Got a minute? Chances are, you don’t. Who doesn’t feel rushed these days? And this is not a new thing. Three decades ago, I was a young elementary school teacher in Upper Arlington when David Elkind, a nationally recognized child development expert and author of The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast and Too Soon, was brought in to speak to the community about the problem of rushing children. Looking back, I don’t think his talk has had much of an effect. In fact, 30 years later, I suspect Dr. Elkind could write another book and call it The Over-Scheduled Adult.
About four years ago the BBC reported on an alarming study done by the United Nations Children’s Fund that used 40 different indicators to rate the well-being of children in the 21 richest countries. “Well-being” was defined as a broad set of measures that included things such as poverty, health care, relationships with other children and adults, etc. The Netherlands and Sweden came out as the highest (#1 and #2) “child-friendly” nations while the United States and the United Kingdom were at the bottom (#20 and #21 respectively). This report led the BBC to ask: “So why are Dutch children so happy, and British children under so much stress?”
Part of the answer, in my opinion, is that children are experiencing too much, too soon, too fast. Speed is the enemy of quality, and over the years has resulted in an erosion of childhood just like good old Dr. Elkind warned us 30 years ago.
If all of this sounds a bit discouraging. I’ve got just the antidote for you. Take a stroll through the Center for Creativity and the Columbus Museum of Art galleries. Occasionally, I use the museum for what I call an “artful loitering tour.” On this self-guided “tour” I simply go to the museum with no specific purpose in mind and wander around to see what strikes me. Something always does. On one of my “tours” last week, I observed a father with his four-year-old son standing in silence gazing at a assemblage of metal objects attached to a magnetized wall in the Wonder Room. They were at the beginning stage of creating a creature of some sort using one of the large metal heads in the room.
After scanning over the objects for some time, the boy excitedly said, “I know, let’s make the eyes with this.” The “this” was a large, single piece of metal with a 30 ml spoon on one end and a 15 ml spoon on the other. As his father watched, the boy attached the measuring spoon to the head. The boy then stepped back, pondered what he had done, and looked somewhat puzzled, noticing that the different sized measuring spoons had made eyes that were not the same size. He then said, “It’s OK, they’re not like my eyes, but we’re making this up, aren’t we Daddy?” To which the father promptly replied, “Yep, we’re dreaming this up together.”
The two of them, together, continued to “dream” and make up various faces. You have to appreciate what they were doing on many levels. They were collaborating, making connections to themselves and the world (i.e. eyes are mostly the same size), using flexible thinking (but eyes don’t have to be!), pondering, reflecting on their work, and formulating plans. Sounds an awful lot like 21st-century thinking skills doesn’t it?
However, what most impressed and inspired me was that they were taking their time. No rush. No preconceived notions of making things the “right” way. They were playing. They were simultaneously engaged and relaxed. Just messing about together. Creating. Learning. Valuing each other and the work they were doing.
No “hurried child.” No over-scheduled adult. I wish Dr. Elkind could have seen it.
Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.
Guest Blogger Fred Burton serves as the Education Scholar At-Large at the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity, and is an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at Ashland University. For the past three years, he has served as a Fellow and faculty member for the Project Zero Classroom Institute in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Currently, his teaching and consultant work centers on the role that creativity, thinking, and the arts play in schools, museums, and business settings.
Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity. Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic. Please share your views and resources with us, as well.