Happy Mother’s Day! This week my own mother was in St. Thomas while I was enduring perhaps my most hated week of teaching, the week before state testing. It is a week of high stress but where you have to play it cool for the kids. That moment when you ask what a stanza is and they all just stare at you. You WANT to lay on the ground and cry, “We are doomed!!!!” but instead you smile and remind those kids for the 43rd time.
So while I passed out highlighters and contemplated how the heck to get a kid to infer, I decided to join my mom on vacation. My 18 little humans and I dimmed the lights and felt the water on our toes. We smelled the plastic of our floatie and watched sea turtles pass beneath us. And, because I can, we grew gills and rode a dolphin. We took a 5 minute break and went on what I call a “brain vacation”. My students love them and that is saying something. They are not a crowd that goes along with much. Teaching students how to cope with stress is important. They feel stress. We sometimes imagine them living a care free existence but their reality involves heartbreak and fear. To not equip them with the means to deal with stress, but instead teach them how to multiply fractions, seems off. I deal with stress on a daily basis. Multiplying fractions? Not so much.
My push of Brain Vacations has been testing related but it is something I have enjoyed teaching for years. I found the book Put Your Mother on the Ceiling by Richard de Mille a few years ago. The introductory chapter titled “Why We Should Put Mother on the Ceiling” goes into the research of why imagination and flexible thinking is important for children. The rest of the book includes short guided imagination games that kids really enjoy. For example, “Have an old castle in front of you. / Breathe fire on the castle and have it fall down. / Have an ocean in front of you. / Breathe fire on the ocean and dry it up.” They are quick exercises that foster imagination. The research that went into the book explores the need to make children active participants in their world, not passive receivers. Creating active and critical thinkers is one of my number one goals as an educator. If some “silly” scenarios can move me to this goal, why would this not become part of our classroom practice? I do feel a need to mention that the book was published in 1955. There is some gender stereotyping that I change around as I read.
I sometimes worry we push reality too hard on these little minds. I’m not saying my childhood was perfect but we spent hours imaging worlds. We made families of stuffed bears, we were orphans locked in towers, were were explorers in the wilderness. I often worry that my own child will be spoon fed fantastic worlds on a screen while his own imagination shrinks away.
I think making time, or maybe just choosing a Brain Vacation instead of another filler activity, creates a sense of fun and whimsy that we all want for our students and for ourselves.
And because it is Mother’s Day, I will prove to you further the power of visualization. I chose to give birth naturally and I was blessed to have my delivery make this possible. While the pain of contractions took me over, I left the hospital for short moments. I was lying in my bed. The breeze was blowing the white sheer curtains and I could hear the birds outside. My sheets were clean and smelled like lavender. My husband walked into the room with a cup of coffee and a newborn baby tightly swaddled. I took the baby and nursed him while I drank my coffee. This Brain Vacation got me through the physical agony and mental marathon of birth. How could I not see the value of imagination for our students and our children?