Risk Taking Leads to Confidence

Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, treetop adventures courses -- take kids out of their comfort zone, and you might be surprised at the results!

Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, treetop adventures courses -- take kids out of their comfort zone, and you might be surprised at the results!

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would join my kids whitewater rafting on the Colorado, rock climbing in Alaska, cliff diving in Hawaii or tackling a treetop adventure course 30 feet above the ground, I would have said you were crazy.  Me? An outdoors person? But I realized that if I wanted my kids to be creative risk takers and learn how to expand their comfort zones, I would need to lead the way.  

You know your kids and their limits.  Discuss what you would like to do as a family and why. Get their input and a feel for their comfort zones.  Talk about what you will do and how you will do it, and look up articles from others on ways to be safe and have a good time.

If your younger ones are a bit fearful, a little risk taking can give them the confidence they need to push themselves in less than comfortable situations. If they are naturally less fearful, experiencing accomplishments before they become self-conscious middle schoolers will ensure that they do not succumb to self-doubt as they get older, preserve their child-like confidence into their older years. Even older kids can benefit from a little risk taking -- and under your guidance you can model limits, such as what risks are ok and not ok to engage in.

The results? My shy daughter who never wanted people to speak to her and would not voluntarily try something new, just finished a summer studying whales and marine life on board a sailboat that traveled up the Atlantic coast -- without anyone with her that she knew -- something she never would have done had she not experienced 10 years of encouragement and gradual confidence building.  And my son who would experience physical and emotional stress when asked to do something he hadn't done before, tried repelling again this summer and this time, found he could do it -- and on a recent weekend got further on a high adventure ropes course than anyone else in the family. 

Although I haven't had any real physical training, I've managed to survive these adventures and not look too foolish. Turns out that years of ballet as a young girl gave me the balance and agility to undertake a variety of outdoor activity without too much strain.  Even though this 50 year old body does take twice as long to recover from an excursion than it used to, trying new things can be exciting and life altering, even in middle age.  What's next.....sky diving?? 

Inspire Creativity in your Child with Coding

It’s no secret that every genius invention begins with a brilliant idea—one that transcends traditional thinking built upon layers and layers of creativity. Take Steve Jobs, for example, a creative who turned a small company based in his parents’ garage into one of the leading tech corporations today. Or even more recently, the creators of Pixar’s Inside Out, who made a movie with a refreshingly original take on children’s films, enthralling parents and kids alike.

Creativity is an important skill that needs to be nurtured. Parents, including myself, have eagerly signed up their kids for art classes and music lessons, hoping to inspire creativity. But there is a new avenue to achieve this goal that educators are starting to talk about. with technology and computers leading the way, perhaps the wisest approach to inspire creativity nowadays is to teach kids to code. Here are four reasons why coding inspires creativity in your child.

1.    Coding brings imagination to life

Computer programming allows kids to tinker with their imaginations. Anything they dream of—Superman rescuing three princesses in a bamboo forest or Russell Crowe as a gladiator fighting at Stonehenge—is possible in the coding world. And with the right coding tools (fun platforms such as Tynker or Scratch), kids will be even more motivated to bring their ideas to life.

2.    There is unlimited freedom in coding

There are no bounds when it comes to coding. What’s more, the kids themselves are in control of what they want to create, and they are free to explore their own innovative ideas, solutions, and concepts. This allows them to explore new ideas without having their imaginations restricted. Who knows what they’ll create!

3.    Coding prepares kids for a tech-savvy world

The world today is largely dominated by technology. Meeting the demands of a tech-driven society is no simple feat—it requires critical thinking, drive, and most importantly, creativity. Building a robotic arm that aids a surgical procedure or designing the most efficient search engine requires thinking outside the box. Teaching kids coding challenges them to exercise creativity while building a strong foundation for future endeavors, tech-related or not.


4.    Kids can explore creativity from a new perspective

Creativity can be expressed through a multitude of channels: art, literature, music, and dance, to name a few. But the 21st century calls for a new item to be added to that list: coding. Like any other language, it’s a way for people to turn ideas into creations, whether artistically and technologically. Coding can also incorporate creative aspects of visual art or storytelling through animations, game development and more.

Through coding adventures, kids can delve into their imaginations, explore new ideas, and bring them to life. They will be introduced to fundamental programming principles, all while fostering their creative spark. Coding will allow kids to take their positions as the future leaders and innovators. What’s more, coding is fun!

Encourage Creativity & Scientific Thinking

Creativity is the root of genius inventions, great ideas, and awesome innovations. However, we often hear about a lack of creativity in kids today. As parents, we have the ability to nurture our children's creative endeavors that will lead them to be the future leaders of the world. 
Art classes and music lessons are often the go-to, but with science and technology being extremely influential in our everyday lives and the increasing emphasis on STEM education, it's time to try something new. Resourcefulness and risk-taking in science has given us the technological leaps and innovations that we enjoy today. So now more than ever, our children should start developing creativity skills in those STEM areas. 
To drive that creative process, it is important to emphasize open-ended play and unstructured opportunities to create and experiment. Here are a few activities that will inspire your kids to think both creatively and scientifically.
1.    3D Building Activities
Whether it's playing with Legos, modeling with Play-Doh, or designing an egg drop project, there are no bounds when it comes to creativity in building.

When competing in an egg drop contest, for example, will challenge kids to think creatively about how to cushion the egg (the cradle), how to slow the fall or how to minimize the weight. I’ve seen effective solutions from giant popcorn pillows to more minimalist designs made of coffee stick holders, with and without hand-sewn plastic bag parachutes. Not only is this an opportunity for kids to brainstorm analytically and critically from an engineering and scientific perspective, they get to test their ideas and improve upon them. It’s an invaluable opportunity to experiment creatively, and they’ll achieve immense satisfaction when they can be successful as a result of ideas that were theirs.
2.    Experiment in the Kitchen
With a little bit of science, you won't be scolding your kids for playing with their food anymore. Plus, what could be more fun than food? Experimenting in the kitchen is great way for kids to learn about science, creatively explore, and have fun.

Beyond mixing ingredients (the “chemistry” of cooking), there are ways to use everyday kitchen ingredients to see science in action, and encourage kids to not be afraid to "try and see".

A popular and easy activity among kids is making naked eggs using vinegar, which involves an acid-base chemical reaction. By submerging an egg in a bowl of vinegar for a day, the shell will dissolve. The result is a naked egg!

Another educational activity is testing pH levels using a red cabbage. As a natural pH indicator, the cabbage juice will change colors depending on the acid and base levels of a liquid substance. By testing in various liquids, kids will have a rainbow array of colors. Even if your child is too young to understand chemistry, they will still have a fun time exploring and experimenting. 
3.    Origami
The only thing required for this fun activity is paper. While most people may think of origami purely as an arts and crafts activity, the process of transforming a 2D piece of paper into a 3D object involves visualization, logic, and lots of mathematical themes—the basics being geometry, angles, and fractions.

Kids can also learn about mathematical and scientific concepts from origami. For example, by folding a paper airplane, they can visualize fractions, proportion and geometry, and observe the interactions between an object's design, gravity and aerodynamic properties.
4.    Coding
To many people, computer programming may seem boring and full of nonsensical syntax. But as we know today, with apps that infiltrate every aspect of our lives, coding is extremely versatile and can lead to many creative opportunities. It allows people to bring their imaginations to life and to turn ideas into reality.

Educational interactive resources have made coding easy and fun for today’s kids. They can learn fundamental programming concepts while exercising their creativity through storytelling, animations, game development, and more. (Every December Code.org hosts an Hour of Code – a great opportunity for you to get your kids started!  www.code.org)
5.    20 Questions—Backwards!
Rather than guessing an object, play the game of 20 Questions backwards with your kids. Pick or show them an object and tell them to ask questions about it. Some questions may be more specific while others may be more open-ended.

By coming up with questions, kids will be encouraged to observe and analyze from all angles. Challenging your child to creatively brainstorm these questions will eventually lead your kids to start asking the bigger ones—the "what ifs" and the "hows".
There are so many ways that kids can explore their creativity, and it’s not limited to only art and music. As STEM education becomes more and more important, encourage your kids to delve into math and science. Building, food, origami, coding, and 20 Questions are just a few ideas to get them started.

Nurture a Love for History

It’s hard to appreciate history by just reading a book.  It is far more interesting to go back in time and experience history, and much more relevant to put yourself in the shoes of people who are like you who lived long ago.

Young children have a hard time relating to timelines.  For them, two decades ago and two centuries ago feel the same – ancient news.

How do you get an understanding nod from kids when it comes to history? How do you make it fun?

1.       Pick a local spot that has a story to it, and explore it with your kids. Every city and town has some historical aspect to it. Discover it for yourself and bring your kids along. Ask questions to get them thinking or turn the day into a scavenger hunt.

2.       Tell the story in relation to someone they know.  “Your grandmother would have been your age when this happened to her.  How do you think she would have felt? What would she have thought?”

3.       If your community does an historical reenactment, make a point of checking it out. If costumes and props are involved, there is nothing like bringing history to life. There are also living history museums across the country that may offer free days or events to explore. Here are a few I know of:

·       Mission San Juan Bautista (California)

·       Battle of Lexington & Concord (Patriot’s Day -- Massachusetts)

·       American Revolutionary Battles at Sturbridge (Massachusetts)

·       Plymouth Plantation (Massachusetts)

·       Jamestown, Yorktown & Williamsburg (Virginia)

4.       If there is a place you would like to visit that is represented in a children’s novel or story read it before taking them there.  A few favorites:

·       Read “Little House on the Prairie” before visiting Mansfield Mo.

·       Read “Johnny Tremain” before visiting Boston

·       Read “Call of the Wild” before visiting Alaska

·       Read “Felicity An American Girl” before visiting Williamsburg

·       Read “Taking Liberty” before visiting Mount Vernon

·       Read “Diary of Anne Frank” before visiting Amsterdam

·       Read “Farewell to Manzanar” before visiting Manzanar CA (for high school age kids)

If you have examples of how you’ve brought history to life for kids, please share below!

Explore the Arts at an Early Age

For many children, an art museum, concert hall or theatre can be stifling -- not at all conducive to exploration and discovery. However, with the right context, you can ease them into enjoying these venues early so that when they are ready, they possess a deeper appreciation of the arts as a medium for communication and expression.

viewing the masters can inspire kids to want  to create their own works of art. On a trip to the museum, My kids carried sketchpads and markers with them and started drawing when they felt inspired to do so. i watched them from afar, but let them drive the timing of what they wanted to do and see.

viewing the masters can inspire kids to want  to create their own works of art. On a trip to the museum, My kids carried sketchpads and markers with them and started drawing when they felt inspired to do so. i watched them from afar, but let them drive the timing of what they wanted to do and see.

Fine art. Many art museums offer free family days and hands-on activities for kids. Age-appropriate programs for kids offer an opportunity to explore a theme or a specific aspect of an exhibit. For example, after viewing an exhibit entitled “Impressionists in Winter”, my daughter turned a shoebox into an “ice museum” complete, paper snowflakes, cotton snowballs, and ticny posters of "impressionist works". And my son adorned himself with glittery regalia he fashioned out of foil paper and mardi gras beads before he toured an exhibit of King Tut artifacts. As kids get older you can ask them to observe lines and shadows, evaluate mood and color, compare works or observe differences between media, but it might be tough to get kids excited if you wait until high school. Best to make them feel at home in these spaces early – then the learning moments will come.

If kids programs aren’t being offered, you can still make a visit fun by turning it into a game. Pick up an exhibit brochure on your way in, and ask your child to find the art pieces or paintings in the brochure – like a scavenger hunt. Or I let them look at the postcard in the gift shop, pick a favorite, then have them read the map to figure out where they can find the real thing. Don’t worry if the game only lasts 30 min before they start asking for the café. Follow their lead and make the experience enjoyable. Curiosity will get the better of them if they are allowed to wander freely and explore at their own pace.

Symphonies and Operas. Family concerts tend to be shorter (some are offered at reduced prices or free), and include pieces that appeal to children. I would introduce the instruments to my kids ahead of time, so they were familiar with the sounds and styles of music played by them. Or we would read up on the story, characters or the life of the composer. Before a piece started, I would ask them to listen for something – a particular instrument or melody. Or afterwards, I would ask why they thought a composer created this particular music, what story he was trying to tell or how he might have wanted to make people feel. When kids are older, you can engage them in a discussion about major and minor keys, and compare/contrast styles of music, but in the beginning, plant the seeds of enjoyment by letting them enjoy an afternoon at a magnificent concert hall.

Live Theatre. We are fortunate to have free Shakespeare in the Park in our neighborhood every summer, and we’ve made it to a performance at least every other year. Usually held in a park with plenty of open space, the venue allows squirmy youngsters to run around without penalty (to you or to them) when their attention spans start to wane. They can return when they’re ready for a rest, and have the capacity to be more focused as a result. While young children may not yet be ready to understand the entire story, the costumes, sets and actors may garner enough interest for an enjoyable family evening out. As my children got older, we would borrow the text or DVD from the library beforehand, casually previewing any of the most popular lines or scenes. My children were delighted when they saw a familiar scene, or observed similarities or differences between the live performance and the movie. And the early exposure made school assignments feel much more accessible.

Enjoy the arts as a family. When the kids were young, we often put in all types of music into the CD player (classical, pop, jazz, Broadway) and have “dance parties”. Or we would let the kids put on shows in the living room. But my favorite moment of enjoying the arts as a family was when we painted on the rim of the Grand Canyon. We set up easels, chairs and gave each child a canvas, a palette of acrylic paint and a selection of their own brushes. And we painted what we saw. 

Camps and Classes – Encourage Your Child Try Something New!

Sometimes you need a break. You can't be expected to orchestrate every new experience for your child. And with the right curriculum and instructors, you might get a few new ideas you can build on at home. Here are some things my kids explored in summer camps and classes. No prerequisites; easy for beginners to be successful at many ages (age 5-12). Very hands-on with a performance or presentation at the end.

·       Shakespeare

·       Robotics

·       Creative Writing

·       Solar Energy & Electricity

·       Coding

·       Ceramics

·       Sports basics (basketball, volleyball, tennis, soccer)

·       Dance

·       Musical Theatre

·       Wildlife & nature

·       Playing in a rock band

·       Cooking

·       Painting

I also appreciated camps with themes that were woven into crafts, outdoor activities and hands-on experiments. Some of the unique themes that my kids thought were really cool:

·       Knights and Medieval Times

·       Land Down Under

·       Galileo & Solar System

·       Roller Coasters

Can’t fit in or afford summer camps?  Get together with other families and form a weekend club to explore these areas with the kids. Each parent can pick a topic to research and plan, and lead the kids in the activity.

Benefits of Scouting – A Parent Perspective

I was never a scout myself, but I appreciate what scouting has given my kids – the opportunity to explore the outdoors, make new friends, serve the community, and build leadership and other skills. Plus, through Scouting you join an active family-oriented community that you and your kids will get to know outside of school for at least 10 years or more.

If parents want to be involved in their children’s extracurricular activities, Scouting is the perfect opportunity. Scouting requires parent volunteers, and there are no special skills required – you learn as you go. As a troop or den leader, you get a roadmap for fun activities to do with your kids at every age (from 5-15). Plus, your kids will benefit from a social structure designed to help kids develop teamwork and leadership skills, and you’ll get to witness their growth and development first hand.

Here is a quick overview of what my kids gained from scouts:

Grades K-5: Fun social and skill-building activities (there are badges for a wide variety of topics). Community service projects. Opportunities for camping/hiking and exploring the outdoors. Fun traditions (like campfire skits and songs) that serve to engage kids in different ways, and provide fun bonding moments.

girl scout bronze award project: gathering book donations for a local school

girl scout bronze award project: gathering book donations for a local school

Grades 6-8: Kid-driven team projects, opportunities for less expensive sleep away camps, and survival skills. For middle-schoolers, this is a safe, parent-protected opportunity to nurture an additional social group as they develop their self-identities. Sometimes being independent of their school group can be VERY helpful. If your kids start in scouts early, you probably know all of the parents and as a group you can help your kids ease their way through the pre-teen years.

High School: Opportunity to achieve the highest ranks of scouting (Eagle Scout for boys and the Gold Award for girls). These awards encourage young people to demonstrate their leadership and project management skills as they enlist their troop to complete a project of service to the broader community in which they live.

I’ve found that if the parent group agrees to emphasize a certain focus (robotics) or approach things in a certain way (meeting biweekly or monthly) you could do so. A friend’s girl scout troop decided to put a heavy emphasis on STEM related badges and activities, and competed in robotics tournaments as a troop. My son’s cub scout troop focused on outings that could be arranged through parent employers. My daughter’s girl scout troop eventually decided not to sell cookies in middle school, and instead each girl contributed to troop finances based on independent activities they did on their own during the summer.

Scouting is a wonderful family-oriented activity, and the opportunities and benefits are only limited by the energy you put into them!

How to Nurture Scientific Curiosity

Remember the book “How Things Work”? Nowadays, it’s easy to bring the book to life. There are so many wonderful museums (with family free days) and university-sponsored family science events specifically geared toward giving kids hands-on experience with science.  Not only are these experiences the best way to build familiarity and confidence with topics that they will later learn in school -- an open-ended environment promotes the experimentation and “what if?” investigation that leads to creativity.

The best way to let young minds experience the exhibits is to follow their interests (read: follow them around the museum and let them explore activities at their own pace).  Occasionally you might suggest a special program that is happening at a specific time, but for the most part, let them drive the agenda for the day.

Watch them explore – you’ll learn a lot about their learning style, interests and how they interact with others. If you find yourself getting restless, try a few exhibits yourself. Then you can authentically express enthusiasm when you turn to your child and say, “Hey, try this. It’s cool”!

As kids get older, a trip to the science museum may seem juvenile. But often what kids are learning in school is excellently illustrated in the exhibits that the museum has constructed and geared toward younger children. Challenge your older “know-it-all”s by asking them to explain the science behind an exhibit to a younger sibling, or to find a display that they would improve to make it “cooler” for kids their age. You can also ask them to seek out an exhibit that teaches them something new, or tell them to think about topics or ideas for their next science fair project.

If you want to turn your backyard or kitchen into a hands-on science lab, there are plenty of websites with suggestions for activities you can do at home and in your neighborhood to spark kids’ curiosity about (and confidence with) science. Here are links to a few of them (they are great sources for science fair ideas, too):