The art of the brick by Nathan Sawaya

Being that it’s half term this week, I have been looking for things to do with S to keep him out of trouble busy. Last week I read about The art of the brick exhibition at the Truman Brewery and it sounded like just the kind of thing I was looking for.

Nathan Sawaya is the artist behind these magnificent creations, all built out of simple Lego blocks. He started building from Lego as an outlet after a hard day’s work and before he knew it, he turned his hobby into his passionate life’s work. His exhibitions around the world have broken attendance records and his works of art have been displayed in New York, Hong Kong, Melbourne and now London, to name a few.

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“I like using LEGO bricks as a medium because I enjoy seeing people’s reaction to artwork created from something with which they are familiar. …My goal is to elevate this simple plaything to a place it has never been before. I also appreciate the cleanliness of the LEGO® brick. The right angles. The distinct lines. But, from a distance, those right angles and distinct lines offer new perspectives, changing to curves.”
Nathan Sawaya

I’ll let the pictures do the talking but if you’re in London, the exhibition is running until January 2015 and is worth the visit. Book your tickets online (children under 3 are free) to avoid queuing and take public transport to get there. We decided to drive because it was raining and there were four of us (2 adults, 2 toddlers) but it took us an hour to get there and an hour back (with 2 boisterous toddlers in the back seat, I’ll let you imagine how that journey felt!)

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I LOVED the philosophical meaning behind many of his pieces.

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All his works of art were so impressive but the sheer size of the dinosaur and the perfection of it totally blew me away!!

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I didn’t realise the “keep calm and…” craze isn’t a new trend but actually dates back to 1939!!

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After going through the whole exhibition asking S not to touch the displays, it was nice to let them at it in the Lego play area.

Do schools teach us to “stay in our boxes”?

I’m aware that the question “Do schools teach us to “stay in our boxes”?” is a highly debateable one. I have studied in several different streams of education and I can tell you that many of the generalisations do exist: From the age of 7-11 I went to an Indian School. It was English medium but the fashion in which we learnt was very much rote learning. I’d spend hours memorising lengthy answers to different questions. I could read Hindi but not understand what I was reading, purely because I was taught how to recognise the alphabets and not actually interpret the words. I then went on to study in India (at an international school) and it was pretty much the same. Mug it all up, parrot fashion. When I was in school in Dublin, things changed. We were taught in a different method. In math, for example, you got points for method and not just the answer. There was a transition year between what is equivalent to GCSEs and A Levels and during this year we were encouraged to participate in different projects, go on field trips and develop a broader view to learning, outside of the classroom. Other generalisations like American schools are creative but not academic, etc. often stand true for many people I know.

Essentially though, I don’t think it matters. Some of the smartest entrepreneurial people I know, didn’t go to university. And some very smart MBA people I know, are out of jobs at the moment. In the end, I don’t think “success” is defined necessarily by how well you did in school, unless your field is very specific (but that’s a post for another day).

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The reason I ask this question today is because of something that happened in the last week. At the start of the week, a friend asked me to vote for her niece who was taking part in a school project in Hong Kong. The project was about preserving the water system in Hong Kong. The school said that the winner would be the project that got the most likes on Facebook. So after looking at what she was proposing, I voted for her and then shared the status on my wall. Other people voted for her from that and shared the status. Anyway, a few days ago, my friend was over and she was on Face Time with her niece. So I asked her how she did and if she won and she told me she was disqualified. Why? Because she’d found an app that gave you free likes for every picture of theirs that you liked and so in the end she got over 2,000 likes (and obviously would have won!) Sounds ingenious doesn’t it? Except the school didn’t accept it and disqualified her.

In today’s cut throat world, thinking outside the box, like she did, would be seen as an asset but at school, she was disqualified. There are many educational institutes who recognise that classroom controlled learning isn’t exactly what children need to survive in the real world and are instead taking their children outside the box. Examples would be the Waldorf Steiner school and the Montessori system. The belief is that children will learn at their own pace and in their own ways and so the classrooms are child led rather than teacher led.

I’m not totally convinced of these schools, only because I do believe that some sort of structure is required in a classroom. But, I also believe traditional schools need to start allowing for more creativity and out of the box thinking. You only have to watch any of the big TV shows (Greys Anatomy, Suits, Scandal, etc.) to see how important out of the box thinking is, even for professionals. The simple fact is…books can only take us so far but it’s the way we think that can change our lives.

World Book Day

I’ve always enjoyed reading and it’s something I’ve always wanted S to enjoy too. It builds your vocabulary, improves your conversational skills and of course has the ability to transport you to another world (depending on what you’re reading). It also builds your imagination and I’d like to believe makes you a better writer (gets those creative juices going!).

When I was a child I read to my hearts content. First it was books like Mr. Pink Whistle and all the Enid Blyton books. As I approached 11-13, it was Sweet Valley High, Goosebumps and any of the RL Stein books. From 13-20 I loved Sidney Sheldon, Marian Keyes, Sheila O’Flanagan, Cathy Kelly and Cecilia Ahern (I went to school in Dublin, that might explain it). Since then I’ll read anything that catches my fancy. Self help (Mitch Albom, Deepak Chopra and Brian Weiss), page turners (Jodi Picoult, Dan Brown, Chetan Bhagat) and then easy to read feel good books which could be by any author.

I started reading to S every night from the age of 6 months. He may not have understood it but he liked looking at the pictures and now he can hold a book the right way and loves flicking through the pages and pointing to the things he knows. His favourite is The Gruffalo. In honour of world book day, his nursery asked the parents to dress the kids up as their favourite characters. His class did it yesterday and S went in Gruffalo theme.

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The teacher at his nursery also tells me he loves Maisy. We do have one Maisy book at home but we’re off to the library this weekend to get some more.

What book are you reading at the moment? I just started Philomena by Martin Sixsmith.

Relationship Based Parenting 1

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to listen to a telesummit (21 interviews) on Relationship based parenting by Abby Bordner.

Abby Bordner understands that family life can be tiring but all parents want what is best for their kids. We don’t always have the time to read books or attend parenting workshops. She set up a series of interviews with professionals in the fields of child psychology, child development and famous authors of childcare books. You can sign up for these free interviews here. The idea is to give us advice that will help us deepen our understanding of children’s behaviour, improve our relationships and find balance in our lives. All of which will make us better parents.

In case you don’t get a chance to listen to them, over the next few weeks I’ll be giving you brief outlines of some of the interviews.

The first one is with Emily Plank. She’s an early childhood professional who started her career teaching Middle School.  She wanted to make a difference to kids and realised that the younger the kids, the more impact she’d have on them. She’s now doing research and writing and working with adults (educators and mothers). It turns out she says working with adults and working with children aren’t very different. If we become better people as adults, it’d easier to then model the behaviour we’d like our children to have. Being a parent forces you to look at and improve yourself.

From the ages of 0-3 children’s neuro-pathways are developed which impact their later life. Skills developed long before children enter formal schooling help shape their future.

One of Emily’s passions is the extent to which parenting and our interactions with young children is culturally embedded. The way we raise our children is often the way we were raised and conforming to our cultural norms. In the US, independence is important. From a young age Emily would encourage her children to sit at the table and eat by themselves. Use their hands and feed themselves. In Portugal however, it is highly offensive to use your hands to eat and so children are spoon fed until they are at least 2-3 and can use a spoon and fork by themselves.

So often we feel like how we are doing things is right but when we take a step back we realise our values are not unanimous. Different cultures have different values and norms. She started a project called “The Global Voices Project” where she puts various questions out there and people from all over the world give their take on things.

There are so many things we assume are universal when in fact they’re not. It’s not that one way is right or wrong but it just gives you some humility with regards to how you raise your children because you realise there are people who raise their kids completely different to the way you do and they are smart, successful and happy.

“There’s no expert out there who knows how to manage your child. You are the expert for your child”.

Back in the day kids were not praised constantly, praised was earned. As time went on and we moved into the new century, we wanted kids to grow up with a strong self-identity and so we lavished praise and rewards on them. Now what we’re learning is that all of our praise and rewards for children is actually having the opposite effect. When we praise kids for things that they should be doing anyway, there are some negative consequences. Kids look outside of themselves constantly for self validation. They constantly need someone else to reassure them rather than knowing themselves what feels or is good. Praise puts a lot of pressure on kids so if you’re constantly praising them, children have a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations of others.  We need to give children feedback for what they are doing rather than evaluation. E.g. if your child tidies their blocks away, rather than say you’re such a good girl for tidying your blocks away, you could say, thank you for tidying your blocks away, that was very helpful.  So then they internalise the idea that they can be helpful. The more we offer feedback to kids and describe what they are doing, the better. We should praise and comment on kids effort, not their product. E.g. I noticed you were helpful at dinner, that made me happy. Children who are constantly being told they are smart don’t feel the need to make an effort when they are doing things.

We praise kids for very nobel reasons but what we don’t realise is when we praise them, research shows us they become less likely to do it in the future. So rather than say good job, comment on what they are doing. Make your child feel proud by showing you have noticed what they are doing.

If a child comes to you showing you a picture and says “what do you think of my painting?” You could say “I saw you work very hard on that painting, tell me how you did it.” Put the ball back in their court and get them reflecting on their painting.

Kids need space, time and materials to play. Emily Plank teaches parents and educators that to play, you don’t need toys or things that light up and make noise. You need materials that are multipurpose that children can use and play with which then help them move from one developmental stage to another. We always think we need to give our children cognitive skills to do well in the world when in fact we need to allow them to have unstructured, open-ended free play. Children then learn skills of self-regulation, focus, engagement and independence. And these are the skills they need to help them later in their life. We’re constantly trying to get our children ready for the next stage when actually readiness comes from just being in the moment. So when children want to play and we provide them the space and materials, they will automatically get ready for what comes next.

Spending time with your child is allowing your child to be the leader and doing what they want rather than what you want. Many people talk about children’s behaviour as being attention seeking but when we are with our children we need to think about how much attention we’re really giving them. Are we sitting on our smart phones the whole time? We need to be able to give them 100% undivided attention. Not all the time but at least while they are playing. When we really pay attention we can see what they are fearful of, what they are struggling with and then work together with them to help them. Show them that what they are doing is valuable and important and more important than your phone or to do list.

When you have materials that are multipurpose and not just toys with one purpose, it encourages creativity.

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The last question Abby asked was “What are the qualities of healthy, successful kids?”

Emily responded saying she thinks the most important qualities have nothing to do with their cognitive intelligence but children who will be successful long term are children who are capable, confident and compassionate. As parents, we have to look at children and say what you are doing right now is what you should be doing right now. Trust that your child’s inner development is exactly as it needs to be. This makes children feel capable of doing anything. Confident children are children who know who they are and know that their opinions matter. They tend to seek out meaning in life. This goes hand in hand with praise and rewards. Kids who have a strong sense of who they are can approach life with enthusiasm. Compassion; she hopes to raise kids who find out that they can have their own needs met while making sure that other people’s needs around them are met as well.