Introducing changes: the trial phase

Last weekend I talked with my friends about introducing changements in our lives, and more precisely, what makes each one of us hesitate before changing anything in our routine.

We agreed that we all find difficult and risky to introduce a changement from one day to another, with no plan to rollback, even if it’s a change for the better. I find it daunting to turn a page forever, and have to adjust into the new habit because there is no other choice. What I look for is to be 100% (OK, at least 80%) convinced of the new plan, therefore I need to test it for a while, because I could discover that it’s not the right solution to my question, or I could need to adjust some details and test it again.

For example, some time ago I decided to draw more regularly. I initially resumed drawing, but in drawing sprints (with a drawing a day) that were too demanding for me to be a permanent task. I have since revised the plan and am aiming to draw once a week, but still I find myself struggling to respect the schedule. For the time being, I’ll probably settle for a finished drawing every other week, and scribbling everytime I feel inspired. I feel that the important thing is that I keep this activity in my schedule, rather than dropping it completely because I can’t work on it often enough. Of course the lower limit changes for every activity (running once every two weeks can’t count as training) and determines how much progress I can expect on that domain (I’m really behind with my practice with the trombone, but I won’t give up, and I want to practice more often in the near future!). Even for what falls below the lower limit there can be a positive thought: it has been tried, but this time it didn’t work out – if I want, I can analyse why, and try again with a better set of conditions.

Overall, I feel more inclined to introduce a changement in my schedule if I can have a trial period before adopting it on the long run. Amusingly enough, it is a widely accepted practice in Germany, so much that there is a (colloquial) word for introduction course: Schnupperkurs – based on the verb schnuppern, that means “to sniff, and in broader sense to get an idea about something new”. The goal of these courses is to give newcomers a good overview of a discipline, so that they know what it involves before committing to it.

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What do you think about introducing changements in your schedule? What works for you and what doesn’t? Let me know in the comments!

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Progress with yoga

I have started a new yoga class and I’m starting to adjust to the amount of effort and stretching required. The previous class was more relaxing and exploring, while this one is definitely more demanding. The first few lessons felt really hard, and I was unsure if the muscle discomfort I felt in the following days was OK, or a sign that I asked too much from my body. After a month I can say that it’s OK, and I’m getting better at knowing how much to exert myself in order to get the benefit from the stretch, and where to stop.

BKS Iyengar Parivrtta Trikonasana, 2016, Tinte auf Papier, 29,7 x 21cm — Svenja Karstens

I have started quite conservatively, by stretching only a little, and stopping as soon as I felt pain. I knew that the exercises require to go past my comfort zone, and that Iyengar Yoga, the yoga style of my teacher, was above my current level of fitness. But only after a few tries I trusted the teacher and finally myself in doing a bit more. The result is that I feel less and less tired and aching after each session, and I become more aware of what my body can do. I’m lucky that the sessions are attended by a handful of people, so that the teacher can give each one of us a lot of attention.

I’m glad I met another person who doesn’t simply whip me forward, but gives me information about what they observe about my current state/skills, and give me useful and feasible next steps. I was about to add “until I don’t need them anymore” – but it felt rather arrogant. I feel I will benefit from experienced people’s feedback all my life long! I’ll maybe need them less, but appreciate them all the same.

Quick musical update

It’s a few days I plan to post on my blog and can’t find the quiet half an hour to write a good post. The reason is that I’m preparing a concert with a new orchestra, as guest percussionist. I had two weeks to get acquainted with the pieces we will play, and I spent the whole weekend with the orchestra in a musical retreat in Brandenburg – catching up was definitely not easy, moreover I had to learn to properly play tubular bells and xylophone, and these pieces are the most difficult I had played yet (or at least it feels like it!). As I joined the rehearsals so late, I’m listening to recordings of the pieces while reading my parts, and I’m adding a LOT of annotations:

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What I usually add are colors for the different instruments I have to play (it’s quicker than reading the tiny names on the score!) and annotations about the instruments that play right before me – that saves me from counting the empty bars, and prepares me better to the moment when I have to jump in. These annotations are especially necessary, as I have not been playing with the full orchestra often enough, and it happens very often that I don’t know who is supposed to play, and at which point of the piece we are. I’ll be watching the conductor closely, but I’ll definitely not getting cues all the time; for sure I’ll keep an ear for my fellow percussionists, as we studied our parts together and know them well. Let’s hope for the best ­čÖé

Book recommendation: “Montessori-P├Ądagogik und digitale Medien: in Krippe und Kita” by Marion Lepold and Monika Ullmann

Source: herder.de

I read this book a while ago, looking for modern applications of the Montessori method. It is sometimes said that Montessori kindergartens and schools are against digital media, and some of them actually are, but the authors of this book find references in Maria Montessori’s publications that highlight her goal of making the child familiar to the culture of its location and time. Nowadays, digital media are present everywhere, and are part of almost all parents’ lives. Even if the child would live in a technology-free home and go to a kindergarten without any digital media, it will still see them everywhere else, and it will of course be curious about them. Uninformed experiments could be very risky, so the question is then “how┬á can I help a young child learning about digital media” rather than “if”.

The first chapter of the book is quite technical, but I appreciated its in-depth analysis of different kind of digital media, their uses, their downsides, and an explanation of media competence (in four stages: critical thinking, knowledgeability, usage as-it-is and modification/original usage). The authors consider that very young children should make useful experiences with digital media, and get support from the teachers on how to use these tools safely. The special difficulty in teaching digital media is connected to their very recent development: many teachers are less experienced that children, and are not able to integrate these tools in the classroom – and the same can happen at home with the parents.

The second chapter summarises Maria Montessori’s life and works, and the third chapter outlines the integration of digital media in Montessori pedagogy. The child is progressively made familiar with them, first only by passive observation when it is very young, then by usage, then afterwards by increasingly critical thinking about how the tool works, if it fulfills the child’s needs in a particular activity, what are the consequences of its usage. The authors underline the importance of using digital media not just for entertaining but mostly as a support/expansion of learning. I liked the point where they state how the child should be deciding what to do and then pick the best tool, rather than picking the tool first and then adapt to what the tool can do – it showed me how the child focuses on its ideas rather than being led. The chapter ends with a reflection on teachers, who have grown up without media, and have no personal experience to rely on. With a good plan, this gap can be successfully closed.

The last chapter deals with the practical aspects of introducing digital media in a Montessori kindergarten where they are currently absent, and takes into account many levels of interaction: with the direction, with fellow teachers/colleagues, with parents. In many cases the path has to be explored as new, and great importance is given to tech-competent people (teachers and parents) who can contribute a lot in sharing useful information in the group. Last but not least, the addition of digital tools in the classroom have to abide regulations and good practices about privacy. All of this aims to create a learning environment for the child in the field of digital media, promote awareness in their potentials and risks, and foster responsible use from an early age.

I really liked this book and I think it will be an important reference when I’ll be teaching. As a former software developer, I wish to share the knowledge I acquired, and the proposed framework will definitely help me promoting the idea of introducing digital media in kindergartens. Unfortunately it’s in German… but I bet there are equivalent publications in English and many other languages. If you know one or more, I’d be curious to read them!

 

Drawing update: mammal heads and faces, seals, horse muzzles

Some time ago I watched John Muir Law’s lesson on drawing mammal heads and faces, sketched along and took notes:

Along the lesson John gives ideas for drawing tasks that make you practice what he explained, for example “draw 10 heads and faces of the species of your choice within a week of the lesson”, “draw 10 ears of the species of your choice”. I was a bit cold about this kind of homework, but I discovered that it made me observe better, and remember the concepts better too.

As first homework I chose to draw heads of two seal species: grey seal and harbour seal. I found a book in the library, “Robben an Nord- und Ostseek├╝ste”, that presents the two species, and features high-quality pictures. There was an extra challenge, as the description of many pictures did not mention the species, and this made me observe them with even more attention. I drew seal portraits on two pages, one for each species.

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Grey seals
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Harbour seals

Another homework I picked was “draw 10 noses of a species of your choice”. I chose horses, first because they are my favourite animal, and second because I have never drawn decent horse muzzles. I first thought that ten muzzles would be too much, that I would get tired after the first five. On the contrary, after the first attempts I noticed that I was nailing increasingly more details, seeing more in three dimensions, and getting the proportions and shades right. My favourite muzzle is the ninth, from the picture of an Arab horse.

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For the next tasks I have found a book about foxes, with a lot of pictures! I’ll keep you posted on the drawings I’ll make – spoiler alert: one homework is “draw one page of a species’ ears” ­čÖé

On several ways of experiencing loneliness

Today I listened to the BBC4 “All in the Mind” podcast about loneliness. I found relieving to hear that loneliness can be seen as a neutral or positive state, at least in some cases. For many people, or maybe more for the general expectation of the society they live in, loneliness is seen as unhealthy, unwanted and sad, or even lousy. I agree that there are people who at given times of their life would like to have more social interactions, but have problems finding/keeping friendships, and this makes them unhappy. I also agree that unwanted loneliness can have serious consequences on a person’s health and life quality. On the other side, I think that each one of us has their optimal level of social interactions, so it’s very difficult to give others advice for “feeling better” by suggesting a specific amount (or even type) of social contacts.

I see myself as a solitary person who enjoys close friendships, and I know I’m not good at smalltalk or at mantaining not-so-close friendships. This led me to have a somewhat small network of people I regularly check with, and to feel unpleasantly lonely sometimes. I have recently met new people in the city, during meetings about shared interests, and this has made me feel definitely better. I also think I feel better since I decided that it was OK for me not to improve my smalltalk or my standard social interactions, because I felt uneasy in playing a role very different from my real self: I am authentic from the start, and I find like-minded people to share great moments with.

I don’t feel like celebrating loneliness per se! I’m rather interested about how I feel when I’m alone or with others, what can help me when I feel unpleasantly lonely, and how I interact with other people. I feel it is a work in progress: my understanding of loneliness is part of my path towards understanding myself and maintaining authentic relationships.

I chose to end the post with a picture of the Dolomites. The(se) mountains have been for me the perfect place for being alone in a magnificient, natural, healing, powerful and humbling landscape.

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Children and perfectionism

During my Montessori teacher course we were worried by how a relevant number of children are terrified by making mistakes, or get very angry when they happen – or even avoid them altogether by doing only things they know well. How does it happen that the children themselves become their own tyrannic “teachers”? We discussed about it and many thought that these children see error-free work as the best present for their parents, and the best (only?) way to get approval from them. I don’t want to be harsh on parents here, quite the contrary, because they all want to be great parents and learned valuable lessons from their childhood. What I suspect is that this message about mistakes comes indirectly and diffusely, for example when one of the parents is harsh on himself about a mistake he/she made: the children would naturally do what the parents do, and learn to be equally harsh on themselves. Or it can happen that mistake-free homework or games are highly praised by the parents – then the children try really hard to get that special praise, and have to run this impossible (and unhealthy) challenge.

This post is actually an expansion of Making mistakes – which is more about my own path to embrace mistakes as valuable information.

As usual, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments, I’d be happy to hear your opinion on this topic!