Thursday, April 23, 2009

Traveling solo -- a way to relax

It isn’t often that we get to do whatever we want whenever we want. 40 hours each week are consumed by work, another 10 for the commute, a couple for the gym, a few dozen more for housekeeping and errands, and it often seems like the rest are used when I fall – completely exhausted – into bed just to do it all over again the next week.

This week, however, I went on vacation. Not any old vacation, but a trip totally by myself. I didn’t have to answer to anyone but me. No bosses, no boyfriends, no colleagues, no parents. It’s the first time I’ve ever traveled by myself, and I must say that I feel relaxed in a way that I’m not when I travel with others.

Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling with people. It’s wonderful to experience all the world has to offer with the people closest to you. I wouldn’t trade my adventures with family and friends for anything, but I also underestimated how much fun traveling alone could be. When I booked my trip I needed a break; work was getting a little stressful, home wasn’t a restful place to be, and I had a growing list of things I wanted to do for me that never got any shorter since it was always trumped by staff meetings, oil changes, and laundry.

To get away from it all I ended up in New York City. Since this vacation was to be as stress-free and rejuvenating as possible I didn’t even want to bother with driving or taking a bus; I booked a flight straight to NYC from Boston and never looked back. An hour on the plane and three days and nights in a swanky hotel room near Times Square turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered.

I did all sorts of things that no one would appreciate as much as I did, and that’s the best thing about traveling alone – you don’t have to please anyone but yourself! I stood in line at the TKTS booth to score discounted tickets to Broadway shows, then parked myself in various musical theatres three times in just over 24 hours. I had breakfast in bed. I drank over-priced wine and ate pretzels from street vendors. I wrote for my blogs and read young adult novels (a favorite guilty pleasure). I even trotted my traveling gnome all over the city and took her picture in several hotspots. I didn’t follow an itinerary, just followed my heart (and directions to the Cupcake Cafe).

Bottom line, there’s nothing that can beat a soft bed in a posh hotel room and three days of doing exactly what you want when you want. No one wants too much of a good thing, but I think anyone would benefit from a week of paying attention to herself and doing whatever she wants – bosses, boyfriends, and busy-bodies be damned. It’s great to be away and it’ll be great to go home, but I want to remember what fun I’ve had while I was gone. Maybe I can try to incorporate a little bit more “me time” in the real world too. Hey, there are 168 hours every week; the least I can do is try to reserve a few for me. (Besides, an hour at home with my scrapbook supplies is cheaper than flying off to the city that never sleeps!)

To traveling alone and to living life to the fullest! May each of us be like Willa Cather, who said “I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.” Cheers!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Process vs. Product — Editorializing about children’s creativity

In many educational settings, we find adult-directed art projects for children that focus on a product, rather than the process.

Whether it’s a teacher creating egg-carton caterpillars with his class, a daycare provider making handprint turkeys with her charges, or a mom with a snowflake craft kit after school, the tendency is the same — adult-implemented art projects for children make the projects themselves the primary focus.

When planning art projects for children, we adults must consider what it is that makes art fun in the first place: creativity. We must also remember what we're creating — not handprint turkeys, but well-rounded people.

The theory

While older children may enjoy the structure of a craft kit or a coloring book, children in early childhood (ages 0-6), are learning rapidly and will get more out of open-ended activities. Childcare providers (including parents, teachers, and volunteers) help children learn through play and art activities are a great way to facilitate this learning. Giving children access to art materials helps them express themselves, work on fine motor skills (drawing with a crayon, writing with a pencil), learn important skills for the future (cutting with scissors, communicating with peers and adults). By allowing children to choose their own materials, children are given the opportunity not only to express their feelings but also to learn how to make choices and build plans. Once children choose and use their materials, adults can reinforce their choices with concrete praise. Saying “You were very careful cutting with scissors today!” or “I like the way you used crayons and paint on your paper” gives children a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence that is not earned by hearing an endless string of “good job” or “nice work.” Children who develop this sense of self-confidence are also more willing to take other risks such as trying out new skills like writing, shoe-tying, or hard puzzles.

Putting it into practice

The key to child-centered art isn’t letting the children have a free-for-all with art supplies, but rather building an environment where children feel comfortable creating art. Adults can facilitate art experiences by subtly structuring activities and leaving the participation to the children.

Here are some ways to guide art activities without running the whole process or letting things get too chaotic.

1) Set out a variety of materials. You don’t need to empty an entire supply closet — that would be overwhelming. Instead, try choosing three or four materials and allow the children to choose what they’d like to use and experiment with various methods (cutting and pasting, coloring, painting, etc.).

2) Choose a “theme” by talking to the children about it. Chatting about the weather and asking the kids to create a picture that represents their favorite kind of weather is an open-ended, process-focused way to create art. Giving children cut-outs of clouds and raindrops and telling them to glue them on blue paper is, however, a product-oriented activity.

3) Give the children unusual materials. By giving the kids access to supplies they haven’t used in art projects, you’re giving them the freedom to create. Bring in recycled materials such as paper towel tubes, empty thread spools, or milk cartons and tell the children that they may use the materials in an art project. Or, paint with sponges, pine needles, or toothbrushes. New materials will inspire new ideas for your kids!

4) Create a challenge. By creating a challenge to solve, kids are involved in the process of art, not worried about the final product. Ask the kids “how many shapes do you think we can we cut out and glue to this poster board?” or “What do you think will happen if we mix these different colored paints together?” You can even present a handful of odd supplies (try paper plates, paperclips, and paper cups or ribbon, toilet paper rolls, and empty yogurt containers) and ask the children how they would like to combine the materials in a group art project.


By focusing on the process of creating, learning, and artistic design, we allow children to be who they are and learn at their own pace. When we force kids to confine themselves to our expectations and focus only on a product as the end result we aren’t enabling the kids to be all that they can be. The next time you’re working with children try to brainstorm ways to let the kids go through the process of creation and worry less about the product they end up with.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Felix the Cat

Reuters ran a story yesterday about a 12-year-old Berlin cat named Felix. Felix was found alive and beneath the rubble of a six-story building that collapsed on March 3. Rescue workers were clearing the rubble from the collapse that killed two people when they saw Felix’s tiny paws behind some cinder blocks. Report has it that Felix is in good health and will make a full recovery.

It’s nice to see some good news peeking out of the bad. Since bad news is so often prevalent in the media, I enjoy reading something good for a change, no matter how silly. I must admit that some of the most fun news I read comes from Reuter's Oddly Enough News and the Living section on It brightens my day to read that Clowning around pays off for circus hopefuls or that a Woman finds $357,959 cashier's check and returns it.

So go ahead and peruse some odd news or a favorite blog to get your mind off of the media's spotlighted tragedies. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mighty Michelle

Ivy-league educated. Healthy and in-shape. Style icon. In a loving relationship. Mother of two beautiful girls. On the cover of dozens of magazines one month and in Europe the next. This poised has-it-all-together woman? None other than Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America.

Michelle Obama has impressed me from the very beginning. Politics aside, she’s the kind of person I’d like to have cupcakes and tea with. She just seems like a fun person. She’s the epitome of who I want to see in the White House – graceful, eloquent, and educated, but also realistic, funny, and down-to-earth. She seems equally capable of mingling with foreign dignitaries and joining my family for a barbeque. She also seems as comfortable talking about sociology as she does fashion.

Speaking of fashion, I am enamored with many of the First Lady’s choices. I didn’t grow up watching Jackie O, but I can imagine what it was like. While female pop stars are running around in ripped leggings with diamond-encrusted tops and “it” bags, Michelle is wearing (comparatively) reasonably priced items from White House Black Market and J. Crew.

Make no mistake, Michelle is no frivolous fashionista; there are brains to back up that beauty. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Michelle had several high-profile, intellectual jobs before campaigning for her husband. She’s smart and snappy and an asset to diplomatic relations. On her recent European tour, she seemed equally comfortable with Queen Elizabeth and French school children, and according to a CNN poll, eighty percent of Americans thought that the First Lady strengthened the U.S. image abroad.

All in all, I’ve never really been one to idolize celebrities, but I do respect the life-in-the-limelight that Michelle Obama is living. I love that she’s so classy and yet, so approachable. If I were ever inspired to write a letter to the White House, it’s likely that it would be addressed to Michelle Obama. She gives me hope that her husband’s administration will bring about the promised change, and will look good and sound smart doing it.

Here’s to change, and to Michelle Obama.