This past weekend, my husband and I drove to a conference center on the shores of Green Lake to watch our two younger children, ages 13 and 10, participate in the Wisconsin Future Problem Solving (FPS) State Bowl. For those of you unfamiliar with FPS (as I most certainly was before my oldest child got involved years ago as a fourth grader), the program's mission is to stimulate the critical and creative thinking skills of young people by challenging them, either in teams or individually, to come up with innovative solutions to complex global problems.
Truth be told, the idea of my kids and their peers being "future problem solvers" has always made me giggle a bit, especially when it comes to international matters. How can a bunch of pre-teen and teenage kids like mine, who can't seem to remember to unpack the dishwasher or match socks correctly, be expected to generate meaningful solutions to heady and challenging issues like pitfalls of the culture of celebrity, the difficulties of managing megacities or, in the case of this past weekend, how to help offset the Garbage Patch in the north Pacific.
If contemporary sociologists, urban planners and scientists haven't been able to crack the code on alleviating these sorts of problems, I question if my kids will genuinely be able to provide much help.
But over the years, I've started to better understand the power of the Future Problem Solving program. And I've developed a healthy respect for how the organization's solution generating process provides solid grounding on how to intellectually attack an issue.
But, perhaps even more importantly, the program has also allowed my kids and their peers to exercise their creativity in some very meaningful ways.
For example, in preparation for State Bowl, the students involved create large banners to be displayed at the competition. It's a true exercise in visual communication, as the works of art need to be not only aesthetically pleasing, but also informative on the issue being tackled. And every year my volunteer contribution to my kids' FPS teams is to take them shopping for the supplies they'll need to whip up impromptu costumes and props for the skits they will write and perform on the final day of the Bowl.
The list of approved supplies - I assume compiled by someone with stock in Target - never fails to make me smile. The kids need things like multiple empty cereal boxes, fly swatters, plungers, and clothespins. And duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape. I am always amazed come performance time what creative things the kids have been able fashion out of aluminum pie tins and paper cups.
But when I really try to tease out the biggest benefit the program offers for my kids, it's been the opportunity for them to leave school a bit early on a Thursday and jump on a bus headed up to Green Lake to spend three days, not only with classmates, but also with like-minded kids from all across the state. They meet students from Luxemburg, the Village of Casco, and Blanchardville - all places my family isn't likely to travel to anytime soon.
They also get the chance to get to know some of their truly exceptional teachers in new and different ways, by hanging out with them outside of a classroom setting. And, perhaps best of all, my kids get to escape from the watchful eye of their parents for a few days - I have been banned from ever being a chaperone by my middle schooler. He (probably correctly) believes my presence would most certainly cramp his style.
So while my kids may not have found the ideal solution to combat Pacific Ocean pollution this past weekend, they have uncovered something almost as important. They have now discovered that some of the very best school memories, moments that will never be forgotten, can be made while sharing a room and pre-bed giggles with some of your closest friends on an extracurricular adventure in rural, south-central Wisconsin.
That, and that there are lots of cool problems, both present and future, that can be solved with plenty of duct tape.comments powered by Disqus
You may call them "play dates," but I like the term "mom dates," especially since my kids are still too young to really care that there's another small person to squabble over toys with.
If there is an excuse for not working out and eating healthy, I have used it: I don't have time. I'm too tired. I'll start tomorrow. I'm no good at this, I give up. I don't know where to start. Yes, I have used all of these and more.
At almost a year old, my kids are in the blissful stage of life where they'll eat nearly anything that I put in front of them (at least as long as it doesn't require much in the way of molar action).
My family recently went through something that we have not experienced in over eight years. We have become a household that no longer harbors a crib or a changing table.
"There really is no wrong way to do it." That's how Madeline, age 13, describes creating artwork. She and her classmates at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie are honing their artistic skills by participating in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Art on Tour program.
I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.