Documenting Passion Roundup

baby n

If you’ve been following me the past week, you know that I’ve been observing my daughter’s interests and activities in an attempt to document her passions by asking the question “What does she gravitate toward?” And the point of all that is to unpack some truths about her core interests (as opposed to forming my own assumptions about her interests). It’s been tough, at times, to separate myself completely into the role of observer, but given that I charted this path for a full week, I think I’ve taken a good stab at picking up on some of the qualities that currently define my child’s interests. And I also recognize that as she further develops and is exposed to new ideas, she’ll change and grow over time.

An interesting development this past week are the observations of Aleksandra and Danielle (see their comments on the past few posts), who both spotted behavioral patterns in their children. Aleksandra saw that her son, Max, needs to find quiet moments in his day to give him a little bit of respite from high levels of activity. And Danielle observed an inherent need to spread materials, objects, and toys in her daughter, Simone.  Related to this, I observed that my child is a sorter: she likes to clean, organize, separate, and place objects in small containers; which has led me to give her plenty of like materials (fake apples, water bottles, ice cubes, etc.) to sort  and organize.

This project has also alerted me to activity interests, the most obvious being her desire to play-act. And she seems most interested in play-acting moments and events from her recent experience. For example, after making pancakes with her G-Ma last week, she spontaneously made sand pancakes in the park yesterday. We’ve also spent a lot of time prepping her for the arrival of her baby sister. In reaction to this, just this morning she crawled all over the house, refused to talk (because, you know, babies don’t talk), and then broke character to ask me to mash up her bananas so she could eat them like a baby. To see how she’s handling the influx of baby gear, check out the picture at the top of this post.  If I didn’t already see a pattern of imaginative play as a means of grappling with her daily reality, I may have been concerned about what could otherwise be interpreted as receding behavior. This is rather obvious stuff, I know, but it alerts me to help her capture defining moments from her experience and support them through imaginative play.

And perhaps one of the biggest eye-openers is that I’ve noticed that art-making activities, which are near and dear to me, have been virtually nonexistent over the past week.  While there have been moments of involuntary drawing and mark-making (tire rubbings at the DeCordova was a big hit), my child has been more invested in other activities. At no point did I jot down any notes like “wants to paint” or “excited about drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.” And there could be many reasons for this: the novelty factor may be low because we make art so often or she may be at the developmental stage where art is too passive and she’d rather keep moving. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop the art activities all together…my child is young and as she develops, her skills will catch up with her mind…but I am aware that I shouldn’t expect my child to love every activity I set before her.  All in all, following what N gravitates toward has been a worthwhile pursuit that has raised my awareness of her desires.  And for those of you who were playing along — please share how this all sorted out for you too!

On that note, more art and creative activities coming soon. :)

Day 4: Documenting Passion

suitcaseride

Today was a heavy travel day, and my attention was pulled in million directions with my husband being under the weather, a lost phone in the airport (I’d like to attribute this to preggo brain, but it’s probably just me – sigh), and saying goodbye to family after a long visit. However, I was able to capture a few moments of observation.

And I’d love to know…What have your kids been drawn to this week?

  • Tossing bottles at the town dump. My in-laws live in a town with an incredible recycling program, and everyone in the town finds themselves, at some point, at the dump. All the local politicians, including Ted Kennedy, have been spotted campaigning there — a far cry from our curbside pick-up. Anyhow, I picked up on my daughter’s ongoing interest in throwing balls, bottles, apples, etc. and thought she’d enjoy throwing all of our empty water bottles into a huge wire bin of them. 40 bottles later…
  • Baking with grandma. Play-baking, that is. They made everything from pancakes to apple-vanilla pie to maple syrup cookies. She really loves play-acting, and cooking has been a huge interest.  There’s also an element of organizing and sorting involved (filling bowls and cupcake holders, measuring, etc.), which is an ongoing theme this week.

  • Riding the suitcase. Grabbing on to my suitcase as I pulled it through the airport…just for fun. She’s an adventure-seeker, and will try just about anything.

  • Making up lyrics to familiar songs. For example, “Down by the station, early in the morning…” becomes “Down by the airport, late in the evening….” and the iterations move into “Down by the park…” “Down by the swimming pool…” etc.  I think she has fun inventing songs and pulling her own reality into music. She likes singing, and is otherwise disinterested in music…a future rapper, maybe?
  • Pretending to be a baby. We’re expecting “baby sister” in about six weeks, and for the past couple months N has been saying things to us like, “Mommy, pick up the baby. Feed me milk.”  She also likes to crawl, cry like a baby (in a funny fake “eh, eh” kind of way), and ask us to feed her.  Today she asked me to feed her all of her lunch, and specified that her avocado should be “mashed up” (and this is coming from a kid who can also drink from a regular cup and otherwise wants to do everything by herself!). We picked up a play mat for her baby sister, and she negotiated that she would get to use it until baby sister is born.  Makes me think I should pull out all of the baby stuff ASAP to let her get a good run in before it all becomes someone else’s.

Day 3: Documenting Passion

IMG_4593

Our vacation was supposed to end two days ago, thrown off-track when my husband had to pay a surprise visit to the ER. Thankfully, all turned out okay, but our week moved in an unexpected direction. We’re staying with the grandparents near Boston, and the opportunity in disguise was that N got to attend the Barbie-Mermaid birthday party of two of her favorite 4-year old friends yesterday. Yes, you read that right…Barbies AND Mermaids. Woah! And while cupcakes were not involved, a giant Barbie dress-cake (the dress was green with mermaid scales) played center role, captivating the kids more than any cupcakes I’ve ever seen.  In the afternoon we visited the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, a really unique spot to check out if you’re ever in the Boston area.  I worked there a few years back, and wanted to experience it through my daughter’s eyes.  Sooo, day 3′s observations are somewhat based on a sugar-high birthday party and contemporary art, kid-style.

Day 3: Observations

  • Playing with fake apples: Filling baskets with fake apples, selling them to me and her uncle Chris (and then buying them back), shooting the apples into the basket. (Me: “Mmmm….I’m going to have a bite of this apple.” N: “No, that’s not a real apple. It’s pretend.”  Sheesh, she must think I’m losing my brain!). Note: More sorting, selling, and throwing.

  • Throwing water bottles. Hmmm…she knows we only throw balls, but her shot is soooo good, I had to let this one go for a little while. Note: Throwing AGAIN.
  • Setting up a hospital in her friends’ play room. She set up three strollers with dolls in each of them, found a doctor kit, and proceeded to take everyone’s temperature, blood pressure, and listen to their hearts with the stethoscope. Although she occasionally plays doctor at home, could this be connected to dad’s trip to the hospital yesterday?

  • Tire Rubbings. In the DeCordova’s Process Gallery, I showed her how to make a rubbing of tire tread (a thoughtful hands-on project that connected to the work of Chakaia Booker), and once she figured it out, she made seven rubbings. Seven! We tried doing rubbings at home about a month ago, with little success. Maybe the age and the fun materials played a role in today’s high level of interest.

  • Climbing on “logs” (made of recycled magazines and scraps of wood) in a DeCordova installation by Nadya Volicer. Jumping from one log to another, jumping off logs, building a circuit of log-hopping and repeating it least 10 times. Probably not the artist’s intent, but I doubt two-year olds were the audience she was designing the space for. N also loves taking off her shoes — anywhere — and was thrilled that we were required to take our shoes off to enter the space. Note: She’s been testing her body’s capabilities lately, and has been pushing herself to walk on balance beams, climb just about anything, and jump. Loads of fearless climbing, balancing and jumping.


Day 2 – Documenting Passion

sink icecubes

It’s only Day 2 of the observation project, and I’m surprised that I’m already beginning to see a few patterns in my daughter’s current interests.  When given a large quantity of similar objects such as sea shells or coins, my child loves sorting them into other containers, dropping them back into their original bowl/basket/container, and then sorting them out again.  I first noticed this interest last week when she was filling glasses with ice cubes for over half an hour — an activity that we iterated on by first filling a sink with ice, and then a couple days later asking for cups of ice to pour and play with on a long flight.

The other thing that’s been illuminating about this project is a realization that I can’t completely remove myself from the picture…especially at my child’s very young age. However, I can introduce my daughter to an activity, and then do my best to step back and see what aspects of it she’s most excited about.

Observations from Day 2

  • Filling bowls with rocks: Moving a pile of rocks from a large bowl, and dividing them into smaller containers
  • Filling cups with coins: She found a stack of 10 plastic cups, separated them, laid them out, and then dropped a coin in each one.
  • Floating in the Kayak: Enjoyed getting splashed, loved the bumpy waves. No complaints about getting cold, wet, etc. This follows a long-observed love of water in all forms: swimming pools, jumping in the ocean, etc.
  • Walking on a balance beam. This has been a long favorite, and when she spots any elevated curb, it suddenly becomes a balance beam.
  • Playing with the dollhouse with G-Ma: Play acting bedtime, cooking, climbing up ladders, etc.
  • Throwing things into a basket (diapers, balls, etc.), followed by the exclamation, “I am the best shooter!”

Day One: Documenting Passion

cupcake face

I’m spending the week documenting my child’s interests. Check out yesterday’s post for more information.

Day one

  • Going on stroller rides. My otherwise stroller-hating child has been interested in this since we arrived at the Grandparents’ house.  Here, she’s not only patient with the activity, but she will actually climb into the stroller on her own accord and ASK for a ride. What’s going on with this?
  • Imaginative play with a mini dollhouse. Putting the animals and fairies to bed, feeding them, having them climb ladders, etc.  A great sign, since I recently purchased a dollhouse for her that’s waiting for a remodel and fresh paint in my garage.  It looks like this could be a hit when we reveal it in a few weeks.
  • Reading books: She chooses Going on an airplane and Peg Leg Peke. We’ve been traveling for the past 2 weeks, and I think the first book plays to her fascination with airplane travel and all that’s involved with it.  Up until 2 days ago we’ve also been reading Big Girls Use the Potty, which I think was a hit for similar reasons, but she seems to have tired of it and is enjoying a fresh story. Peg Leg Peke is pretty hilarious.
  • Play-Baking with grandma (cracking eggs is really fun!), playing with egg timers, mixing, setting up meals for teddy and bunny
  • Cupcakes — eating them and pretending to bake them
  • Selling things. Finding objects (i.e. napkin rings) and selling them to family members for “two dollars.” She appears to enjoy the game of exchanging objects for money, and vice versa.
  • Organizing things — putting objects in their places, sorting
  • Cleaning — an ongoing joy of hers. She’s a tidy kid, and likes everything in its place.
  • Throwing a sticky velcro ball to Grandma who was holding a reverse velcro Kadima-like paddle. She loved how the ball would get away from them and roll into the bushes and “brambles.” This activity lasted a good 45 minutes, and could have kept going were it not for lunch.  She actually cried when we tried to pry her away.

Documenting Passion

marshmallows

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

– Samuel Johnson

When I was nine I wanted to learn how to ice-skate — probably not the first thing my parents would have guessed I’d show interest in given my warm-winter Southern California roots — but once I got going, my focus zeroed in on mastering how to reverse directions, skate backwards, and spin. So, I worked hard one summer and practiced my turns over and over again until spinning forward to back became as easy as walking down the street.  And while I’m no elite figure skater, I still adore hitting the rink every winter.

In contrast, I come from a waterlogged family and was a great swimmer as a child.  My good-natured and very generous scuba-loving father saw my talent and signed me up for scuba lessons at the ripe ol’ age of 11 — not my idea — and although I gave it a half-hearted shot, I hated wearing the gear, was bogged down by lessons that lacked spontaneity, and feared the deep-water drills to lift weights from the bottom of the pool.  I still squirm at the claustrophobic thought of donning a wetsuit, weights, BC, and tank.   Lucky for my dad — who still dives every weekend — my little brother and sister followed very closely in his underwater footsteps.

My sister: Now a master diver who’s also working toward her ship captain license

Are you jotting mental notes of your own set of contrasting experiences that circle around following your passions vs. being coaxed into something you demonstrated talent in? While we have the capacity to help children enjoy adult-generated ideas and experiences such as hiking, reading, opera, scuba, or monster trucks, we should also be aware of overcommitting children to activities that aren’t of intrinsic interest.

According to Mitch Resnick, director of MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten (a learning research lab for children), a child’s future success lies in focussing on personal interests and then working hard at getting better at them. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a child is GOOD at something, it does not mean that he or she ENJOYS doing it (think about those piano lessons you took as a kid…or is it just me?).  I was actually a pretty great high school calculus student, but once I got to college the only thing that motivated me to attend my 8 am math requirement was a scooter ride with a cute boy.  Once the pre-rec was out of the way, the boy disappeared and the remainder of my education was 100% social science.  And then, surprise, surprise, as I focused exclusively on my passions: art and design, I connected with my future husband in the Film and Theater department.  It’s funny how these things can happen.

But, this is a story about passion, not romance.  Getting back on track…

In order to learn something new, both children and adults need to be excited about what they’re doing.  Think about how much more information you absorb if you’re invested in a topic or experience.  In an iVillage parenting article on creativity,Resnick says,

“We want people to grow up with a love of learning, where they’re excited about trying new things. If you’re pushing them to work in a regimented way on things they don’t really care about, that’s going to steal that away to the point where they come to see learning as a chore.”

So the question I have is this: How do we determine what our kids are really excited about? They may show an interest in something, but interests can shift as quickly as the weather.

Here’s a thought…

As a graduate student, I was introduced to the idea of documentation in learning environments. While observing children participate in their everyday activities, I would make notes of their behavior, discoveries, interests, questions, and interactions in order to better understand what learning looks like. Following the observation stage, notes would be transcribed and then synthesized for emerging themes and threads of continuity.  Documentation is great because it removes you from making assumptions based on prior understandings and asks you to look objectively at what’s in front of you.

And here’s the plan…

Each day over the course of one week I plan to document my daughter’s passions, asking one simple question:  What does she gravitate toward? After documenting her interests for the week, I’ll synthesize the “data” and follow up with activities that support her interests.

And I’d like to invite you to join me! For one week, pay attention to what your child or children are truly interested in and make some notes.  And then the following week, do at least one thing to support those passions that emerge.  And if you can, keep me posted in the comment section (below) on how it goes.