lives?


So I started researching, going to a Cambridge study on risk and looking at 2019 risk management for the global population (read on, this bit may appear slightly boring, but important nonetheless). Listed there are human pandemics (quelle surprise), earthquakes, fires, floods, ice age, heatwaves, tropical windstorms, tsunami, and more than we wish to imagine. 


We live on the surface of a ball suspended in infinite space with molten stuff inside, so why don't we take more risks? 


The abstract concept of risk is one that educators have often failed to grasp. That is why I jumped out of state run education, run by Mondeo people in grey suits, who followed instructions without question, and agreed to creativity being removed from the classroom. Frogs in a gradual pan of hot water. One can't blame but one does wish?.


We reached a tipping point in education some twenty years ago, as I sat in my office completing annual telephone book sized risk assessments for my annual New York trips with my Citizenship class. (They wanted to speak at the United Nations, and a wee lass from Slough silenced them all in a debate about Iraq). If we hadn't taken the risk, she would not have the lifelong memory of defeating a stiff collared guy at the UN debate. Oh and the only risk not covered was the one that happened; most 6th form kids trying to escape for a cigarette on the fire escape!


So risk per se, isn't really risk at all. I see parents not only hovering, but surrounding their children, squeezing the creativity out of them by worrying about insignificant details. 


'She will get tired if she practises too much' ? and? We learn how to work through tiredness, it isn't a risk for her as she isn't planning to drive for another 14 years.

He needs to keep drinking water during the lesson ?.no, he doesn't, there is not a high risk of getting thirsty in 30 minutes.

'He may hurt himself' yes, the joy of childhood is constant knee plasters, hey ho.


It is more about the generation raising today's tinies, their view of risk has been skewed to what I would argue is an overly protective stance on everything. Phone tracking, texting, parental control of every waking moment means we have a dearth in creativity. (Ironically the most dangerous and risky areas of the internet are often depths known only to the kids, and parents are blissfully unaware of the stranger danger in their own home.)


Dreaming, creating, making, doing, self instructed makes children creative. We do the other 'within reason' bit, except we are clutching these little  butterflies too tightly in our hands. Let them fly! 


But before that, let yourself go too. You deserve it. What is holding you back from doing something spontaneous, daft, or creative today?


'Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing  Helen Keller


'If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough' Mario Andretti


'I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it'  Pablo Picasso


'Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting' Karl Wallenda


'Get out on a limb. That's where the fruit is.' Jimmy Carter


'In the end we only regret the chances we didn't take, relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make' Lewis Carroll


'Open the cage door and let your children fly, creative genius is borne through the perfect combination of love, happiness, work and freedom to take risks' Anita MacDonald



Anita x


Open Minds

'Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat' - Steve Jobs


When I were a lad, or in this case, a girl, there was always 'the way' to hold a knife and fork, to pretend to be right-handed, to accept the well trodden path of norms. In fact at my careers interview the adviser told me to apply for a job at the Halifax Building Society at the end of the street, because 'you will never get a job in music'. Family too, until the first TV performance, then they bragged, but never admitted their own minds couldn't cope with abnormal behaviour!


I always used to look at rather depressed looking adults and wonder, had they ever had dreams? Had they ever learned to fly off in their mind and explore the boundaries of their own brains? Or had they simply fallen into the mental trap of listening to an adult tell them they 'couldn't do something' when they were a child. 


And of course, later as a school teacher, I witnessed some 'Mondeo people' in Education, scripted, safe and ultimately not leading to the development of children's minds, just the ability to churn out memorisation and results. A control function for their own convenience, as opposed to a creative function for the children in their care.


Nowadays we have become more open minded in many ways, but are we as open minded with our children? The fundamental point from many scientific studies is that the mind is underused, under stretched and underachieving, something we could improve for future generations.


I have been studying the impact of the mind watching parents and children interacting in lessons. I can say that the most open minded parents and tutors who embrace at least the possibility of  change, create the best dynamic for learning. 


When I am teaching adult over thinkers, their minds lodged in the logical, as opposed to creative, I always tell them to imagine they are four years old. Then they become more sponge like again, they loosen up, lose all the years of acquired 'norms' and start to feel and create.


Conversely, some kids are a bit hyper, fiddling with things and asking seemingly irrelevant questions. Parents apologise to me on their behalf, but this is what an Oxbridge professor once told me they actively look for in candidate. That questioning, seeking, fiddling, thinking. Don't train  it out of your child too much, keep that innate spirit. I love teaching these students, sometimes they lead you off on a path of discussion that becomes fascinating and fun! 


Bierce's 1911 description of the mind as 'a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain with nothing but itself to know itself with' is a wee bit sad, but one the ego struggles to deal with. We are a series of patterns of behaviour, so we can change anything we like (or dislike), whenever we like.


They key finding in one study for me was that 'people are more cooperative when they connect with cooperative individuals'  was fascinating as it explained how we can all be 'triggered' by something during the learning process, or online, or in writing, or just our perception of events. A high level of cooperation leads to a higher level of altruism, and calms the anxious amygdala. 


So what am I getting at? Maybe the first thing is to start with is to embrace an open mind. 'I feel that I can't do this, but it doesn't mean my child can't.' Or in the teachers case 'I can create ways in which my student can'. 


Jean Morans 'Rubberband Revolution' is a good read, where this sort of mind stretching can eliminate mental blocks, increase efficiency and innovation and leads to greater productivity. 


Google know this, which is why employees have an array of seating, lounging, sliding, their offices look like Thorpe park in comparison to old style hamster wheel offices. 


So today my message to parents is: Don't question their limits, just sit back, allow a creative atmosphere, and watch the magic happen. Be open minded and watch them soar.

Friendship Pollinators

As a child, I used to swing on a rusty old garden swing, look at the clouds and water my little salad patch that my Grandfather donated to me in a small area of garden. In turn I picked them and ate them in my little den, and felt completely at peace with the world. That sense of being content outdoors has persisted throughout my life, despite adverse life changes, the soil is always there and as long as you water it, the plants will grow.


Last year, many of us (who had anything from a single pot, to a few acres) turned to gardening as a hobby. That and baking seemed to comfort our anxious souls, and many of us seemed to innately desire a more natural existence.


A survey by the British Nutrition Foundation of 27,500 UK students (released by the BBC on the 3rd June 2021) showed some alarming removal from nature. One in ten secondary students think tomatoes grow underground, that cheese is made from plants and that fish fingers come from chicken or pig. Pasta was made from meat and potatoes grew on trees.


I am old enough to remember 'food and nutrition' as a subject, before the 'Mondeo people' thought Food technology was a better option. Certainly there was an immediate increase in writing, but an equal decrease in cooking/baking skills in school and at home.  One would think food was the life blood of our children, but Algebra and Latin gained the upper hand, as of course, we need those subjects every day(!)


In recent years, some enterprising schools have developed greenhouses or gardens, and have grown and then cooked their own food. But a natural curriculum is still to be developed to combat obesity. Around 100 schools now have their own small 'farms' and have seen very positive results in learning, leading to land-based science qualifications.


If we look at Scandinavian models, there is always a concept of 'Udeskole' or outdoor school, which is characterised by 'compulsory educational activities outside of school on a regular basis'. They visit farms, forests, parks, factories, to create a close link between life and school.


Udeskole activities use the natural environment to teach core subjects, eg measuring the volume of trees in maths, poems about nature, museums for history. Who can say they were ever their most creative selves sitting behind a row of desks?


In 2007 I travelled to Italy on a study with NCSL, in order to look at their 'standing curricula', where students walked around the classroom freely, went onto the hillside to pick tomatoes for passata and lunches smelled of fresh basil. It was a revelation, they were prepared for the world of home and work, teachers were 'friends' and the atmosphere was far less clinical than an average 'bog-standard' school.


This was similar to my primary school experiences, where my year 2 teacher took us to her farm, and brought buttermilk in for us all to churn, the American teacher with her popping corn and the tadpoles in the school pond etc etc. 


Experiences are the memories that stick when the others have disappeared. So how do we replicate this in day to day work as parents? Obviously Jamie Oliver has emphasised the cooking thing, but we could do more from seeds onwards.


A starting point could be 'kidsgardening.org' where there are activities, programmes and lesson plans that you could adopt quickly at home or in school. 


One lesson plan I love is a 'friendship fort' where a bean wigwam is grown and the children huddle underneath and are mindful of the baby plants springing up beside them. Party ideas, building a terrarium, recycling kitchen scraps, planting a butterfly garden will all encourage empathy and a sense of well being. 


The added advantage for both children and ourselves as 'frazzled' adults is the 'mycobacterium vaccae' found in soil. This mycobacterium increases serotonin produced in the brain 'the happy chemical' so go on, play in the dirt and increase your concentration and cognitive ability at work! 

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