Saturday, April 2, 2011

How we do what we do...

Note: The terms "Left Brain" and "Right Brain" are used in this commentary to explain skill sets that predominately incorporate the appropriate side of the brain. In truth, almost all skill sets use both sides of the brain to some degree.

In modern formal education, much of the focus is on "measurable results". As such, most of the material taught is methodical, formulaic and with specific answers that can be standardized and compared. Logic and factual data are the foundation of this measurable knowledge. This is a very Left Brain model.

We need Left Brain education. Without it, we would be reinventing the wheel. However, the flaw in the current system is that it is terribly lopsided toward the Left Brain model. The Right Brain attributes - creativity, big picture comprehension, emotional intelligence, inspirational communication and other less easily measured (and definitely non-standard) types of knowledge - are given far less focus and energy. This is unfortunate... because the brightest problem solvers and most influential thinkers of our time are people who tend to have very strong skills in both sides of the brain.

At Guard Up, we sometimes hear of parents who withdraw their children from our story-based classes - or who prefer to enroll them in "more structured" classes such as Fencing - because they view the story-based classes as "just play". The truth is that our story-based classes are providing children and teens with a much needed Right Brain supplement to their predominately Left Brain education. Along with exposing students and campers to extremely important skill sets such as innovation, exploration and communication, our programs also provide a dynamic environment where participants stay physically active and sharpen their social skills (not to mention make friends!).

In today's society, where kids and teens are inundated with screens (TV, computer, telephone, etc) and many children's social development is focused on Facebook and online games, getting kids and young adults "unplugged" from the screen and engaging in live, dynamic play where they need to use important skills such as reading body language, receiving and providing constructive feedback, active listening, creative problem solving, working within a group, and more, is vital to the development of a modern youth who has been born with the label of "Digital Native".

At the Guard Up After School Program, kids have time to work on their school homework with the assistance of an adult - and then they are taken on an adventure where they get to exercise the other side of their brain. Too often, play time is seen as a waste of time in a society where Left Brain thinking dominates our educational system. This is an important acknowledgement as we see more and more systematized, linear logic careers being outsourced to other countries. This will continue to progress until the shift in our economy (and hopefully our education) makes us realize that our greatest resource is the well-balanced individual who has been given as much educational opportunity to develop their creative side as their logical side.

At Guard Up, we have developed a focus on three important skill sets in our story-based classes, camps and after school programs:
  1. Innovation: Creative problem solving, design, imagination
  2. Exploration: Discovery, experimentation, dynamic open-ended questioning
  3. Communication: Connecting with other people, establishing understanding with the self and others, developing empathy

The power of interactive stories, that do not have a pre-determined ending, is that our tool (the story) can be shaped to the group or individual as necessary. We provide an immersive environment with props and costuming. This helps engage the participant on an emotional level (aiding in stronger development of neurological pathways) and increases the memory retention of the learning experience.

Our staff and counselors are trained on a recurring basis in improvisational methods as well as appropriate content. As well, weekly mandatory meetings keep our program instructors current on the latest in teaching methodology, child psychology and event management skills.

We invest a great deal of time and effort into our programs. We strive to engage our students in a manner that is often neglected in current education and sorely underrepresented in modern day entertainment: We want to capture as much of their imagination as possible... and have them find exciting possibilities through their imagination.

This, I believe, is worth our effort and our parents' commitment.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up, Inc.

Suggested Reading:
  1. A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
  2. Play: How It Shapes the Brain by Dr. Stuart Brown
  3. The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent insight to the depth of the programs at Guard Up. I agree that too many of us parents view "play" as simply filler between the "important stuff" of traditional eduction and other standardized learning based activities.