A child psychologist’s tips for encouraging kids to be practical dreamers

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

You’d be hard pressed to find the parent who says, “I want to squash my kids’ dreams every way I can!”

Every dad and mom worth his or her salt wants their children to grow up creative, stimulated, and dreaming big, and they make every effort to encourage these traits. But at Idealist, we’re all about good things getting even better, so we asked child and family psychologist Aparna Sampat for her tips on encouraging kids to imagine without borders.

Here are three zingers we pulled from our interview, straight from the doc herself:

1) Ask, don’t tell.

When young kids are drawing or coloring, they usually start out with everyday sights: say a tree or a house. But if the tree is round or the house doesn’t have windows or doors, a common reaction from parents is, ‘Oh honey, that’s not how you draw a house/tree. Let me show you,’ and they proceed to draw it the ‘correct’ way. This can really stifle creativity; it makes kids think things have to look a certain way to be ‘right.’

So instead of correcting them, try asking questions. ‘Oh, you drew a tree? Tell me about it. Does it have leaves? No? Okay, cool, a tree without leaves. Would a bird like this tree?’

Provocation will make them imagine more, and having to explain their design will get them to think more about its form and function.

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If you can’t quite tell what’s going on in Junior’s picture, try asking him to explain it.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

2) Couches are for sitting?

I was in a family’s living room once and their two young boys were wreaking havoc on the couch—pretending it was a pirate ship and jumping on and off. The mom became irritated and concerned that they’d damage the furniture or the floor, so she admonished them: ‘Couches are not for jumping; couches are for sitting.’

While I sympathized with the mother’s concerns, I had to think: are these kid ever going to be able to see things outside the box? Where will they be able to exercise their imaginations? They’re at the age when we develop a sense that multiple perspectives exist and not everyone is thinking what we’re thinking—when a banana can become a phone, etc.

The problem for the mom in this case was not that her boys were being imaginative, but that they might be destructive—yet that wasn’t the problem she addressed when she disciplined them. She could have explained the actual issue and given them a choice between playing more gently on the couch or picking another place to play—without so narrowly defining what household objects are ‘for.’

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There are lots of “right” ways to sit on couches.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

3) Use your words.

On the street once, I saw a boy who clearly wanted to get a hold of his dad’s cell phone. The dad took a moment to retrieve it from his pocket, and the boy swatted his hand with impatience. In response, the dad swatted the kid’s hand back! The message he sent there was: when you’re frustrated, it’s okay to lash out instead of crafting a productive reply.

To encourage his son to build his powers of creative communication, the dad could have said, ‘Whoa! Are you frustrated? Did you want this phone sooner than I could give it to you? Tell me how you’re feeling.’ Even if the child just nods in reply, that exchange is a good way to demonstrate how clear, calm communication can help solve problems, but that it does take practice.

When we act out physically instead of taking the time to think about and articulate our problems, we blunt our creativity and put up a wall between ourselves and others. The self-expression that kids—and all of us—can cultivate through our words is usually a more useful tool than an open palm.

 

Sampat sums it all up by saying, “Kids’ minds start out boundless. They don’t impose limits, even unintentionally. So all we have to do is not shut them down.”

“Just think: what would my kids be creating right now if they didn’t think they could do wrong?”

How do you encourage the kids in your life to be practical dreamers? Tell us in the comments.

Dr. Aparna Sampat is a licensed psychologist who works with children, adolescents, young adults, and families in New York City. She can be reached at asampatphd@gmail.com.

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It’s not all bad: 3 uplifting blogs about family

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

Families are nothing but trouble.

I think this is the conclusion you’d have to come to if you were a visitor from Mars and wanted to cobble together an idea of what “family” means. If you took even the most cursory survey of the United States’ cultural output—from the the Kardashians and Hiltons in tabloids, to the good-but-depressing literature of Shirley Jackson and Jonathan Franzen, to TV talk show hosts from Donahue to Ricki Lake—it would be hard not to arrive at the notion that families are the root of all our problems, cause us nothing but consternation, and are often best escaped from.

With this static always in the air, I think I felt a bit like a visitor from Mars a few months ago, when I stumbled on a blog written by a guy who actually seems to enjoy his family life—and enough to write about it! With sincerity and humor! I pinched myself.

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(image via The Art of Manliness)

I subsequently got lost in The Art of Manliness’s “Relationships & Family” section for a while, fascinated by posts like:

Seeing a guy so psyched about his family that he feels compelled to spend a lot of his time writing a good-quality blog about it gives me palpably more hope for our collective future.

Another feel-good read I tripped on was a short post by The Healthy and Fit Homeschool Mom, entitled “Breakfast for a Hardworking Man”:

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(image via The Healthy & Fit Homeschool Mom)

When was the last time you read something as sweet as this?

The author elaborates a little more on her family’s simple but affectionate breakfast rituals, but the sentiment is well summed up in these three lines left by a commenter: “When I was a kid my dad left work at 5:00 am. My mom was up with him and made him a hot breakfast, just like she did us before school. It was such obvious sacrificial love.”

Are you trying to make me cry??

I’ll just share one more, which is a triumph of a bit different sort.

Jen Bauer blogs about life with her partner Kendra and their three children on Adventurous Moms. While it’s not all fun and games (there are definitely posts about life under DOMA, conception difficulties, and the legally-necessary act of adopting her own daughter), Jen’s chronicles are largely expressions of biophiliac enthusiasm about life with her family.

Take this recent snippet from the Outdoor Adventures tab:

Snow

(image via Adventurous Moms)

Here in New York City, we’ve been decrying this winter’s dumps of frozen detritus—but Jen and company are turning snowflakes into lemonade and choosing to tromp around all joyfully in it together. I, for one, could take a lesson.

Well, there you go. Three top-notch blogs to make even the most jaded and curmudgeonly among us remember that there can be a lot more to family than arguments, grudges, and annoying holiday travel.

There can also be radiant, irrepressible, joyous love.

Tell us why your family’s not a bummer!

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What Idealist founder Ami Dar learned from his mom

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

Idealist founder Ami Dar is a pretty special guy.

Israeli-born and raised in Mexico, he backpacked through South America as a young man with an idea reverberating in his mind: what if there were a global network that could help connect people and organizations, so we could do more with all the resources we have?

As soon as the Internet was ready, Idealist was born.

Now, as we get ready to launch a new global network on March 11 (when you can see Ami for yourself in a live presentation he’s making to the world), we’d like to revisit a commencement speech he gave at the City University of New York a few years back.

Guess where a lot of his big ideas and values came from? His mama.

“My mom taught me a few important things through her words but mainly through example… Keep fighting, cut through all those fears, treat each other well, and never stop laughing.”

Here’s to all the mothers out there who are leading the world with persistence, love, and strength.

What did your mama teach you? Enlighten us in the comments.

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Photo album: A love letter to the human body

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

For many, the Winter Games are a celebration of national pride and the triumphs of the human spirit. But this Valentine’s Day, we’re also thinking of the Olympics as a love letter to the human body.

How flawlessly can we twist on skates mid-air? How fast can we propel ourselves across a stretch of snow? What’s physically possible for us to achieve, and what form does this perfection take?

New York-based photographer Howard Schatz took on the latter question in his 2002 photography book Athlete, a collaboration with his creative partner and wife Beverly Ornstein. By photographing 125 Olympic athletes, they revealed an incredible diversity of shapes and sizes among our world’s champions.

Juxtaposing wiry with stocky, tall with short, male with female, the series lovingly disproves the notion that an “athletic” body should look one particular way.

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Photography by Howard Schatz

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Photography by Howard Schatz

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Photography by Howard Schatz

And all together…

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Photography by Howard Schatz

[photography by Howard Schatz, enlargements via reddit]

Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day, the Olympics, or another occasion altogether, how did you show love this week?

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The Art Shanty Project creates a dreamy village on a frozen lake

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Not your typical ice fishing hut.
[image via Art Shanty Project Facebook]

When winter comes to Minnesota and encases the lakes with a thick layer of ice, you start to see little shacks popping up. Just one or two at first, and then by the dozen, the small wooden or fiberglass houses line up in tidy rows out on the lakes.

“Ice fishing shanties are really like this whole other kind of village. They’re created to be temporary and unstructured, but together they really become a whole community,” explains Melinda Childs, Executive Director of The Art Shanty Project.

“We wondered what would happen if we applied an artistic lens to this kind of temporary public space.”

A far cry from the walleye jigging and beer sipping typically associated with ice houses, The Art Shanty Project, a nonprofit organization, commissions local artists to build mini art shacks and interactive gallery spaces out on the ice.

Designed to bring people together and get them thinking about art, the shanties are a one-of-a-kind artist-driven community that’s different each year—adding a little bit of Burning Man to what is usually just Grumpy Old Men.

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The Art Shanty dance troupe spells it out!
[image via Art Shanty Project Facebook]

In operation since 2006, The Art Shanty Project sets up camp on the surface of one frozen lake in the Twin Cities metro area and is free and open to the public every weekend in February until the 23rd.

This year it’s on White Bear Lake, a northern suburb of Saint Paul, and features 20 unique structures each with a different theme.

The lineup includes an elevator shanty that simulates the sensory experience of riding in an elevator, a sunrise shanty where dawn breaks every 30 minutes, a dance shanty heated completely from bodies in motion, a shanty where people can brush up on their curling techniques, and a gallery where people can encase small treasures like keys and rings in tiny blocks of ice.

There’s also a giant bicycle-powered polar bear puppet that leads a ‘sparkle parade.’

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Seriously.
[image via Art Shanty Project Facebook]

“We encourage the artists in each of the shanties to have an interactive element. There are also performances out on the lake. In the case of the sparkle parade, led by the polar bear bicycle, they’ve been encouraging people in the community to make costumes and there will be a participant parade through the village,” Melinda says.

With temperatures dropping well below zero for a good portion of the winter, the public is primed for a little pick-me-up. This year, Art Shanties is expecting over 20,000 visitors.

“Art Shanties is a creative way that winter can be fun because you can build community, you can participate in the arts, you can be physically active,” Melinda says. “It’s really about embracing winter.”

See more images of this year’s Art Shanties here or make a donation to help keep them on the ice.

What’s your favorite community-building way to “embrace winter”?

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Chiditarod: America’s coolest food drive / shopping cart race?

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

If you’re like me, you’ve been looking for most of your life for a combination charity food drive, beauty pageant, costumed shopping cart race, pub crawl, talent show, nonprofit fundraiser, and (most importantly?) chaos generator.

Luckily, the Chiditarod is here to answer our call.

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Chiditarod competitors get down in 2013
(image via Chiditarod Facebook)

In the grand traditions of the original Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska—and the urban genre-founding San Francisco Urban Iditarod and New York City Idiotarod—Chicago (get it? Chi-ditarod?) started their own race in 2006 and has since become a strong presence on the now-nationwide annual urban Iditarod scene.

How do they stay so strong?

  • A winning premise. At its heart, the Chiditarod is a costumed shopping cart race through two Chicago neighborhoods, scheduled to coincide with the kickoff of the actual Iditarod. Teams of (human) participants roll decorated carts filled with 60-plus pounds of food for donation through the streets for up to five miles—rain or shine—and encounter checkpoints, contests, bribe-happy judges, and sometimes friendly sabotage attempts along the way.
  • Some great add-ons. The Chiditarod tradition has grown to include such additional highlights as a t-shirt, patch, and poster design contest; companion bowling fundraiser event called the ChiditaBowl; and a summertime Kiditarod for the little ones.
  • A very worthy cause. By encouraging its community to donate food and cash beyond the outlays required to participate in the race, the Chiditarod (itself a nonprofit organization) has donated over 80,000 pounds of food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and $40,000 to organizations that provide immediate hunger relief or work for food justice.

This year’s Chiditarod is on March 1. Ladies and gentlemen, start your carts.

Chiditarod registration closes this Saturday, February 15. If you’re in the Chi-Town area and want to sign up, or if you just want to read more about the event’s history and gawk at some funny photos, hit up their website.

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Meet 3 winter athletes who defy convention (and get bonus points for style)

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

Stereotype: Jocks are boring.

Broken by: Hubertus von Hohenlohe, wacky Mexican ski rock star

Hubertus von Hohenlohe gets a gold metal in awesome.

A world-class photographer, pop star, and (incidentally) German prince, he’s also a six-time Olympian in men’s Alpine skiing, and the only athlete representing Mexico in the winter games. And he’s 55 years old.

“We (in Mexico) are 100 million people and the only chance we have (of winning a medal) is up to me, but we don’t have to look at it like that. You have to see it as I’m an ambassador of this country, an ambassador with style and a human force that goes beyond the result,” Hubertus says in this interview for CNNMexico.

To represent Mexico, Hubertus has opted to compete while wearing a special Spandex ski suit patterned after the traditional dress of Mariachi musicians.

By raising some eyebrows this time around, he’s hoping to raise the profile of Mexican athletes in future Olympic games.

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What a “style ambassador” wears to compete in the Olympics.

 

Stereotype: You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

Broken by: Jacki Munzel, 50-year-old speed skating powerhouse

Four years ago, Jacki Munzel was watching the Winter Olympics on TV with her daughter.

“We looked up at the TV and speed skating was on… She said, ‘You could try speed skating.’ And something inside of me, that fire from within, it grew and I was like, ‘Yeah, I could do that’,” Munzel said in this KSL interview.

Jacki had never speed skated before she made the decision to start training for the 2014 Olympics, though she wasn’t totally starting from scratch.

A professional power skating coach who trains NHL players, Munzel has been ice skating her whole life. In 1984, she even qualified to go to the Olympics for figure skating. But tragically, when a life-threatening eating disorder took her off the ice for those games, Munzel put her Olympic dreams to rest.

Then, thirty years later, after much training and re-training, Jacki ranked in the top ten for speed skating nationals and beat her personal best by 15 seconds in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Although her time wasn’t fast enough to get her to Sochi this year, her story proves that, well, there’s always 2018.

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Jacki was a fierce competitor against speed skaters younger than her children.

 

Stereotype: Girls aren’t strong enough to ski jump.

Broken by: Lindsay Van, Jessica Jerome, and women athletes the world over

For the first time EVER, women will be allowed to compete in ski jumping at this year’s Winter Games.

This is partially a result of the efforts of two U.S. women skiers, Lindsay Van and Jessica Jerome, who spoke out about the injustice of being excluded again and again by suing the Vancouver organizing committee for gender-based discrimination in 2010.

“I didn’t do it to prove anything, but people needed to see that women in this sport are capable of jumping really far, and we’re capable of having our own event,” Van said for NBC Olympics.

The lawsuit raised enough attention that in April 2011, women’s ski jumping was approved as an official event for the Sochi Games.

We’ll be cheering for all of the women ski jumpers who compete this year as they soar through the air like magnificent Valkyries!

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Lindsay Van flies the length of 1.5 football fields, NBD.
[image via Sparknotes]

What inspiring, kooky, or otherwise amazing athletes are you rooting for this winter?

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The Olympics are about collaboration as much as competition

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

When you think of the Olympics, you probably don’t think of international collaboration. In fact, many of the most famous moments from past Olympic Games are competitive struggles between two nations.

However, the Olympics would never be possible without an impressive effort by each country involved to set aside their differences and come together for two weeks every four years.

This year, the Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi, Russia. Amidst the controversy surrounding the current games, it’s easy to forget that multiple Olympics have been boycotted for various reasons. In recent history, the United States and its allies boycotted the 1980 Olympics held by the Soviet Union, while the Soviet Union and its allies returned the favor when Los Angeles played host in 1984.

Adorable bear mascot or not, Jimmy Carter definitely boycotted the 1980 summer games in Moscow because of US/Soviet relations.

Adorable bear mascot or not, Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 summer games in Moscow due to poor U.S.-Soviet relations. (image vis Dmitri Melnik/Shutterstock)

In short, it takes a massive amount of compromise, understanding, and cooperation to host the Olympics, and we at Idealist would like to celebrate Russia for taking on the task. Yet we know this endeavor is just one collaboration taking place between our two former-enemy countries every day, and we thought we’d take this opportunity to highlight another excellent example that’s about to get underway.

The National Centre for Contemporary Arts (NCCA) is a combination museum, exhibition space, and research organization based in Moscow. It was established in 1992, around the same time the Russian Federation was created from the fall of the Soviet Union. Its mission is to aid the development of contemporary Russian art within a global context.

To do this, the NCCA often partners with arts organizations from other countries. On February 23rd, the last day of the Olympics, the NCCA will welcome the venerable experimental, collaborative new music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars to Moscow. These visitors from New York City will participate in a five-day residency with 11 Russian artists in a partnership they’re calling the Bang on a Can Institute. If you’re in the Moscow area around the end of this month, you can check out one of the group’s performances.

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Experimental music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars will be welcomed to Moscow for a five-day residency immediately following the Olympics. [image via Stereogum]

By entering into this collaboration, all the musicians involved will learn something new and have an opportunity to expand their knowledge of their craft. Just think of the many other masterful musical collaborations that have taken place through the ages (particularly in the 1980’s)! Of course, regardless of what these musicians compose together, the cultural interchange will be worth the effort.

So when you’re watching the Olympics over the next two weeks, remember that the games aren’t just about getting a gold medal. They’re also about international unity, and about the hope that we can create a better world by interacting with and learning from people that come from different nations and cultures.

And, of course, they’re about curling.

What are some of your favorite international collaborations?

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People in the Global South are wearing impossible t-shirts

Following last Sunday’s punishing Super Bowl, we came across this interesting Mental Floss article that gave us pause. It begins:

After a Big Game in any sport, fans and players are going to be clamoring for commemorative merchandise, often just minutes after the game ends. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening “We’re #1″ euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of t-shirts, hats and other merchandise, declaring each team the champ.

Huh! So that means the world is now in possession of a great grip of “Broncos: Super Bowl XLVIII Champs”-printed textiles, yeah? What on earth can be done with them?!

Apparently, until 1996, the suckers were just incinerated. What a waste! But since then, the nonprofit World Vision has been collecting and distributing the swag to less affluent people overseas.

This interesting infographic tells the tale:

nfl infographic updated1 Where Does The Merchandise Go From Losing Super Bowl Teams? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Interesting infographic courtesy of Blue Soda Promo

The recycling/waste-not-want-not aspect of this strikes us as pretty cool, but it’s also a bit weird, isn’t it? Or at least a bit surreal. All over the world, every year, more and more people are wearing clothes that appear to be commemorating major American sporting events—but they’re all completely fictional.

What’s your take on all this? Tell us in the comments.

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A month after the bombshell interview, Laverne Cox’s idea is still amazing

At Idealist, we love good ideas of all kinds, but especially those that turn commonly-accepted notions on their heads, get us to confront our beliefs, and (maybe) stir up a little trouble. To honor ideas brave and bold, and inspired by Sydney, Australia’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, we welcome you to Idealist in Action’s Dangerous Ideas Week.

Today’s inspiration: actress and activist Laverne Cox.

Photo credit: ABC/Disney

Carrera and Cox deflected awkward questions and drew attention to the violence and injustice facing the trans community.
(photo credit: ABC/Disney)

Last month, Laverne Cox appeared alongside model Carmen Carrera on Katie Couric’s daytime TV talk show Katie. During what was meant to be a special show to raise awareness about issues facing transgender individuals, both women ended up facing a series of awkward and personal questions about their bodies.

Which they rebuffed in a super-classy way.

The interview has made its way around the internet because both women totally schooled Couric on how to respectfully talk to (and interview) trans people, which was pretty amazing to hear.

While the entire interview is inspiring, one of the most striking moments is when Couric asks Cox about whether or not she considers herself a role model. In her response, Cox coins a fantastic new term more of us should start employing:

I would never be so arrogant to think that someone should model their lives after me, but the idea of possibility. The idea that I get to live my dreams out in public hopefully will show other folks that that is possible. And so I prefer the term ‘possibility model’ to ‘role model.’

Thank you, Laverne, for changing the conversation from what we should be, to what we could be.

Also worth watching is Cox’s recent keynote address at the Creating Change 2014 conference earlier this week.

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