By Owen Phelps, Ph. D.
Several years ago our oldest child, Kristin, was in the first grade. She was an exceptional student, reading several grade levels ahead of her class, but she didn’t like the school she was enrolled in. When we met her teacher at the fall conference, we began to understand why.
The teacher, a kind and caring woman, nonetheless was concerned that Kristin was not more eager to play with dolls and she wasn’t enamored with recess. “She would rather read,” the teacher said with more than a hint of dismay in her voice.
Kristin was a normal kid who did like to play. But we had sent her off to school with the promise that she would have the opportunity to learn even more than she had learned at home. She had been excited about that, but the classroom reality was not living up to the promise.
A couple of months into the school year my job required us to move, so Kristin had to change schools. We anticipated some problems, but her transition went super smooth. In her new school, a parochial one, children were grouped by ability for reading. She liked being able to hang with the big kids for an hour, and she loved the attention they gave her. At her new school it was cool to be a power reader.
There was just one problem. Her new school was near my mother-in-law’s home where we were staying while we looked for our own place. When we found a home a few months later in the little nearby community where my work was, it meant Kristin had to change schools for a second time before she had finished first grade.
Again we anticipated problems – this time because she loved her new school so much. But when we told her we would be moving and she would be going to yet another school, she was all excited. We were stunned by her reaction. So I asked her, “I thought you liked your new school. Won’t you miss it? Why are you so eager to go to a different one?”
“I do love my new school,” she said. “It’s a lot better than the first one. So now I figure the next one will be even that much better than the one I’m going to now.”
Ulp! We realized we were worrying about the wrong thing. Instead of worrying about problems leaving the school she was attending, we should be concerned about the expectations she was taking to the next school. We started to work on that as the day to transfer drew closer.
I tell that story because it illustrates how different the perceptions of people can be – even when they are observing the same reality. And it shows how different perceptions inspire different meanings and expectations. We were expecting problems with loss; our daughter was expecting an educational paradise.
The story also illustrates how adults can learn from children – or anyone -- if we humble ourselves to listen. Certainly Kristin’s positive expectations helped pave the way for a wonderful transition two-thirds into the school year. And that helped us approach the situation more positively too.
I thought of that experience as I read the five suggestions offered by physicist and author Ransom Stephens, Ph.D., about how to stay creative as we age. They are:
1. Cultivate resilience to failure.
2. Learn to recognize your prejudices.
3. Silence your tendency to predict results.
4. Move out of your comfort zone.
5. Recognize those eureka moments.
All of them seem to suggest that we should keep an open mind – and then challenge it as much as we can. Children have a marvelous way of doing that. Dr. Stephens has more to say about each of these suggestions. But sometimes all it takes is a little child to guide us – if we are open to listening.
READ DR. STEPHENS’ WHOLE ARTICLE HERE