This Is The Most Fun I Have Ever Had

by Mary Ann on May 22, 2010

This is going to be a two part blog. The experience I want to share demonstrates two important ideas. Over the last two weeks my oldest daughter has built the most beautiful, little raised garden bed by her back gate. It was just a dirt pile that the doges had been digging in for years. It was very unsightly. So this year she determined to create something in that space.

The bed is about 5 feet by 3 feet. She had to figure out how to measure and cut the wood. Then she had to decide how to hold the pieces together. After the bed was made and filled with soil she marked it off in one foot squares and built a wonderful fence to keep the dogs out. She planted lots of herbs, tomatoes and peas for the kids to eat. She planted a watermelon and a pumpkin and then figured out how to trellis them so they will grow up. She added a metal baby robin and a fairy statue. Just looking at that orderly spot of green is restful and joyful!

She said, “It took me two weeks to do a one day project”. That was because she is a mother of three children under the age of four and one has cerebral palsy. It was a bit frustrating. Yet despite the frustration over how long it took to complete the project she said, “While I was building it, it was exhilarating. It was so exciting and rejuvenating”. Building that garden gave her a wonderful sense of “this is the most fun thing I have ever done!”

After the garden was done she built a walk way of bricks from the gate to the patio, just a short distance. She said that the feeling she had was that she wanted to get it done before her husband came home because she didn’t want the fun to be taken out of it by being criticized or told how to do it. She wanted to do it herself.

My daughter was a bit taken back by the absolute joy and desire to figure it out herself that she was experiencing while building this garden and walk way. She thought a lot about it and realized that she could only remember one other time when she had felt this particular sensation. As she retold the experience to me I remembered it vividly.

She was about 4 years old and she found two pieces of wood on the front porch. She decided to make a plane. So she asked for her snow pants because every builder needs overalls. Right! She wanted a hammer and nails. Then she proceeded to make that plane. I didn’t help her at all. She did the whole thing. I think I did suggest that she paint it which she did. It didn’t really look like a plane, just two sticks nailed into a T. She thought it was grand! I didn’t think anything about it at the time. I didn’t know how thrilled she felt, how exhilarated. I am glad I didn’t take that away by telling her she was too little to use a hammer or by helping her do a “good” job or by hovering just to make sure everything was ok.

Have you ever engaged in a project that took a long time? Maybe you could only work on it in bits and smatters. Maybe it was hard and you had to learn as you went. Maybe you made a lot of mistakes and had to fix them but as you were building, crafting, cooking or whatever it was, you were just thrilled to be doing it. Working on that project made you excited and you couldn’t wait to get back to it.

When your children are working on items from your Spark Station that is how you want them to feel. You want them to frequently say and feel that “this is the most fun thing I have ever done!” There are some elements that have to be present for this type of feeling to be generated.

It is vital to remember the Five Rules of Engagement. Rule one is to structure time, not content and to be consistent. There needs to be enough time set aside to work on something, to learn about new things. Don’t help your child just to move it along or to get it done. When you are doing something out of The Spark Station it might take a day or two, or more because this special family time doesn’t last all day.

Of course we want our family to be learning all the time but experience has shown me that despite our good intentions, if we don’t set aside a specified time each day the world crowds in and we don’t have a family learning time, reading time or activity time.

Your child may add elements to the project that you didn’t anticipate or that you think are unnecessary. Let them. That is the second part of rule one, structure time but not content. Remember my daughter putting on the snow pants. To me it was work to haul them out. To her it was “necessary” for building. It added to her sense of excitement and joy. After all what we are ultimately seeking is that our children experience joy as they learn. That is what love of learning is all about.

The second rule is to be present. To be present means to be with your child or family mentally, emotionally and physically. It means not talking on the phone, doing laundry or cooking dinner. It means you are studying yourself or assisting when asked; only when asked. Even my adult daughter didn’t want someone else telling her how to do her project or criticize how she was doing it.

You need to stand back and wait to be asked for help even when they seem to be messing it up. Let them try. Let them experiment and experience the work necessary to do the job. Help only when asked and then only assist in what they need. Sometimes when parents are asked to help they take over and never give the project back. Remember, the outcome may matter to you but to most children the process of creating matters more. A heightened sense of confidence comes when a child figures out what they can, does the work and then is praised for their efforts, not when a parent does the work in the guise of “helping.”

The third rule is that this wonderful, structured family time where The Spark Station is available doesn’t last all day. I know that some will disagree here but anything that is always available loses value. When there is something in our lives that we have to wait for we anticipate it, we desire it. This is no different. My daughter couldn’t just work on her project. She had to put it away to be a mom. So each day the anticipation of having time to build grew.

Rule four is if you put something in, take something out. In this case I want to remind you that it is important to have all the necessary materials available. You might just have information about what is needed if it is for older children and you want gathering the materials to be part of the project.

The fifth rule is to plan ahead. You need to listen for sparks and watch your children so that you can put into The Spark Station what interests them and what you think might interest them.

Let me recap in light of my daughter’s experience as it relates to The Spark Station. When you remember the Five Rules of engagement The Spark Station, as an educational tool, can build the kind of excitement that my daughter felt. It helps parents provide inspiration to their children so that they can venture out into new realms of learning.

When we remember the rules we won’t squash someone else’s desire to figure it out, work on it and finish by themselves.  As your child learns about new things, builds, creates, writes, and acquires new skills won’t it be an amazing thing to watch if they feel like my daughter when she was four and again at thirty nine! “This is the most fun thing I have ever done!”

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