Forensic Friday: Our Dinosaur Project

It seems ‘world creating’ has become a thing in the EG Lair.

It all started with Sinister building his own terrarium for a school project last term (which he scored 93%… Such a good little evil genius…) – 3 months later and it is still going strong, without any further interaction. Not bad for a 9yo.

This type of experiment started us thinking: “why not incorporate some other real-life elements in our plays?”

And thus the Dinosaur Project began.


The Dinosaur Project

All of our elements were already around the home, but you can pick them up from your nearest shops for a fairly reasonable cost:

  • A large pot
  • Enough soil to fill it
  • One or two plants – we chose two dwarf palms as they look like plants from a prehistoric era, plus they were left-overs from Sinister’s terrarium
  • One large styrofoam cone
  • One plastic container – like a takeaway container
  • A dozen or so small toy dinosaurs
  • Paint – brown, red, and blue

What did we do:

  1. Fill the pot with the soil – ours was already full, but did require some weeding.
  2. Paint the inside of your plastic container blue – you don’t have to but it did add to the aesthetics.
  3. Snap the top off the styrofoam cone. Don’t be too worried about neatness; you want it to be a little rough. You’re painting the sides brown, and the top red – Look! It’s a volcano!
  4. While you wait for the paint to dry, kick in to the gardening with your plants.
  5. Now you can add your volcano and your primordial swamp. I think we can do more with the swamp/lake but we can do that another day. In the meantime… RAWR!!!

Zaltu is loving this little play area. She is really into the role-playing side, but I also noticed how quickly she picked up the carnivore / herbivore discussion we had earlier.

I would consider the Dinosaur Project a success. Now we are thinking of other ‘world creating’ play areas we can make!! 

Any suggestions?

Improv is Resilient

We all want the best for our kids. To be happy; To be smart; To be healthy; To be educated. The latest buzzword in parenting is “resilient”: we all want our kids to survive. Because in life, when you get knocked down, you need to get up again – swinging.

But how do we instill resilience? What’s the magic potion that raises your survival stats +10? The answer may lie in improvisation.

Improv is Resilient.jpg

Image by EG Mum

About a week ago, Professor Johannes Haushofer published online his “CV of Failures”. Essentially, it was a list of all the programs he didn’t get into, the Papers not published, research funding he did not receive. The CV was accepted by most with a sense of relief that hey! Here’s a professor that isn’t perfect and he’s doing okay!

Why was this a big deal? Because he was showing how he had been knocked down – and then got back up again. This is resilience. The ability to see any rejection or failure as a life-lesson, and improve upon it.

And this is where improvisation exercises can really help out.

Improvisation usually comes in two different streams – drama and music. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes they go their own merry way. They both take different approaches in how they are applied, yet still end up at the same destination: Resilience.

To find out the direct influence of improvisation on our brains, researchers Charles Limb and Allen Braun were shoving jazz pianists into an fMRI scanner, measuring the changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain during improvisation.

They learnt that when improvising, the conscious monitoring part of the brain (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is ‘sshhhh-ed‘ while the area for self-expression (medial prefrontal cortex) is woken up. In short, that little voice in your head that criticises you, and tells you to quit, and tells you how everyone is waiting for you to make a mistake: Improvisation tells that voice to shut up.

It happens in athletes too. Research there has shown how constantly working on “muscle memory” often results in choking under pressure.

So I ran this past a friend who is a performing artist AND a music teacher with kids, Helen Perris. Helen had her own anecdotal evidence about improv students showing greater resilience in other aspects of their lives. And while she wasn’t exactly sure whether this was cause or correlation, it was common enough for her to start all the younger students with improv and encourage the creativity with the skill.

brian cox

One more example of how good improvisation is: The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University offers a graduate course on improv to help fresh scientists express their ideas without sounding like a textbook, or essentially a big nerd. I kid you not. The aim is to teach scientists how to open up with their communication and have more confidence in their visions and questions. They are teaching science bros to be even more awesome science bros! Soon the world will be taken over by nerds like Brian Cox… and I am okay with that.

So have I convinced you to jump on my improv train? Well, the first rule of improv is to say yes. And teach your kids to say yes.

Now don’t go crazy on this one. I know we still need to teach them self-awareness and protecting their own interests. I’m talking about saying yes to their own imagination. Saying yes to the creative impulse of their peers.

Kids naturally have this, and yet sometimes it feels like only the people who keep it into adulthood are actors and musicians; The Performers.

So I asked an improv actor about it. I had the opportunity to ask improv extraordinaire Jon Favreau on how he includes improv exercises with his own kids:

Improv is great for kids! It is so natural! In fact, I’m doing exercises with them all the time; the best way is when they don’t realise it’s an ‘exercise’ at all. It’s just a game or a bit of fun you’re having anywhere. Like playing games in the pool.

Jon Favreau 01

Of course, the first games that come to mind are the basic RPG – Jon is a huge D&D fan, and known for bringing a bit of RPG to his productions. Other alternatives are games like Munchkin Quest or Tavern Fame (both are huge favourites in our house).  But if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options.

Lisa (a fellow GeekMom) recently wrote about the importance of “worldplay” for kids; allowing kids the freedom to create their own world and roles, with no limit to their imagination. This is great, but you can make it even better. Get down with them and say “YES” to them. Let them make the rules and keep saying “YES” (so long as they aren’t showing complete psychopathic tendencies).

And it’s not just games. If your kid is feeling a little anxious about something coming up, have them pretend-play to work out their best/worst case scenarios. Help them ‘hear’ their own reactions and plan out subsequent reactions. I know adults who are prepping conversations like this all the time.

Each of these ideas is bringing out the kids’ creativity. It is telling that inner critic to shut up and give them a chance to grow outside the usual social boundaries. This is a good thing. This teaches them there is a world beyond this one event. That the world does not crash and burn if they make a mistake. That if something knocks them down, they will be okay. They will recover. They will get up swinging, and start creating a new world.

They will be resilient. And they will be marvellous.
This was originally posted over at GeekDad/GeekMom 

 

Art of The Brick: DC

There are only a handful of themes which truly stand the test of time. The kind of things shared between generations; dancing across language barriers; appreciated by any child, anywhere, anytime. Lego is definitely one. DC characters are absolutely there. Art is certainly there.

And then whoa! You have someone like Nathan Sawaya combining all three?!? Welcome to the Art of the Brick: DC Comics.

Continue reading