Archive for the ‘Education & Youth’ Category

Touching Young LIVES

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Over the last few years I have had the privilege to visit a few Montessori pre-schools. What interests me about this method of teaching is the philosophy of Maria Montessori that children learn best through the five senses. While Montessori teaching methods could in itself be a topic for several documentaries I wanted to focus on the role of hands in a child’s development.

Along the way I met Karolyn Lamarre who had studied this method and was teaching at Inspiration Montessori . My first couple of visits was to observe and plan what I wanted to shoot. What struck me right away were the children who when you looked at them engaged in some activity you could almost see their brain working. Often they were the children who had been there for awhile and were very uninhibited using Montessori materials. The children are completely free to decide what they are going to play with at a given moment.  This encourages them to become self-motivated and consequently develop a desire to discover. I was especially interested in the really young ones as they were just starting to learn what their hands and their bodies are capable of doing. The short film I made focuses on these children. Using your hands to help learn more abstract concepts like math or language could be the subject for a future documentary.

Let them tumble . . . they’ll learn.

Friday, May 8th, 2015

I believe that life long values like; self-confidence, creativity, curiosity, collaboration and persistence can come out of a childhood where you had opportunities to build and fix things. Reflecting on a recent story coming out of Alberta I want to add ‘judgement’ as one of those values. If you are building a large structure with Legos, for example, there is a point where you have to make a judgement of whether your structure will hold up and not fall over or collapse in the middle. The conditions for collapse can be explained by some rule of physics but it comes down to you, the builder, making a judgement of how to proceed with your design based on observation, trial and error (and of course how many bricks you have left).

A couple of weeks ago an 11-year-old boy in Calgary hopped onto his bike for a 4.8 kilometre ride to his favourite Lego store. He had $200 of his own money and was going to buy some Lego. He wanted to get more bricks for his new monster project — an eight-wheeled off-road vehicle. He had been shopping there by himself for two years. Despite the clear evidence he could safely carry-out his mission, from the store’s point of view he was under-age and needed to be detained until his father showed up.

There are a number of disturbing aspects to this story (see this CBC report for more details). Security guards and a store manager have no right to detain a person who has not committed a crime. It was not up to them to bring the father’s parenting skills into question. If the mall needed to be evacuated the boy would have just bicycled the 4.8 kilometre back home. Responsible parents are the best people to be evaluating the capabilities of their children. But what is most baffling is that the boy had been in the store on his own before and they knew him and there had never been a problem. They went for the rule book and not common sense.

Makers know quite well that you can’t totally depend on the instruction book. If you have experience building and fixing things you know that judgement is extremely important. There are very few projects where you don’t have to scratch your head deciding on how the next step should be carried out. How to balance the two boards so you can put in the second screw or else the whole thing will collapse and your first screw will snap right off. How to remedy a sewing project if your machine starts to skip stitches. If you are a maker you have to observe, experiment, adapt. I believe these are the same qualities needed to run a store.

This store policy was written by lawyers. It was to protect the company not the children. Children don’t need restrictive store policies they need opportunities. Children don’t need fearmongering, they need competences. Playing with Lego is one way they can develop skills. I think these lawyers need to get down on the floor with a big box of Legos and build something elaborate. Who knows, maybe they will learn something.

Good!? Old Days

Monday, March 24th, 2014

I am trying not, in the Working Hands Project, to romanticize the past. Not to lament about trades that have disappeared or how things were so much better back (when?). On the other hand, recognizing the past is important. The advancements in this era did not come out of a vacuum. This generation does not have a monopoly on good ideas. The way we do things now is built upon what we have done in the past.

When I watched this video I was both saying YES!! and rolling my eyes at the same time. What we have learned about lead paint and other unsafe practices is valuable and modern protocols based on this knowledge do save lives. What we have lost is a physical engagement with the world that is based on discovery, trial and error, calculated risk and interactive fun. What we do have instead is the potential for endless and bottomless consumption. This has never been part of our human makeup. The disconnect we have with our hands goes against the way the body and the brain have evolved.

The blogs I write sometimes come out of articles or videos I come across at a particular point. It can also come from what I am doing at the time. For example I have been trying to redesign a camera slider which I had made but there were some problems. This undertaking has taught me a few things; bouncing ideas off other people helps a lot, giving time and letting a new idea or approach reveal itself and finally just try something out, no matter how far-fetched it is. In my case I was uncertain how to secure an angle iron to a cross piece. I tried one idea which was not very solid. I looked carefully to see why it was unstable and then I saw where the weakness was coming from. The solution is now much closer.

The freedom and adventure that was a normal part of a day for the boys and girls in the above video is an approach to life that we can all benefit from. Instead of a “Maker Culture” the dominant fashion is that of consumption, something that builds up and eventually blocks the arteries of our imagination. If I had to write a synonym for “Maker Culture” it would be “Try It Out Culture” or “Take a Risk Culture” or “Make a Mistake Culture”. That last synonym has special meaning for the author of the article “Great Moments in Building Science“. He recounts to his reader some of the real whopper mistakes he has made in his career. He believes we learn better from our failures than from our successes. The article was sent to me by Jon Eakes who is a communicator in the field of home renovation. Jon knows I have tried a few experiments in my home with varied levels of success.

The topic of the documentary trailer above is also the topic of a wonderful feature article from “The Atlantic”. The Overprotected Kid explores our preoccupation with safety which according to  the author has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. She then describes a new kind of playground which looks a lot like like an abandoned dump. It is located in Wales and her own son goes there to play. She considers this concept a better solution.

I wrote another blog last year called “Playful Imagination“. Nice to see it is possible to put the play back into PLAYTIME.

When a Hose is not a Hose

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

I came across this photo recently on Facebook and immediately thought it was from Make Magazine. I pictured an article about the value of free play for children, their natural gift for imagination, etc.. It turned out to be a photo essay on autism. Nonetheless my interpretation of  the photo was about the joy of discovery.

Discovery is a key concept for people who do things with their hands. A friend of mine was fixing his motorcycle and discovered a little too late that tubes of silicone have an expiry date. Having to remove sticky uncured silicone was not so pleasant but he will know next time to check the date. Kids when left to their own devices usually discover what’s fun, what’s safe, what works and sometimes that happens by making mistakes.

This same friend told me a story about his nephew as a toddler and a Christmas he had out of town with his family and quite a few relatives. It was Christmas Eve, he didn’t have his usual toys and coming to his rescue was his aunt who cut out some paper boats and little fish, made up stories and kept him entertained. The next morning he was inundated with gifts. There were boxes everywhere. As the day wore on my friend noticed that, instead of playing with one of his new toys, he was quite content to amuse himself with those paper boats.

This morning I heard a story on CBC radio’s show The Current. It was called Kiddie Consumerism: How to combat baby product marketing. For one mother featured in the story, the endless cycle of buying became too much. Just over a year ago, UK-based writer Hattie Garlick made what became a very public promise. On her blog, Free Our Kids, she vowed not to buy anything new for her then 2-year-old son Johnny for one year. She did worry whether her toddler, by not participating in structured activities, would suffer socially or developmentally. She found the opposite whenever she would witness her son in the garden with friends. Without having expensive toys, it was their imagination that led them to do things far more interesting and enjoyable than any activity the parents paid for previously.

So as with that boy in picture, the freedom to discover is one of the greatest freedoms we can have.

Playful Imagination

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The more I work on this project the broader in scope I can see it getting. I am trying to stick to the self-imposed mandate of telling stories whenever hands, tools and materials converge. PLAY is an overlapping topic. It is especially relevant when you talk about the playground. One evolution that has happened is the rising concern with safety and the related matter of liability. I remember very well the scary feeling I got when I went for a spin on the merry-go-round. The one I remember was a lot lower to the ground than the one in this picture. The thought that I could have gotten my foot caught underneath the spinning platform still gives me the shivers. Making playgrounds safe is very necessary but equally important is providing the opportunity to learn how to be safe and reasonably cautious and how to evaluate danger.

KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit that believes our children are playing less than any previous generation, and this lack of play is causing them profound physical, intellectual, social, and emotional harm. Imagination Playground is one organization that is trying to alleviate that problem. They believe the best play experience you can provide kids in a public space consists of loose parts such as sand, water, boards (with all the splintery edges sanded down) and oversized blue foam blocks. As well there are many things available in the hardware store that could be used as loose parts in a playground.

Coming back to safety there are risks when working with your hands. Sometimes power tools and sharp implements are involved. Another type of risk is failure. You have to be brave to work with your hands as things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. I like having that risk. Safe practises can be taught but being 100% successful making or fixing something… that never happens.

UPDATE: This article by Margaret Wente “The kids don’t play any more” has some interesting perspectives (especially in the comment section).