A Playful Spirit

When I was a kid my parents were always saying to me, “Why don’t you go outside and play?”  And we did!  My sister and I would climb on our jungle gym, swing, ride bikes, and do gymnastics in the yard.  Even in the winter we would play.  We regularly turned our basement into a scene from “The Little House on the Prairie” complete with blankets wrapped around our waists to simulate the long skirts.  I know that I watched TV daily, but play was also a central part of my life.

We live in a time that offers very few opportunities for free, imaginative play.  When my students used to write about what they did over the weekend, most of the time their answers include playing video games, or watching TV shows and movies.  Even when I would probe to see if they were just forgetting about the other things they did, I often found no time in their day where they simply played.  This is certainly true in schools.  With high stakes testing, and competition among schools and districts, play is definitely being pushed to the side.

Yet brain research tells us that play is not only good for us, but many play-oriented movements have the capacity to improve cognition. Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, says that

dance, puzzles, stretching, building with blocks, make-believe, drama and even walking are just a few examples of play. There are many reasons why play and physical activity are essential for the brain. It allows children to make mistakes without “lethal” consequences (with far less embarrassment and more fun than in a traditional classroom setting).  It improves the ability to handle stress by “training” the body to recover faster from the quick surges of adrenaline associated with demanding physical activity…and classroom environments.  It triggers the release of BDNK, which is natural substance enhances cognition by boosting the neurons’ ability to communicate with one another.  It can enhance social skills, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution ability.

One of my professors used to say that play is essential to the development of the frontal lobe, which is our decision making center.  The frontal lobe continues to develop until around age 20, and yet play is often frowned upon after early childhood.  So remember that some time today, you all have my permission to PLAY! No matter how old you are!


Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner says people have multiple forms of intelligence. He identifies eight: linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Gardner is still considering a ninth, or existential intelligence (the intelligence of “big questions”), but has not, as yet, added it. You can learn more about the multiple intelligences and take a quick quiz to see which intelligences are your strongest here.

Gardner says an intelligence is the capacity to process a certain kind of information. To be considered as an intelligence Gardner looks at 3 things.  He says that an intelligence entails the ability to solve problems, or fashion a product, that have meaning to a culture or community.  Each intelligence must have an identifiable core operation or set of operations.  And an intelligence must have a symbol system, or a way to convey meaning.

As people, we are not limited to one kind of intelligence.  Everyone has the ability to process information using all of the intelligences, but most people tend to be stronger in only a few of the intelligences.  Schools privilege those who have strong linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, which makes school difficult for the many among us who exhibit somewhat different intellectual profiles.

So what does this have to do with spirituality? I believe that we can use spiritual practices and family devotions that utilize various forms of intelligence. This allows us as parents, and church families, the opportunity to develop parts of the brain that don’t get as much focus in school.  

Linguistic Intelligence ~ Much of what we do when studying scripture involves the linguistic intelligence. Any time our activity focuses on story and words we are taping into linguistic intelligence.

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence~ I’m still working on how to apply this one to spirituality. If you have any ideas I’d LOVE to hear them! This intelligence does receive a heavy focus in school so I know your children are not missing out! UPDATE: A reader commented that stewardship is the perfect application for Logical/Mathematical Intelligence. Can’t believe that didn’t occur to me! 🙂

Musical Intelligence ~ If you’ve been following my Childhood Spirituality for very long you know that I like to incorporate music into my scripture lessons whenever possible. Maybe this is because the Musical Intelligence is one of my strongest. 🙂

Spatial Intelligence ~ There are many ways to incorporate art into prayer practices! I’ve only begun to touch on this subject, but I have many more ideas to come!

Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence ~ Many people don’t think of physical activity of a way to connect with God, but it definitely can be!

Interpersonal Intelligence ~ When you are able to understand and relate to other people you are using your interpersonal intelligence. Any time you participate in a family devotion you are teaching your children how to relate with other people.

Intrapersonal Intelligence ~ Intrapersonal Intelligence is an awareness of one’s own self. It involves the ability to be self reflective. Intrapersonal intellignece is the easiest intellignece to connect with spiritual practices.

Naturalistic Intelligence ~ Another easy intelligence to connect to spiritual practices is the naturalistic intelligence. Nature is simply a great place to feel connected to God!

Existential Intelligence ~ Gardner may not have determined “the big questions” as an intelligence yet, but I certainly think it is! And this intelligence is exactly what we are all trying to develop in our children!

It is highly likely that you will connect to one practice more than others, possibly due to which intelligence is your strength. And it’s likely that your children will like one type of activity more than another. But it’s good to offer opportunities to experience God in a variety of ways so that each person in our family is able to connect with God!


Children’s Sabbath 2011

Forgive the poor quality of this image. It's a photograph of a newspaper article. Sadly, it's one of the few photos I have of myself in my classroom.

This weekend we observe Children’s Sabbath. The Children’s Defense Fund says, “this year Children’s Sabbath will focus on the closing the achievement gap in education that currently has children in poverty and children of color falling further and further behind, and ensuring that education becomes the engine of equality, not inequality. The level of educational achievement is the best predictor of future income; ensuring that every child gets a high quality education is the best poverty-prevention program we have.” Having spent 12 years teaching in a school with a very high poverty level this topic is close to my heart.

Here are a few stats for you from the State of America’s Children report done by the Children’s Defense Fund in 2010.

  • The annual cost of child care for a 4-year-old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
  • In 20 states, a family must have an income that is below 175 percent of the poverty level to receive a public child care subsidy.
  • Only 8 states and the District of Columbia require 5-year-olds to be enrolled in school.
  • The U.S. spends almost three times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.
  • 46% of Black high school students, 39% of Hispanic and 11% of White students attend the 2,000 “drop-out factories” across our country, where less than 60% of the freshman class will graduate in four years with a regular diploma.

Staggering numbers, aren’t they? How many of you, when you think of Children’s Sabbath and helping the needy children of the world picture, in our minds eye, the starving children of Africa? Often, I think, we believe the problems are “out there” in some far away unreachable place. But the reality is, they are right here in our own backyard.

So what can we do? First I think we need to educate ourselves. One great way to start is to watch the movie “Waiting for Superman” Take a peek at the trailer…Waiting for Superman Trailer. Then we need to find ways to support the schools and teachers in our own cities. There are great resources on WaitingforSuperman.com

What can you do today to change not only the life of your own child, but also the life of a child in need?


Why Don’t My Children Just Listen?!?

We’ve all been there, right? Frustrated because you’ve told your child something 100 times and they still don’t do it…or even remember hearing it! I’ve even been known to say things like, “I’m not talking just because I like the sound of my voice!” And when your kids don’t listen to you about things like not running in the house, or putting their laundry away we start to wonder…are they listening to anything I’m trying to teach them?

I saw this information in a presentation about brain research a few years back. It shows the average retention rate after 24 hours of learning new information.

After 24 hours of hearing a lecture people retain approximately 5% of what they heard. Think college…how many of us can recite from memory one of our professor’s lectures? I don’t remember a whole lecture but I do remember one quote. I had a college professor that used to say, “If teaching were the same as telling, thing how smart we’d all be!” How true!

Which means if you spend 30 minutes lecturing your kid, they are going to come away remembering about 1.5 min of what you said. And you don’t get to choose which 1.5 min they will remember. That must be why I feel like my kids are never listening to me! 🙂

If you read new information you retain about 10%. Audio visuals, like Powerpoint presentations, bring you up to 20%. If you can throw in a demonstration you bring the retention rate up to 30%. Still not great numbers.

Here is where things start to get good. Allowing the opportunity for discussion brings retention up to 50%. If you get to practice the activity by doing it yourself you retain 75% and if you go share what you learned with someone else you retain 90% of what you learned!

Can you imagine how powerful that makes a family devotion?!? When you provide space for your family to openly discuss their thoughts and beliefs about God you strengthen your children’s connection to their faith. When you spend time together with activities such as “Doing the Scripture” or using prayer practices you give your children the practice they need to make this connection a life long habit. And when you share your story with others and see your children doing the same you know that the most important message you are trying to impart has become internalized in them.

So if you take nothing else away from this post (since I know you will only retain about 10%), remember this…

Your children are listening! And when you take time to connect with God as a family you are teaching them lessons they will remember forever!


Brain Based Spirituality

I took a class in college, and again in Grad school that talked about brain based learning.  Now my witty father would say, “Isn’t all learning brain based?” Yes all learning involves the brain! But the idea of brain based learning is that you take what has been learned in the field of neurology and you keep those things in mind as you teach, so that you can help students have maximum retention. Now I want to state for the record that I am not a neurologist, or even an expert in brain based learning. But I find the field fascinating!

 Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Revised 2nd Edition
says, “One of the most amazing discoveries in brain research might be that human beings have the capacity and the choice to be able to change our own brains.  Because humans have so much uncommitted brain tissue at birth, our brains have an extraordinary opportunity to become customized by our life experiences.  Put another way when you are born the human brain has a great deal of uncommitted “real estate.” Throughout life, your brain is losing connections at the same time it is creating new connections.  What’s truly amazing is that this constant reorganization of the brain is always purposeful—driven not by a mysterious signal but by real-life use and disuse.”

That must be why algebra is totally gone for me. My brain has definitely let go of those connections!

Jensen goes on to say, “The competition concept is simple: whatever is first, whatever activities are more frequent, and whatever actions are more coherent will “win” the competition for network wiring and signal the brain to give space and resources to that set of behaviors.  Weak, rarely active synapses are eliminated.  Everything the child doesn’t do sends a message to the brain, “You may not need these connections; it’s okay to pull back on resources in this area.  Something more important is going on elsewhere.”

When I learned that piece of information I started thinking about my own boys. Knowing that humans have the capacity to change their own brains, and that whatever is most frequent will win space, I started wondering what was winning space in their lives. Right now Jake and the Neverland Pirates would be a big one for both of my children, but they also love stories and music and sports. All of those things are great, even Jake, and worthy of mental real estate. Yet I began to realize that, as a parent, I had an opportunity to buy up some of that uncommitted real estate with topics I think will be important in their lives. I want values, and the messages of our faith community to be imbedded in their minds. I want the spiritual world to have meaning for them.

The greater the number of links and associations that our brain creates, the more neural territories involved and the more firmly the information is woven neurologically.

Think of the power of that! That’s what I want for my children. I want the spiritual side of life to be so connected in my boys’ minds that it is literally woven into their brains. I want those thoughts to be the first thing that pops into their minds when they are making behavior and life choices. And because we know that humans have the ability to map out their own brain, we can buy up some “real estate” for God.

I believe that is exactly what a regular family devotion provides. Time together to open the door to communication with your children, share your beliefs with them and allow them to share theirs with you. To build those associations and connections to the story of God. That dialog is such a gift, and I’m guessing your experience will be much like mine.  I started this journey because I wanted more for my children, but what I have found is that my own spiritual life has been deeply blessed by the process.

So tell me, how does your family build those connections? What are you doing that’s working? What areas would you like to do better? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear all about your experience!


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