Too often one hears stories about interesting young children, marked as eccentric, awkward, uncooperative, and/or generally difficult at school, due to boredom, lack of fit with the school environment, or difficulty learning in the manner that the lessons are taught. It is rumored that this was the case for young Einstein. Wouldn’t be wonderful if there were more of us to create communities and school environments, even in small enclaves, where these interesting children can feel embraced and encouraged. Imagine if an “inventive spirit” could be the source of self-esteem and motivation to excel as unique contributors in school. Below are some stories that might remind you of one or two children you know. The names are changed, but the stories are true! Kevin is about 7 years old in these stories, Ben is about 5 years old.
“It was my day as morning recess monitor at my Kevin’s school,” Trish said. “My son’s teacher and I were chatting while watching the children. She mentioned to me that my own son just couldn’t stop talking about the new vandegraaff generator that Dad had ordered for him. He has all the kids excited about it. Apparently it makes the hair stand up on your arm? The next thing I know, I’m canceling my afternoon plans so I can bring in this generator thing for an afternoon classroom demonstration…”
Photo of a Vandegraff Generator, a machine that creates electrostatic energy that raises the hair on one’s arm. Photo reprinted with permission from Ramsey Electronics
Trish Winter tells another story about her son, Kevin: “I was driving along with Kevin, and he said, “Mom, I think there should be a sympathy point.” Trish laughed, “A sympathy point?” Kevin replied, “We have a period to say stop, a comma says pause, an exclamation point for excited, and a question mark to say I’m asking a question. We need a sympathy point to say that we feel bad for someone.” Quite intrigued by this obvious show of inventiveness, the first author asked Kevin later, “What do you think parents and teachers can do to help kids become inventors?” Kevin looked at me quizzically, thought a minute, and replied firmly, “I am an inventor.”
Trish reflected one day, “I get a lot of criticism that my children don’t mind, that I shouldn’t let them question what we say. So often people have hinted that we let our children push the envelope too much. You know, when they are blowing up balloons for a party, next comes the water balloons, then comes filling them up until they burst, then comes throwing the water balloons at the fence…you know, pushing the envelope. Then there’s the pressure to put the kids in summer school. That comes every year rather than our family plans to travel or give them some time off from school. Sometimes it can be tough, trying to create opportunities for them to relax and be themselves.”
Trish recounted this story one day: “I see my youngest son Ben concentrated at the living room table, so I say, ‘Hey Ben, whatcha doin’?’ Focused as ever he doesn’t look up, ‘I’m making a comic strip.’ Then I’m immediately thinking, oh no, did I miss that assignment in his backpack? Really, I say, for a school project? ‘Huh?’ Ben says, ‘ No. I’m doing it just for fun,’ wondering why I’m interrupting him, so I give him some space…but it’s hard to resist because he’s so involved. A while later I hear him giggling, so I hop over and ask, what are you enjoying so much? Ben replies still not looking up, ‘I like making it funny?’ Right, to make people laugh, I say. Ben looks up at me like I’ve really lost it and says, ‘Huh? No! Are you kidding? Funny, so I can laugh.’