Sunday, August 23, 2015

unforgettable day

Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo: C. Imes)
The gray morning crept through the valley, but we were already awake, dressed, and loading the van with muffins, cameras, and water bottles. After just minutes we showed our pass to the ranger and entered Rocky Mountain National Park. Our aim was to see more wildlife by beating the sun and the crowds. But tourist season had already sent most wildlife into hiding. Other than a few deer by the roadside and a handful of elk across a distant valley, we saw nothing but marmots. No matter how long we craned our necks at the rocky ridges, they were silent and still, yielding no life.

Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo: C. Imes)
It was a bighorn I wanted to see most, but instead our drive up Fall River Road and then Trail Ridge Road offered breathtaking vistas of peaks awash in the morning sun—the golden hues catching the rocky crags and then sliding slowly like honey until the brilliance was everywhere. Vibrant greens, patches of last winter's snow, stunning blue lakes and skies, boulders in browns and reds and white, tiny flowers clinging to fragile tundra—it was nothing short of majestic.

Three hours later we finally emerged from the park and entered a day filled with other activities—a high-ropes adventure course, fishing, a meal, race cars, and bumper boats.

But no tourist activity could match the bookends of our day. After dinner we headed up again, this time with blankets, and drove back into the park as the gray shroud descended again and light drained from the sky. We could see just well enough to lay our blankets in the meadow beside the parking area and settle in for a spectacular show.

Rocky Mountain National Park
(Photo: Kristin Camfferman)
Our eyes adjusted to the gathering darkness. We talked and laughed freely, not wanting any wild visitors to join us. The stars began to make their appearance. When it was truly dark we gasped as the first streak of light sliced the sky above us. Then another. And another.

The dark canvas stretched impressively from horizon to horizon. Without city lights we saw thousands of stars—even the milky way. It was the perfect backdrop for a meteor shower that sovereignly collided with our mountain vacation. In that one night I saw more "shooting stars" than in all my 38 years put together. Some were faint and short. One fireball tore a path across the entire northwestern edge of the sky, leaving a long trail.

We had seen at least a dozen when the chill set in our bones and the ache in my back told me it was enough. A brilliant bookend to an unforgettable day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

how I've failed my kids

I still have not forgotten the talk our principal gave us on the first day of high school. It was the strangest "pep talk" I have ever heard. He told us we would all fail. He was confident that every one of us in the room would make a mess of something that year—a test, a report, a relationship, a job. Failure is guaranteed because all of us are human. It's only a matter of time.

But failure is only the beginning. When we respond well to failure, it becomes the foundation for success. That's what our high school principal had in mind. Recent studies show that we learn more from failure than anything else. Kids who are told they are intelligent struggle the most to learn new things. Why? They begin to assume that brain power is something that you wake up with in the morning. If a "smart" kid encounters something difficult, they often throw in the towel and decide they don't have what it takes.

The fact is, I have failed my children by telling them that they are smart. Here's how it has played out more times that I can count:

"Mom, I can't get this. It doesn't make any sense."
"I know you can do it. You're a smart kid. Your teacher wouldn't give you an unsolvable problem."
"No, I really can't get it. I've tried and tried. It's impossible. I'm not smart enough."
"That's nonsense. God gave you a good brain and you know it. Just keep trying."

Educational psychologists are now saying that we need to praise kids for their problem-solving skills, their ideas, and their strategies, rather than for their intelligence. These are the tools that have served them well, and will continue to do so when they face harder challenges.

I'm imagining new conversations with my kids:

"Mom, I can't get this. It doesn't make any sense."
"I wonder if there's another way to look at it. What are all the different ways we could try to solve it? What have you tried so far?"
"The problem isn't giving me enough information. I don't even know where to start."
"Let's read it together and brainstorm. I'd love to hear your ideas. Then we can try to break it down step by step. Imagine it's a mystery and we're looking for clues!"

This research is helpful for me, too. In academics it's awfully tempting to think that you don't have what it takes—that your brain is not capable of doing what needs to be done. If your best doesn't seem good enough, don't despair. Intelligence is not fixed. To have tried and failed is to mentally "level-up," unlocking the door for greater growth. If at first you don't succeed . . .

Several years ago I submitted an article for publication in an academic journal. Receiving that first rejection letter felt like a rite of passage. The second journal was kind enough to include a list of constructive criticism with their rejection letter. Most authors have a file full of letters like this. Come to think of it, no one is born writing symphonies or making 3-pointers or solving equations or designing bridges or interceding faithfully or balancing spreadsheets. Everything we know is learned. We all start at zero. And we have to make a lot of mistakes to get from here to where we want to be.

Still not convinced? Check out these videos from Khan Academy. They were my wake-up call today.

Monday, August 3, 2015

a lot of hops

It was Easton's idea. 

We had about an hour before the kids' bedtime and wanted to go outside.
"Let's make a hopscotch of the books of the Bible!"
We grabbed the sidewalk chalk and headed into the quiet street to get started.
"We could just do the Old Testament," he suggested. "How many books is that?"
"39," I reported.
"And how many in the New Testament?"
"27." [This has nothing to do with a PhD in Biblical Theology. What you memorize as a child sticks!]
"And how many is that all together?"
"Wow," he said. "That's a lot of hopping."
No kidding.

We drew and drew, using just the first letter of each book, and then hopped and hopped, trying to hop to the rhythm of the books-of-the-Bible songs we know (which is not easy—you try it!). Then we tried silly hops, jazzy hops, backward hops, dribbling hops, jump-roping hops, and any other way we could think of to traverse our longest hopscotch yet.

When we fell into bed, we were all hopped out, but all practiced up on the books of the Bible, which is a very handy thing to know.

Thanks, Easton.