The most important things in life cannot be communicated in mere words. Art is the vehicle to evoke feelings, emotions and ideas, to describe the indescribable. Working with visual elements somehow taps into the subconscious, and if you’re lucky illuminating discoveries are made. Children may not understand this, but their natural instincts compel them to communicate, explore and process the world through art.
When first learning to communicate children rely on visual cues to understand so it is quite natural for them to express themselves visually. Creative ideas, emotions & profound revelations can emerge from the creation of original art (painting, sculpture, poetry, music, dance). And the artwork of Children is essential to healthy development, physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/maryann-kohl-importance-of-art/379002442/
Having some structure, a starting point or something to respond to, is sometimes helpful in art. Often my daughter enjoyed creating original works of art on a blank sheet and it was amazing, but occasionally she preferred to respond to images in a coloring book. We also draw together at times, responding to each others marks. This is not only great fun, but also a wonderful bonding experience.
The first generic three-dimensional art toys I made for my daughter stimulated her creative imagination in a very different way than any of the two-dimensional forms. Rather than lines on a page she was responding to three-dimensional geometry. This is a very real, tactile and physical experience.
The three-dimensional art project engages the creative mind on another level of complexity that involves movement. The whole picture may not be viewed from one angle; in fact the visual changes every few degrees in every direction. This is why I have heard from parents of very active children amazed at the time their kids spend, engaged with these toys.
Art is all about relationships between shapes, colors and lines. Scale, proportion, size, intensity, position, detail, movement, speed and weight all factor in how the elements relate within the art object. In art school we always talked about PLAYING with the visual elements to see what “worked”. Art is an ongoing experiment of trial and error, action, observation, analysis and revision. Art is play and play is learning. Three-dimensional art projects are engaging for individual artists or groups of artists of any age.
The value of three-dimensional art projects for kids is difficult to put into words, but experiencing it leaves no doubt about the profound developmental benefits. It’s also just plain fun.
As the holidays approach and we begin to visit relatives and friends, I wanted to share experiences with my child regarding the awkwardness of saying hello and goodbye. Since I was a very shy kid I realized that training and preparation for awkward traditional social interactions is very helpful.
Going on a trip to visit relatives or having relatives visit always involves two major events, saying hello and saying goodbye. Your child may not be in the mood to be loving, affectionate or even polite when it’s time to say hello or goodbye. This may be disappointing or embarrassing to parents and relatives alike. It may also be bewildering to a child who may not realize; we won’t see grandma for six weeks or maybe six months.
Prior to leaving or arriving for visits with loved ones I found private planning conversations were extremely helpful. Asking questions and listening to my child’s response is a method that seemed most effective. My child should have the choice to greet and say goodbye to people according to her feelings and what she is comfortable with. So I might ask: Have you had fun at Grandma & Grandpa’s? How do you feel about Grandma & Grandpa? Would you like to visit them again soon? Will you miss Grandma & Grandpa? And then: How would you like to say goodbye to Grandma & Grandpa?
I might explain that it is generous for anyone to spend their time with us or open up their home to guests so it would be very polite to thank our guests or hosts. If my child told me that she had fun and would miss her grandparents I would encourage her in our private talk to tell them so when we are leaving. Sometimes we would practice polite ways to say things.
We would also discuss weather or not they wanted to give Grandma and Grandpa a hug or a kiss. Children may be shy or sad or just overwhelmed by all the emotions of the hello or goodbye experience. When my daughter was smaller I would ask in a whisper if she wanted to hug Grandma with daddy.
I want to teach my child that she is in charge of her feelings, affections and relationships with others. I also want her to understand manners and considering the feelings of others. She seemed to appreciate our conversations and was very proud when she successfully navigated the rituals of human social interaction. She also felt free to express her feelings of sadness upon leaving as we drove away. Saying hello and goodbye is not always easy for adults, so it really helps to be able to talk with children about the feelings surrounding these difficult social interactions. When children are more prepared for these situations they feel more in control and confident.
Our whole family LOVES the Olympics, but we really try to minimize our screen time. For two and a half weeks these ideals were in conflict and the Olympics won. One Saturday I had to make a stand and extract myself from the couch (despite my fascination with Water Polo) and get my daughter outside. We weeded the garden then got camping chairs, water, snacks and a pocketknife out in the back yard.
We talked about pocketknife safety, campfires, birds, bugs and anything else that popped into our heads while we whittled. My daughter loved this as our activities and discussion organically sprang from both of us. She dubbed this “Camp Learn-a-Lot” and has made it a ritual on the weekends that takes a different form every time. It may be an art project, or a performance or a hike, but it is time that we do things together. Sometimes even mommy is allowed to join in.
It’s easy to forget with our scheduled lives that the best thing one can do is just spend time with kids. As a parent it is important to remember that being in control of everything all the time is not necessary. The most important conversations can take place during those times that are unscheduled and “unproductive”. We seem to learn more when we are not trying so hard to learn (or teach).
I had recently viewed a TED Talk entitled “Gever Tully 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do”, which inspired me to break out he pocketknife and teach my daughter about knife safety. There were some other fun ideas in the video about how parents can give kids guidelines for taking risks while learning skills.
Kids have less time to run around the neighborhood with friends or play by themselves like we did when I was a kid. Unstructured time is very important to healthy development. The thing that was less common in my day was; parents playing with their kids on their terms. So when their friends are unavailable there is an opportunity to play with your children and learn, a lot. I recommend starting your own “Camp Learn-a-Lot” with your kids. You may just learn something. ~Dave Berglund
As founder of Metamorphic Toys, I have worked hard to turn my dream into a reality, but it has not been a solo effort. My daughter inspired me with her creativity and imagination. Many others have helped me since to build the business. Among those are individuals that are totally committed to the Metamorphic Toys philosophy, passionate about making toys that inspire children to exercise their creative imaginations and equally passionate about making environmentally friendly toys made in America. These people will occasionally author blog posts on subjects near and dear to our collective hearts. Here is such a blog post by David Gee about our experience at the NEA Expo. Enjoy! ~Dave Berglund
We love teachers! And if the reaction of education professionals at the National Education Association Expo in Washington, D.C., is any indication, teachers love us too.
Or at least they love our open-ended, creative play products!
Before we say more, let’s back up for a moment.
For those of you who have been fans – or followers – of Metamorphic Toys for a while now, you might recall we had our official “debut” last winter at Toy Fair 2012; the world’s largest toy show in New York City.
This was the first time any large numbers of people were getting to see the Everythingland™ Mailbox and Silly Signs in person, and as we have said before, the response was great.
We were particularly excited because this audience wasn’t just our inner circle, but rather professional toy buyers who had no sentimental attachment to our products.
Many of the buyers we met saw the educational value of our products right away, and suggested we get in front of teachers, and specifically exhibit at the NEA’s trade show that comprises part of that organization’s annual meeting in our nation’s capital.
We are so glad we took the advice!
It’s fun, and very rewarding and affirming, to talk to people “who get it.” Who immediately and intuitively understand and appreciate the value of open-ended, creative play products.
Several times in the booth we found ourselves explaining the ways some school classes have used Metamorphic Toys, and then seeing the “wheels” in the teachers’ brains turn, and then immediately getting feedback and other ideas about additional ways the products can be used.
One of the most passionate – and enthusiastic – teachers we met at NEA was Dawn Moretz, a drama teacher at Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts in Union County, North Carolina.
She recently won the North Carolina Association of Educators’ (NCAE) Terry Sanford Award for Creativity and Innovation in Teaching and Administration. Considered one of the Association’s most celebrated citations, the award was created in honor of former governor Terry Sanford to recognize contributions to public education.
She wrote to us after the NEA meeting and said that she is in the process of writing a grant proposal to furnish every classroom in her school with Everythingland™ Mailboxes. Here is what Dawn said about how the mailboxes may be used:
I think that if each homeroom, fine arts teacher, and support staff had their own box, we could really see some fun variety as well as get better buy-in by the students since they would be helping to personalize each box according to the purpose decided upon by the faculty member.
In the meantime, I have plans to decorate my mailbox with a photo collage of drama club pictures taken from previous performances. This will be part of my display on "Open House/Club Information Night."
After that, it will be used as a drop-off point for returned forms so that those in drama club always know where to place their documents (permission slips, photo releases, etc.).
I will be sure to take some pictures of it being created, as well as when it is used for the parent night.
Let me know if I can be of any help to you between now and when I receive word from the Grant folks.
Wow, thanks for your excitement Dawn, and for some more great ideas on how the mailbox can be used at school.
Dawn, and all of our school’s teachers do a great job making use of scarce resources and we applaud you for it.
We welcome any opportunity to partner with teachers to create fun effective learning activities. So we encourage teachers to connect with us with feedback or to share your experiences. ~ David Gee
As an artist, builder, craftsman and do-it yourselfer I understand the compulsion to look at something and say, I can do that. I expect that this may be the case when DIYers see the Everythingland™ Mailbox and Silly Signs. I know a few people quite capable of making their own cardboard mailbox, but quite a few more that are not for a variety of reasons. First on that list is usually lack of time.
Before attempting to make a mailbox please consider what goes into the design and construction of the Everythingland™ Mailbox that makes it special. As a professional designer I went through a painstaking process to create a functional, sturdy, safe and attractive toy for children of all ages to decorate and play with. Twenty-four unique prototypes were constructed during the design process addressing different design and construction issues.
The sturdy material chosen is not as readily available as cardboard typically used to package most products. The white outer skin provides a truly blank canvas upon which to create any design.
Every detail of the Everythingland™ Mailbox was designed to minimize the use of adhesive while maximizing structural strength, function, aesthetics and safety. There are design details to guard against premature wear and tear and details to add strength. Some of these details cannot be duplicated in the workshop as the manufacturing tool can do things that the utility knife cannot.
The decision comes down to quality and how you prefer to spend your time. I can tell you first hand that the art project of decorating the mailbox is extremely fun and rewarding and can take a considerable amount of time. The construction of the mailbox however is less fun, as it is more strenuous, detailed and exacting and requires more time and effort than you might expect.
The Original Mailbox and Silly Sign I made for my daughter were quite different from the ones we make for you today. She had loads of fun with them and they lasted for years, but the design flaws were apparent from the beginning. It was quite tippy and the door hinge and latching mechanism did not last. There were sharp corners and edges as a result of being made from illustration board rather than corrugated cardboard. The result of the extensive design process for the Everythingland™ Mailbox is a sturdy high quality toy ready to be personalized.
The first Silly Sign was made on a whim when my daughter asked me to write “Do Not Enter” on a drawing she had created. I made a base, post and mounted her drawing to a placard on top. This sign was used regularly to let me know when she was not to be disturbed by excessive parental oversight. It was a delight to watch her play with this toy as it empowered her and allowed her to feel in control.
Metamorphic Toys Silly Signs have become a more sturdy and flexible toy allowing for different signs to be used in different ways with or without the post.
The design and construction of Metamorphic Toys allows do-it-yourselfers and non-do-it-yourselfers alike to enjoy time working together on creative art projects and pretend play without the difficulty of reverse engineering and constructing your own. Still, I know some of you will not be able to resist so, good luck!
I am trying very hard to be eco-conscious and believe that human beings do pose a very real threat to the natural environment of the earth. Living in harmony with nature has come to mean much more to me than measuring carbon footprints though. Where the health of the planet is concerned we must also look at the physical, social and emotional health of humanity. It is this after all that will ultimately determine weather we will make the compassionate and wise choices necessary to protect our environment.
Human beings have many natural instincts hard wired in for survival. Many instincts in young children are in place to develop cognitive, social, emotional and physical abilities that are an essential foundation to becoming healthy thriving adult human beings. These instincts are what compel children to PLAY. So, as it is with other creatures of the Earth, PLAY is essential to survival. But do we truly recognize what PLAY is anymore?
Real instinctive PLAY is a child-driven exercise in creativity and imagination. Children experiment through trial and error with persistence, like research scientists. We have grown accustom to entertaining children and providing them with instant information. Given the opportunity children will entertain themselves, but it may not be to our liking as adults because they will generally get messy, make noise and produce conflict.
Adults much prefer clean, quiet, orderly activities for children such as TV, video games and movies. These instant baby sitters are now available everywhere thanks to the advent of smart phones, I-pads, laptops and vehicle DVD players. As a parent I understand the desire to save time, enjoy quiet time, avoid messes and avert inevitable conflicts. But what is the real impact on children and society when it comes to overexposure to screen time and lack of real self driven creative play?
I had just heard George Carlin’s bit about digging a hole in the dirt with a stick recently when I walked out on my deck and was amazed to see my own daughter doing exactly that. I swear that this was not coerced or staged although when I ran to get the camera and started taking photos it lost a little spontaneity. WARNING; if you decide to google George Carlin stick prepare to hear a lot of those seven words.
There is extensive research that indicates a negative impact of screen time on the attention spans of children. Likewise there is a large body of research that shows how critical creative arts and pretend play are to healthy cognitive, social and emotional development. I am not advocating the elimination of technology, but would encourage parents to provide more opportunities for creative arts and self-directed pretend play, including time spent outdoors in nature. In our current society these opportunities seem to be diminishing and it is far too easy to give our kids a screen these days.
~ Dave Berglund
Too much screen time can threaten attention spans in children. http://bit.ly/LWdrNT
It’s Spring time and my thoughts turn to when I was teaching my daughter to ride a bike without training wheels.
My daughter is very strong willed and confident, which is great except when I am trying to teach her something like how to ride a bike without training wheels. I’m old school with dad running alongside steadying the bike from behind until child works up enough speed balance and confidence to ride off into the sunset. That did not work with my daughter. What did work was new school.
She is ready to go, but as soon as I put my hand on the bike she says; “Daddy I can do it myself!” So my daughter proceeds to raise one foot then the other, then puts the first foot down again, lifts it up and puts the other down again and again and again. If I touch the bike or speak she repeats, “No daddy, I can do it myself!” or “I don’t need any help!”
After what seems like a decade, but is in fact ten minutes I am ready to go home. I suggest we look on the internet to see how other kids learn to ride on two wheels. This sounds reasonable to her so we head home. To my surprise the old school videos I am expecting are not there, but what I do find is even better. My child has been riding on training wheels for over a year so she knows how to pedal and brake. She also vaguely understands what happens when she turns the handlebars. What she does not know is how to balance and turn without training wheels.
The videos recommend removing the pedals from the bike and lowering the seat. Even for the mechanically disinclined this is very easy. After this is done the child can be seated on the bike with both feet touching the ground. With no pedals in the way, they can use their feet to scoot around on the bike. (see linked videos) http://bit.ly/L7mdrm For a longer step by step approach watch this video. http://bit.ly/JQNFHh
I was able to spend 10 minutes with my daughter talking to her about balancing. We started out in the ice rink at the park, which is covered with asphalt in the warm months. A vacant parking lot would also be a good place to start.
In the beginning she was walking her bike along at a slow pace. Then she built up some speed and practiced raising her feet and coasting short distances.
Once she got the hang of it we moved to the asphalt trails circling the park. The trails were perfect as they had curves and gentle slopes, which allowed her to coast for long stretches and practice turning. At this point I became a spectator and she was having the time of her life. We probably could have put the pedals on the next day but instead returned to the park for two more days practicing her scooting.
The next day she insisted we put the pedals back on, she was ready. On my bike with my video camera I was ready to record her maiden voyage. She took off so fast I had trouble catching up with her to record it on film.
Bicycling is now one of her favorite activities and we bike together as a family often. Three years later she has a big girl bike and our favorite excursion is to the neighborhood ice cream parlor via the bike trails. It is wonderful to see her confidence and feeling of independence when she rides her bike.
~ Dave Berglund
The most complicated thing we do as parents is to simply allow our children to revel in the fun and joy of life.
Isn’t that completely counterintuitive? The most difficult thing I can let my kid do is engage in free play? What the heck does that mean?
It means many parents either allow – or in some cases even encourage – the use of screen-based products that seemingly fill our kid’s days. And if they don’t get it from us, they get it from their friends.
The spread of technology, the prevalence of dual income parents and a growing sense of competitiveness all contribute to this.
And this week’s national Screen-Free Week is calling attention to the problems created as a result.
Watching TV, playing computer games, web surfing, chatting, even homework involves staring at a screen for many of our young people.
And as you might guess, the cumulative effects of these different kinds of screen-based activities is not good, resulting in everything from physical ailments to shortened attention spans.
Consider just a few of these factoids:
And of course we could go on and on.
Children need activity, creativity, exploration and play. And we are failing them – and impacting our collective future – when those things are compromised by too much time in front of screens.
Let me be clear about one thing. I am far from a Luddite. Technology can certainly be part of a good education and enrich our children’s lives, in moderation.
In the first few years of life, human brains undergo "huge and very swift development," says Dr. Elizabeth Sowell, a UCLA neuropsychologist.
Numerous studies show stimulating environments, such as watching television, can change young brains in a negative way.
Dr. Kathie Nunley an educational psychologist, author, researcher and speaker says at one time a young child could “master” or learn their surroundings and remain relatively unchanged.
They interacted with a few toys, some siblings or parents perhaps, and lived in a fairly sparse home environment. Even the world outside the home had relatively limited novelty early on. This allowed attention to be drawn to other things, as the brain developed more complex types of thinking and learning of abstract concepts.
Today, though, Dr. Nunley says television, the Internet, and other external stimuli “have trained our minds to perceive and interpret quickly and be ready to accept the next presentation.”
That’s why she says all of us, adults and young people alike, have steadily eroded our attention spans. We have conditioned our brains to be ready to jump to the next stimuli before we’ve fully absorbed the first.
This knowledge, gained both from my own personal research, as well as my professional work as an industrial designer in the area of children’s creative play products, has influenced the way we have raised our now eight-year-old daughter.
As seductive and mesmerizing as flashing lights and electronic music are to kids, being in control of their play, along with having a blank canvas to work with, is what they most love.
I watch in amazement as my daughter and her friends play so contentedly with something as simple as a “house” made from a cardboard box.
This stands in stark contrast to the lethargy and isolation kids experience while watching TV and/or playing video games.
We can’t change the world, or turn back the clock on technology, but we do have choices.
So not only this week, but every week, I encourage every parent to choose to limit the screen time of their children, and encourage creative, open-ended play in its place.
What is Fun? To most the answer to this question would seem very subjective. It would appear that different people have different ideas about what fun is. On the surface this may be true, but with a little digging the core elements for what is fun may be discovered.
Activities ranging from playing chess to hang gliding have some very interesting common roots. For this discussion let’s define fun. Fun is a source of enjoyment, amusement or pleasure according to the dictionary. Fun is also often exhilarating, exciting and may elicit laughter. Further I would make a distinction between FUN and entertainment, as fun is not passive, but an active endeavor. This is a critical point as we have blurred the lines between PLAY and entertainment to the point they are often considered synonymous. For the same reason I would eliminate “relaxation” from our definition of FUN. So for our purposes we will consider “FUN” and “PLAY” to be synonymous as PLAY is the active engagement of FUN.
Fear is at the threshold of fun. Overcoming or letting go of ones fears or anxieties is essential to all fun activities. Not usually life threatening fears, but ego-based fears; fear of failure, embarrassment, judgment or simply fear of the unknown. We usually have fun when we are able to “let our guard (ego) down”, do something new or novel or take a chance. Coincidentally this behavior is essential to learning. It is how children learn naturally, how they process the world around them. We don’t have to try to make learning fun because the natural process of learning already is. Usually when we are able to overcome ego fears there is a rush of pleasure, accomplishment, conquest and satisfaction. Weather we are mastering a new skill or leaning new information it can and should be fun. This is a way of life for children, but as we grow into adulthood it becomes more complex with our growing egos and desire to be RIGHT. Our motives become ego based or external rather than being driven by talents, interests and personal values. Historically our system of education has removed most of the fun by filtering out elements deemed superfluous to the social agenda and striving for efficiency. At this point in history we are learning that if we continue on this path it will be at our peril.
A child at play is the best example to study to find out about fun and learning. Children attempt to do things they have never done before (new things) every day. Children are exploring the world, mastering skills and incorporating what they see into their understanding of the world. They use their creativity and imagination in pretend play to act out things they are curious about. This is natural behavior for children that adults would not usually engage in for fear of looking silly (embarrassment). But being wrong, making mistakes and having silly ideas is how innovation, creativity and learning takes place.
Mastering skills on the monkey bars for example requires overcoming different kinds of fear. Along with the fear of failure and judgment there is the fear of falling and bodily harm. Children seem to easily overcome these fears returning failure after failure to try again undaunted. The equivalent for adults may be seen in playing recreational sports. Golf springs to mind for me. When we are truly able to let go of outcome and ego there is FUN. Golf is only frustrating if one becomes obsessed with score or appearances (ego). If one is able to enjoy companionship, the environment and occasional flashes of good performance there is a higher likelihood of fun and improved skills. Likewise in matters of intellectual problems, letting go of old ideas and paradigms is the only path to innovative breakthroughs.
Another interesting adult phenomenon is partying. How many adults do you know that “need” to drink in order to have fun at a party? Alcohol reduces inhibitions or chemically inhibits ones ego. Those that can manage to take ego out of the equation without chemicals really know how FUN parties can be. Finding the courage to have a sober conversation with someone you’ve just met is usually a lot of fun. And the next day you can actually remember it.
At the extreme end of FUN there is sky diving, bungee jumping, motor-cross, cliff diving and the like that have a relatively high level of real danger. Then there are the aptly named extreme sports that have a real potential for bodily harm. Most of us however most often engage in activities that are not quite as dangerous for fun. These activities only require us to get past our own egos to experience the full richness of FUN.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant that you didn’t want to go to and enjoyed it?
Have you ever gone to a party reluctantly because you didn’t know anyone and had a great time?
Have you ever played a game as an adult that you have never played before and won?
Have you ever sung in public even though you are not “musically inclined”?
Have you ever danced with abandon in public though you do not consider yourself a good dancer?
Have you ever drawn or painted or sculpted with a group of people, though you are not an “artist”?
Before my daughter could speak I broke the habit of always having the radio or CD on in the car. The car since is a place for quality time & quiet time.
As an adult without children I did a lot of driving alone to work, school, shopping, etc. As a stay at home dad I began traveling with my daughter EVERYWHERE. I might not have thought twice about my radio habit if not for her.
Unlike the above photo, my daughter was usually very alert as the visual stimulus alone is quite captivating traveling in the car. At some point before she could talk I decided to turn the radio off and listen to her noises and create my own dialog in response to our surroundings or where we were headed.
Breaking the radio habit resulted in a rich dialog and also allowed for moments of silence and reflection for both of us.
The car became a place of quality time, uninterrupted intimate chats for the most important topics of the day. We could speak in our pirate voices and create fun little adventures, or sing our favorite songs. We practiced how to introduce ourselves to new friends at the playground, how to respond if someone is being mean and how to order favorite menu items at the restaurant.
At the same time I learned to censor myself from occasional outbursts directed at my fellow drivers. When my daughter was two she traveled in her little car seat in the middle of the back seat. On one occasion we were cut off by another vehicle on a busy city highway. I didn’t say a word, but seconds later heard a little voice say, “You’ve got to be kidding me daddy!” My girl was 2 years old mind you and still grappling mightily with language and vocabulary so I glance at her smiling face in the mirror and ask, “What did you say?” “You’ve got to be kidding me daddy!” she replies gleefully. “That’s right.” I said laughing. Even when we don’t speak, our children can reads us like a book.
Oddly our car has become a place of great intimacy and safety. Occasionally, if we both decide it’s okay, we turn the radio on and enjoy the music.
Benefits of Turning the Radio Off in the Car with Children
~ Dave Berglund