"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

go with the flow

I was an undergraduate psychology major when I first heard about Flow. You've experienced Flow, a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, if you've ever become so totally and completely absorbed in a task that you lost all track of time. It happens when you're engaged in an activity that requires skill and concentration, but that you also find enjoyable and, to varying degrees, challenging. Flow can be experienced during physical activities, artistic expression, or mental exercise. I learned about Flow right about the same time that I was discovering Buddhism. Flow seems closely related to meditation, to me. In both Flow and meditation, you lose yourself. Or, maybe not lose, maybe it's that you dissolve in the activity, Become One with a physical activity or a state of consciousness. It's transcendent.

I have read about Flow again recently in a number of different articles. Mostly, it's written about in relation to it's impact on Happiness. People who have experienced Flow describe the joy that they feel when they are completely absorbed in a task. The happiness is lasting; people who experience Flow on a regular basis report that they are Happier than those who don't. This makes sense...people who have the resources and freedom to lose themselves in enjoyable activities (exercise, hobbies, etc.) may have more time or money than those who don't, and if you're strapped for time or cash, you're probably not as happy as those who have either or both in spades. Or maybe the reverse is true...perhaps happier people make it more of a priority to carve out time for their own hobbies and self-fulfilling interests.

Regardless, Flow is correlated with Happiness. Flow is also correlated with high levels of learning and productivity. This, too, makes sense. If you are completely absorbed in a task that you find enjoyable, and you are not distracted from the task by interruptions, you SHOULD be more productive and be learning something from it.

So what's my point?

My point is: I'm going to encourage my Kids to Flow.

If Evan is completely absorbed in his construction site or his pretend play Tool Man Evan scenario, I'm going to let him be. I have been feeling very pressured lately (by myself), to Teach Him. He already knows his letters and sounds (I didn't do that, I have the Leap Frog movies to thank for that. Which, by the way, he watches in the car. And I don't feel guilty about it. I engage my kids in a rich and stimulating environment all day. The 10-minute drive to Target? That's Me Time.) and he can count to about 13 and recognize the numbers 1 through 10, but shouldn't he KNOW more by now? He is almost FOUR, you know!

And then a friend of mine passed along this, about what a 4-year old should know. And you know what? The author's right. I'm going to take a step back. I'm going to offer experiences and opportunities for learning, but I'm going to follow the lead of my boys. If playing pretend Tool Man ALL DAY LONG is what Evan wants to do, I'm going to let him. While engaged in this pretend play scenario, he's practicing skills that are just as important (and arguably more important) than handwriting, phonics, and arithmetic: skills such as using his imagination, story-telling, and problem solving. These skills, along with listening skills, fine motor skills, and the ability to follow directions (which are skills taught through daily interactions and activities within a household), are what he's going to need to be successful in school. The rest will come. And if creative play is his Flow, then that's where the real learning and happiness is anyway. Why would I want to interfere with that?

He'll learn to read. Maybe not at 4, but he'll learn. And if his handwriting sucks, well, that won't hold him back. I'll foster the creative play while he's into it (and while he's setting such a good example for his little brother) and I'll encourage exploration into other avenues of development when he shows an interest. And then, when it's time, I'll send him to school.

Lesson Learned:
When talking to a mommy friend today about our preschoolers, she was telling me about some overheard mother-of-2-year-olds who "homeschool preschool" their toddlers. "It's not homeschooling," my friend said, "it's parenting."

Sometimes you have to put down the parenting books, resist the urge to Google, and just let your kids be kids.

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