Camp Creek Blog


Published by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2007 at 10:16 PM


“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” — Lloyd Alexander

“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves ... and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” — John Holt

“The key is curiosity, and it is curiosity, not answers that we model. As we seek to know more about a child, we demonstrate the acts of observing, listening, questioning and wondering. When we are curious about a child's words and our responses to those words, the child feels respected. The child is respected. ‘What are the ideas that I have that are so interesting to the teacher? I must be somebody with good ideas.’” — Vivian Paley


Mentoring the perfectionist child

Published by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2007 at 03:24 PM


Along with being intractable, my older son is also a perfectionist.

I had hoped to avoid this. I was a perfectionist as a child (I claim to be partly cured), and I know what it cost me. I avoided any activities that I didn't immediately excel in. (Not that there were many.) (I kid.) I wanted him to be able to relax and enjoy life more.

Alas, genetics trump intentions, and he is a perfectionist to the core.

The boy uses a lot of erasers. He crumples a lot of paper. He shows me a drawing that I think is amazing in its detail and clarity, and then he crumples it up and throws it away five minutes later. I now try to grab things from him before they get destroyed, or I beg him to give them to me instead of tossing them. He says, "No! I don't want anyone to see that!"

It is difficult to compliment a perfectionist child. You say, "That is a great drawing. You really included a lot of detail." He responds, "It isn't that good. I didn't draw the feathers right. The eyes don't look right. I really don't like it..."

We do a few different things to try to mitigate this tendency. He's homeschooled, so he can't easily compare himself to others. (Before, he was in a multi-age class in a private school, in a similar situation.) I work with him to set reasonable goals for himself. He does a lot of art and other creative pursuits, where the enjoyment is in making and there's no particular end goal.

We talk about the process, and how fun it is to simply read books about something that interests us, visit places we've never seen before, talk to new people. We stress that mistakes are necessary for learning, and if you aren't making mistakes, you aren't learning. We share our own mistakes, and try to model accepting our failures gracefully.

At the beginning of a new project, we talk about what might go wrong that we'll have to deal with, or what difficulties we should expect, emphasizing that something will always go wrong. (Perfection is not possible!)

We acknowledge his perfectionism and call him on it, and we share our own experiences with it.

Finally, we make an effort to celebrate all of his achievements, so he won't gloss right over them and head immediately for the next difficult goal.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. — Anna Quindlen

See also:

It's not (all) about the art

Perfectionism and praise

PTA: Preventing Perfectionism in Children

Working with wire

Published by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2007 at 10:20 PM


Our wonderful friend Emily gave the boys this fantastic book this weekend: Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song. It's a wonderful addition to their bird books, and the boys absolutely love it.


Jack returned to his bird sculpture this week, but set his armature aside and, using the new book as his reference photo, made a beautiful mostly two-dimensional wire sculpture instead. Running outside to find a stick for a perch was an exciting part of the process.


Tomorrow, he says he's going to engineer a wire harness to hold the bird on its perch.


Of course, the label has fallen off the wire he used, but it is an ordinary spool of wire purchased at the hardware store, thin enough to be bendy, thick enough to be strong and hold its shape. It cuts with ordinary snub-nosed kid scissors. And the only tool he used, other than his own two hands, was a pair of jewelry pliers made to curl wire (no cutters!), and he didn't need those; they were just fun to use.

The relentless learner

Published by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2007 at 04:31 PM


Yesterday, I wrote a little about my older son, the intractable child.

So, how do you work with such a contrary being? He doesn't want you to impose your will; heck, he doesn't even want you to suggest your will. He doesn't want to hear your ideas; in fact, if he hears them from you, he'll draw a big black line through them.

You may start to think, well, fine, he says no to everything. He refuses every suggestion. He shakes his head politely at every offer. He's not going to do anything! He's going nowhere! He had a great idea, but now he's doing nothing with it!

What I've found, however, at least with my intractable child, is that he not only doesn't stand in a corner, like Bartleby, doing nothing, he actually is a relentless learner.

When someone talks about something he doesn't understand or know about, he goes to look it up, or he demands a full explanation. He doesn't want to be ignorant. He wants to understand what's going on.

When he has an interest, the best way I can encourage him isn't to offer books or materials or field trips (things my younger son accepts with a smile). The best thing I can do is ask questions. What are you going to do? How can you find out about that? Is there anything I can do for you?

When we start a first project with the youngest children (three year old's), we start by listing their questions. Then we ask them, How can you find out what you want to know? This leads to brainstorming: We can ask my dad! We can call my grandma! We can look in a book!

We do this because we don't just want to learn facts about birds, or rivers, or outer space. What we really want to learn is how to learn. That is the curriculum that matters. How do we find information? How do we locate and talk to experts? How do we know when our question has been answered?

My son has been doing project work for seven years. He not only knows the process, he demands the process. He insists on being in charge.

So I go back to square one, and I ask the questions. How can you find out what you want to know? What are you going to do? Is there anything I can do to help you?

And even when I step on his toes, and he shuts down an entire line of inquiry because he feels like I got too involved, he doesn't just sit in the corner and do nothing. He just alters his course, smoothly, and keeps moving forward. Because he is a relentless learner.


Also see: The Myth of the Reluctant Learner

Projects and the intractable child

Published by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2007 at 04:18 PM


My ten-year-old has taken our lessons to heart. He is the architect of his own learning. He can learn about anything that interests him. We will provide him with whatever help he requests. (Emphasis on requests.)

If you have ever known a child who reacts to your suggesting a book by saying, automatically, without even thinking about it, "No thanks", you are familiar with this child.

If you have ever suggested to a child an activity that simply reeks of excitement and fun, only to be met with a casual, "Yeah, I don't think so, no thanks," you are familiar with this child.

Now that he is ten, things have improved. I can suggest a book without his immediately saying no. He is reading, and immensely enjoying, Kon-Tiki right now on my recommendation. He is pretty confident now that I won't force him to read a book he doesn't want to read.

Although he still has his doubts.

When he went through a stage of intense interest in Flickr, I pulled out a big pile of Time/Life Photography Series books that I bought years ago at a library sale.

He got very excited about a story about Joseph Pulitzer and how he was the first publisher to include sensationalistic photographs in his newspaper. (This was in the volume "Photojournalism" — these books were published in 1971, btw.) He was talking a mile a minute and gesturing and laughing. Before he told me the story, however, he paused to say significantly, "I wasn't reading about how cameras work or anything. It wasn't about that." It was like he was saying, "I know why you gave me these books — I'm onto you — and I didn't do what you wanted."

The directions he took his interest in — starting with Flickr — were places I couldn't have predicted. We talked about art — what is art, what's not. We talked about how pictures tell a story — or don't accurately reflect the truth. We talked about geography and places we want to visit.

I eventually realized that to him, Flickr was a toy, and he was playing with it. He was looking it up and down and all around and figuring out what it could do. He was running around the room with it making zooming noises like it was an airplane, then he was walking it across the floor and laughing. He was turning it inside out. He was in discovery mode. He was in the zone — the flow state — calm, relaxed, completely plugged in, energetic, and focused.

Anything I did that made it seem like I was dictating what he should do would make him stop in his tracks. It would break the spell.

Over time, I've become better at how I make my offers of assistance — emphasizing it's only a suggestion, and he can take it or leave it as he wishes. And he has become better at considering my offers, not always rejecting them out of hand.

The biggest lesson has been mine. I realized that I can't predict where he is headed. It is entirely his own direction, plotted out according to his needs, his interests, his goals. And I don't want to get in the way of that, so I need to hang back and make sure I'm supporting him, but not tripping him up by trying to anticipate where he wants to go. He'll let me know where he wants to go.

Also see: The Relentless Learner and The Myth of the Reluctant Learner

Beautiful book week: a hole is to dig

Published by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2007 at 01:10 AM


I'm trying for another one that maybe isn't as well known: A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions.

This is one of my absolute favorite children's books. It makes a wonderful present. It is as enjoyable for grown-ups as for kids. It's illustrated by Maurice Sendak (who needs no introduction) and written by Ruth Krauss (whose carrot you probably remember).

It can magically cheer you out of any small- to medium-size funk.

I love this beautiful book.


Comics project: Extending ideas

Published by Lori Pickert on October 26, 2007 at 12:28 PM


When Jack was first interested in/obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes, he started by reading the books over and over and over.

Then he started drawing the comics. He tried to draw the characters as closely as he could to the originals. He filled two large sketchbooks with these drawings.


It was at that point that I began to support his deep interest with project materials and resources.

It is fascinating to watch as he makes the work more and more his own, as he becomes more confident. After mastering drawing the characters, he began copying whole strips.

After mastering copying the strips, he moved on to making up his own original C&H stories and drawing those.


After filling a book with his own C&H comics (which were hilarious, and very much in the original style), he invented his own comic, George and Falkin. George was the grown-up son of Calvin and Susie (Calvin married Susie Derkins!), and he had his own imaginary friend Falkin, a stuffed bear.


At this point, I have to stop and just admire my 7-year-old's grasp of storytelling and humor. He drew Calvin's dad the same, but older, and used a lot of the same running gags as the original strip. As Calvin used to pretend to be Stupendous Man, George pretends to be Fantabulous Man. And so on.

He was no longer just copying, he was extending the ideas.

At each level, he sticks with one thing until he feels confident to make the next step. I play no part in this. I just watch and admire his work. I don't say, “Why don't you…?” or “You should…” (Sometimes it’s difficult.)

At each level, he gains mastery (as defined and measured by himself) then moves on naturally and fluidly to the next, more complex thing.

His natural inclination is to stick with something until he thinks he does it well enough. He assesses his own efforts and decides when he’s satisfied.

His natural inclination is to make connections (noting similarities between two comics, among the drawing styles of different cartoonists and illustrators, across story and character development, and so on.

His natural inclination is to reach out to other people — to share his work, to talk in person with artists whose work he admires, to talk with people who do work that interests him.


His natural inclination is to enjoy everything he does. He pours his heart into his work.


If he doesn't someday become a professional cartoonist (right now he says cartoonist-scientist), he may not ever require the exact skills he is learning from this particular project at this moment. But he certainly is picking up a lot of intangibles and habits of mind.

Jack's comic: Ghosts

Published by Lori Pickert on October 25, 2007 at 02:27 AM






Beautiful book week: Maira Kalman

Published by Lori Pickert on October 24, 2007 at 02:32 PM



kalman-illusion.jpg Who doesn't love Maira Kalman?

She lives at the intersection of my three loves: children's books, writing, and design.

She has designed fabric for Isaac Mizrahi, accessories for Kate Spade, sets for the Mark Morris Dance Company and accessories for the Museum of Modern Art.

My boys love her books What Pete Ate from A to Z and Smartypants (Pete in School).

My sister and I have always love-loved the Max books: Max Makes a Million, Ooh-la-la (Max in Love), Max in Hollywood, Baby!, and Swami on Rye: Max in India.


The first three of these were bundled together into the fabulous, now out-of-print Max Deluxe (still available used from Amazon resellers).


Kalman's children's books are so densely illustrated that you can find new jokes in them every time you read them. The Max books especially have dense text as well; the Pete books are easier readers but still have a lot of free humor on the side. We absolutely love these books.


As I am a writer and began work as a copyeditor when I was still in college, I died and went to heaven when Maira Kalman illustrated the famous Elements of Style.

The hardcover book is so beautifully designed, with its front and back covers, inside hello and goodbye, and Kalman's ingenious illustrations, I can hardly bear to use it.

kalman-bassett.jpgLuckily for me, they have now come out with a paperback version with a wonderful cover ... now I just need a reading copy and another to save.

(I can't help fantasizing that Kalman will illustrate all my reference books. My Fowler's. My Roget's.)

Artist-illustrator-designer Kalman also writes a column, "The Principles of Uncertainty", which appears in the New York Times.

The first dozen columns have been published in an eponymous book.


Beautiful book week: Home

Published by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2007 at 10:25 PM



I had to participate in Abby's Beautiful Book Week. I am an unrepentant bibliophile. My only problem was, which books to share?

I thought I'd start with a book that I think is much less known than other shelter/design works, Chris Madden's A Room of Her Own: Women's Personal Spaces. It shares the personal spaces of a number of very different women, from a nun (wonderful) to Oprah (only really wrong note in the book), including artists and writers.

I own a lot of design books, but this is one that I have gone back to several times and it always energizes me to work a little harder on my personal space, something that is very important to me. I truly do believe that what women want most is a room of their own, and a little time to work there.


Some quotes:

"My private space is my home and my land. Here is where I hold the presence of the unknown — its light, its sweetness, its calm, its mystery, and its ability to nourish and free us." — Carol Anthony, artist


"The older I get, the more I value my time alone — creativity is more cerebral than active." — Glenna Goodacre, sculptor


"I have various personal spaces and each carries a different energy that I need for my head and my heart. I don't know how we would survive without personal sanctuaries. We have our souls to care for, after all!" — Elaine Anthony, artist


I will share some different books each day this week. Thank you for the inspiration, Abby!