#64. Learn to juggle

IDEA #64. Learn to juggle. You’ve always wanted to, anyhow. Now’s the time. Practice until you are good enough to juggle in a public place.

Like the balancing activity suggested in #56, learning to juggle—an art that is just plain fun to watch as well as fun to perform—is another way into a whole host of parts of the brain: juggling requires close observation, timing, balance, and spatial perception, all at once. Even those with limited dexterity can master basic juggling moves, and there are even juggling kits with instructions intended for “klutzes.”

Getting the skills of juggling down requires practice, practice, practice, and along the way the learner must control impatience or a tendency to give up. The motivation must come from within, and perhaps the learner may find that his or her desire to learn is not commensurate with the time and effort required to succeed; a person cannot be forced to learn to juggle (or to do much else).

But the persistent student will suddenly begin to make two-object and then three-object sequences, and then all the hard work and frustration will pay off. An act that at first requires immense concentration will become almost automatic, with the juggler able to “switch on” the juggling brain more or less at will.

While juggling may please the juggler, he or she will soon learn that the sight of cascading balls or other objects is enormously entertaining to others. If the impetus is there, there are infinite ways in which the art of juggling can be expressed, in the number of objects in the air, say, or the kinds of objects. Street jugglers usually have a patter that they can perform while juggling, even interacting with members of the audience, and then there are always the high-risk juggling objects—knives and torches—that always seem to thrill watchers. (We emphatically do NOT recommend the juggling of dangerous or fragile objects; we are just making an observation on one aspect of the art.) If your municipality allows it, the ambitious young juggler can even try at street performing, under supervision of course. What better way to develop some “street smarts”?

Our Cure for Your “Summer Reading” Dilemma

The Interested Child was born as a list of activities put together by a couple of us working at a school in response to a heated discussion about what to assign for summer reading and how to hold students accountable.

Our thought was, Why not ask kids to have other kinds of learning experiences? Even if we’re not going to “check up on” them, we could just create a menu of ideas that might be fun and interesting–and educational in all the ways that we think are important.

So if your school is about to start the annual discussion of summer reading, or if you’re ready for a change, just download The Interested Child‘s list below and adapt it for your needs.

Or if you are the parent or guardian of an interested child, or if you work with interested children and want some ideas to keep them engaged and learning this summer, the The Interested Child‘s list might give you some inspiration.

You have seen some of these ideas in more detail here, and in the future you will see more of them–but this is the short version, suitable for distribution from your school, library, or organization website–or the front desk..

All we ask is that you mention us if you publish or adapt the document–but spread the word, and share the wealth!


#63. Choose a household chore or responsibility to take on without being reminded or even thanked

IDEA #63. Choose a household chore or responsibility to take on without being reminded or even thanked. This could be some form or repetitive daily drudgery—putting away the clean dishes, walking the dog, folding your own laundry—or it could be an occasional major task that you are willing to monitor and do when it needs to be done, like weeding or replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors. You could take this idea one step further and offer to do these for an elderly or infirm neighbor.

Along with making sure that needed work is done, the development of dependable habits of mind and action is a main goal of assigning household chores. Doing household work without having to be asked or without the expectation of reward is, in many families, not only an obligation of membership but also an important learning experience. If this is already the case in your home, then perhaps adding still another chore to the child’s list is unnecessary, although experience suggests that there is usually time for one more thing and also that an important alternative goal to just getting things done is simply to wean the youngster of the need to be reminded to complete the task.

Whatever chores are assigned, it is important that they be developmentally appropriate and do-able by the child, although the historical experience of farm children suggests that even eight- or nine-year-olds can accomplish almost anything with a bit of instruction. The child who invokes child labor laws as an argument against doing chores should be referred to some of the literature on young workers in nineteenth-century coal mines of factories, an instructive research project that could provide useful perspective on the relative difficulties of cleaning up one’s room or vacuuming the living room as opposed to working twelve-hour shifts underground.

The child who is already an exemplary chore-doer at home might be encouraged to find an opportunity to perform some regular household service for a neighbor or relative in need. Help of this sort is always much appreciated, and the chance to develop a new relationship is itself always a positive learning experience.

#62. Watch “The PBS NewsHour” on your local public television station for entire week. Do you miss the commercials?

IDEA #62. Watch “The PBS NewsHour” on your local public television station for entire week. Do you miss the commercials? Share your thoughts with an interested adult or perhaps your school social studies or history teacher.

There are many positive aspects to engaging with public radio with regard to news and opinion, and the commercial- and sponsor-free national nightly news on the Public Broadcasting System is yet another source of information and ideas. Eschewing sound bites and short clips for extensive reportage on relatively few main stories each evening, “The NewsHour” fills its time slot with thoughtful reports illuminated by expert commentary, often from sages representing several sides of an issue. While a “NewsHour” viewer may not know the latest on the southside warehouse fire or the rollover on the freeway, he or she will likely have watched both Republican and Democratic leaders weigh in on the latest foreign policy proposal or have seen industry spokespeople and environmentalists duke it out on energy issues. Like public radio, PBS news likes to keep the level of discourse high, and full appreciation often presupposes an ongoing knowledge of many issues. Fortunately, this knowledge can be acquired by regular viewing.

Unique to public television news is the absence of commercials. It often comes as a disappointing shock to students to learn that commercial television and radio news are driven, just as entertainment programming is, by the need to keep listeners and viewers from switching the channel—that in a sense, the commercial network news programming is aimed at sustaining viewer interest between commercial breaks, since the sale of commercial minutes to advertisers is what pays the station’s bills. In other words, entertainment decisions determine what is shown on the commercial news and the kind of attention a particular issue receives. By taking a look at commercial-free news, the young viewer can compare the money-making approach with the informational approach.

Here is a great chance for the young viewer to begin a dialogue with a trusted adult about the nature of news and the nature of information in our society. It is hard to imagine an interested family member or teacher not wanting to cheer on any child engaged in this kind of exploration.

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