The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house on that cold, cold, wet day.
I sat there with Sally. We sat there we too. And I said “How I wish we had something to do”
Too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house and did nothing at all.
So all we could do was to
And we did not like it, not one little bit.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is one of my favourite children’s books. It is superficially simple but complex underneath with layers and many possible interpretations and meanings. What you take from it probably says a lot more about you than it does about the author.
One of the themes I see in The Cat in the Hat is the role of boredom in creativity. Sally and her brother are sitting at home, obviously very bored, and out of that boredom the story of an incredible cat springs forth. Like Sally’s brother (he’s never named) I spent many days of my childhood staring wistfully out of rain streaked windows (it rains a lot in Lancashire). I too became bored and from that boredom sprang daydreaming, creativity and a rich imaginative inner world. Science is now confirming what Theodor Geisel and many of us intuitively knew; boredom and daydreaming are a useful and necessary path to creative thinking.
Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler, psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara put daydreaming to the test in a 2012 study. Baird and Schooler’s research discovered that subjects were more creative if they daydreamed before tackling a creative thinking task than if they spent time thinking or did a physical task. Baird and Schooler believe that daydreaming (or “positive-constructive daydreaming” as they call it) allows us to engage in “…future planning, sorting out current concerns, cycling through different information streams, distributed learning (vs. cramming)…” as well as creativity.
Dr. Teresa Belton of the University of East Anglia researched the role of boredom in creativity by interviewing a variety of creative individuals. She concluded that boredom is “…required for the development of a capacity to generate and pursue ideas. To be creative we need time for thought, free of the bombardment of attention grabbing external stimuli to the eye and ear.” Belton encourages children who are bored to engage in creative activities rather than devices, that “tend to short-circuit the development of creative capacity”.
Over this summer vacation I hope that children have an opportunity to say “I’m bored!!” without an adult immediately trying to distract them. I hope they’re in an environment where they can’t just grab a device or turn on a screen. I hope they have the chance to sit with boredom and see what comes next, to find out what they can create on their own. The chance to be productive rather than consumptive.
This summer, and into the school year, I want kids to have the opportunity to develop their creative skills, to go through the creative process. They are growing into a world that increasingly needs and values their creativity and it’s critical that they understand the role of boredom and daydreaming in that process. As the Cat in the Hat said:
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how
How Many Day’s ‘Til School Starts?
My car wouldn’t start this morning and I had to get some help (thanks universe). The tow truck driver showed up and his kid (a 10 year old girl) was with him. First day of summer vacation and she’s riding around in a truck doing service calls.
Had a walk through the park and passed two mums yelling at their kids on the playground. First day of summer and their patience is already gone.
Important to remember that for many people summer isn’t a wonderful, let’s travel up to the cottage and swim in the lake, sit around and play board games time of the year.
Many kids had to get up early this morning and head out to programmed, organized activities, just like every other day because their parents are working and there’s no other option.
Those might be the lucky ones. Others are on their own or pushed out of the house or into the basement by adults that aren’t thrilled to have them around the house for 10 weeks. Those might be the same kids who are missing those school snack programs.
And spare a thought for those parents that know this is supposed to be a magical time for their kids but simply don’t have the resources to provide camping trips or can’t take any time off.
Something is never just one thing.
Classes may have ended three days ago but to my “fantasy mind” summer vacation still hasn’t started. The first “official” day of summer vacation is tomorrow when, after a long weekend, THE REST OF THE WORLD resumes regular life and I don’t.
This is the most precious moment of the summer vacation, when it’s all about to happen, full of potential. In my first couple of summers as a teacher I learned that July and August can disappear faster than a kiddie cone at the beach. At the start of summer vacation I pause and appreciate the ten weeks stretching out before me and ask “What will I do? How will I use this gift?”
I’m also aware of how quickly the lessons of the previous year fade. In the blink of an eye I’ll be thinking and planning for next year, not considering what did and didn’t work last year. That’s why, in early July, I also try to think about what I need to know more about to make learning in my classroom better. How can I improve my knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning?
This year I’ve compiled a list of five books I’d like to read to help make the 2013-14 school year as good as possible. Here they are:
- Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson & Lou Aronica. This is the follow-up book to Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element about the importance of finding your passion. Finding Your Element contains strategies to help people find their passion. I’m hoping I can use some of those strategies with students so that when we discuss topics they’d like to learn about I’m met with fewer blank stares and more enthusiastically raised hands.
- Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist who was “relegated to special education as a child” uses the latest research to question our traditional notions of intelligence and suggests that what we consider exceptionalities or learning difficulties are really different forms of intelligence. I’d like to learn more about this. I think our current ideas about what makes someone ‘smart’ are much too narrow.
- Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen. The subtitle of this book “What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It” is intriguing. Society and schools greatly underestimate the effect of poverty on children’s learning. Comparing student achievement without taking these effects into consideration is both unfair and damaging to student learning. I’m especially interested in what I can do as a teacher to offset the impact poverty has on my students.
- Visible Learners by Ben Mardell, Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, and Daniel Wilson. I’ve long been a fan of the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching and learning but am unsure how to apply those principles in a “mainstream” classroom. This book provides “…practical ways to enhance learning by increasing collaboration and critical thinking across grade levels and subject matter”. There are also strategies to improve educators’ ability to observe learning effectively with minimal impact on the learning, something I want to improve at.
- Teaching: It’s Harder Than It Looks by Gerry Dee. Dee is a stand-up comedian and star of the CBC comedy Mr. D about Gerry Duncan: an under-qualified high school social studies teacher. Before becoming an entertainer Dee was a physical education teacher and hockey coach at De La Salle College (Toronto)“Oaklands”, a private co-ed high school in Toronto. This book is a collection of his funniest anecdotes about teaching and, according to a couple of colleagues who’ve read it, it’s pretty funny. I hope so. Summer shouldn’t just be about serious learning for teachers or students. It should also be a time to recharge and reenergize Reading this will, hopefully, put a spring back in my teaching step so that, come September, I’m excited to again jump ‘once more into the breach’ with a smile on my face.
How about you? Any summer books for teachers you’d like to recommend? Suggestions in the comments please.