Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Eric Carle!

Tomorrow is Eric Carle's 82nd birthday - Happy Birthday Sir! 

All parents know this man - the person who gave us so many wonderful stories to enjoy with our little ones. The most well-known of them all is of course The Very Hungry Caterpillar. At the time I reviewed it on this blog back in July 2010, Ryan wasn't overjoyed about the book. Recently he has been showing quite bit of interest in it and he points out various things in the illustrations. Apart from this book, we do enjoy many of Eric Carle's other books, including Mister Seahorse and Brown Bear Brown Bear What do You See?

In honour of Eric Carle's birthday, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar and after that, Ryan constructed The Very Hungry Caterpillar from coloured paper.

I cut the shapes out and Richard smeared glue on the pieces for Ryan to stick onto a piece of white drawing paper.

Ryan wasn't very satisfied with the lack of creativity that the activity offered, so we offered him some stickers to paste as he liked. This is the end result. Not too bad eh?

Ryan still wasn't satisfied though. He took the leftover pieces and gave us his own interpretation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Hmm, very abstract and definitely much more creative. I think I like this one better.

In this post, I want to highlight a fundamental feature of the Shichida Method, which is not always understood, which is that it is less concerned about gaining facts and knowledge. It is more concerned with drawing out and strengthening the child’s ability to learn and growing their mental capacity. Professor Shichida said, “You may think that it is quicker to teach a child actual subjects such as language or math. In fact, however, right brain training that has nothing to do with schoolwork can quickly develop the child’s talents and improve his marks”. He also said, “We are not aiming to give children mere knowledge but to give them the concentration power with which they can in later years learn things more easily.”

It calls to mind the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Professor Shichida said that, “The objective of education should be the development of the brain instead of the cramming of knowledge.” He said that the more knowledge we have, the more difficult it is to activate the imaging power of the right brain.

So, the Shichida Method is not concerned with whether the child knows facts such as letters/numbers/shapes/colours/animals/etc or who composed this sonata or what is the population of that country. Yes, we do use facts when we play the Shichida games (some form of information has to be used), but the facts are used only as aids and props to carry out the mind training. The games change in every class and the previous facts used are not revised. It is the training of the mind that we are focussing on, not the learning of facts.

If you are a Shichida parent with the Singapore centre, you may note that in the parents’ handbook, there is a section that sets out 10 basic concepts that children should know (colour, shape, size, number, quantity, space recognition, comparison, order, time and money). This is just to give the parents some ideas on what they can use to train with. The children are not tested on any of these concepts - the Shichida Method is not concerned with that.

Personally, I think that the Shichida centre has a tough time trying to bring the method to Singapore parents. The Shichida Method is in many ways the opposite of existing methods and many parents criticise it because they measure it against what they are familiar with. While the Shichida Method emphasises character development, the parents want academic achievement. The Shichida Method believes in play-based approach but the parents want drills and worksheets because they want to measure “progress”. The Shichida Method tells us that parents should guide the child but the parents expect the teachers to do it. The Shichida Method tells us to start by showing our love to our children but the parents just want to get straight to the maths/reading/etc. It’s difficult to change the mindset of the Singaporean parent and perhaps the only way is to try to get the parents into the programme first and hope they change their outlook after they have seen firsthand how the method works.

So what does the training involve?

Shichida believes that the right brain has the following special abilities:
2. intuitive image memory
3. wave speed reading
4. computer-like calculation ability
5. perfect pitch
6. language acquisition ability
7. image healing ability

These abilities stem from the hidden functions of the right brain, which are:
1. resonance function
2. image visualisation function
3. high-speed mass memory function
4. high-speed automatic processing function

Shichida training targets and strengthens these functions of the right brain by playing games that exercise the abilities of the right brain. Basically, the more you use the right brain, the stronger it becomes. So we do ESP/HSP games, memory games, speed reading, etc. We also listen to songs and phrases in different languages, do pretend play, etc.

In my next instalment, I will start on the actual training.

In this post I will explain the scientific basis of The Shichida Method.

Firstly, let me point out that Professor Shichida’s statements about the right brain may seem strange or novel but they are actually based on considerable research and findings by noted scientists, researchers, philosophers, theorists, psychologists, scholars and academics. The revolutionary part about his method is that he was the first to apply left/right brain research and findings to the field of education.

Let’s start with a theory supported by many scientists, called the “Superstring Theory”. Building on quantum theory, this says that everything can be sorted into molecules, atoms and elementary particles, and if we sort them further, they are vibrating waves. So every object/person gives off wave vibrations and the cosmos is brimming with waves containing information.

Scientists have demonstrated that the cells in our bodies are able, not only to emit vibrating waves, but also to perceive waves from objects/people and process the information the waves contain. Of course, we can readily accept the concept that our bodies can receive information about light, sound, heat, etc. What Shichida is focusing on is additional wave information which we are not conscious of, which is delivered to the right brain.

According to Shichida, to send and receive images this way, our mind must be operating at alpha wave frequency (8 - 13 hertz), which is usually associated with a relaxed state of mind. This is also known as a “dream state” and can be seen in persons watching a movie or television programme in which they are fully engrossed, mostly unaware of their surroundings. You see this very commonly in young children – they are able to focus and concentrate intensely on their chosen task, seemingly oblivious to everything else.

In this brain state, wave information can travel on this frequency to the right brain. The right brain converts the information into an image and transmits it to the left brain to be expressed. For example, we can sense the presence of a person in a room although we have not yet had sight of him. The great football player, Pele, once said, “I become able to grasp the positioning of all other players on the field instinctively, and I become able to feel what move each of them will make”. There are many examples in sports. When a race car driver is racing at top speed, he adjusts his state of mind to the elements – the moving car, the upcoming bends and corners in the circuit. He calms himself, shuts out other stimuli and puts himself mentally in sync with the speed of the elements. His perception of time starts to change. He feels time passing very slowly and he can clearly see how to pass the next corner as if he were in a slow motion movie. Many athletes have similar experiences – a baseball player eyeballing the ball flying towards his bat, a marathon runner experiencing his “runner’s high”, etc. When they reach this state, they are capable of great things.

Some scientists term this unusual state of mind as an Altered State of Consciousness (ASC). ASC has also been associated with artistic creativity.

Professor Shichida believed that smart and creative people had the habit of slipping into this state of mind. He believed that the mystery of human abilities lies in achieving this deeper level of consciousness, during which we can access the powerful abilities of the right brain and he believed the objective of education should be to enable us to do all this. This therefore forms the basic methodology of the Shichida Method - to achieve this relaxed state of mind and to train and develop the right brain.

There are several ways of achieving the relaxed brain state – calming yourself/meditation, deep and slow breathing, suggestions/hypnosis, image training (including image training with candles a la Henry Sugar), etc.

As for training the right brain, the method teaches us various ways to strengthen and exercise the right brain. Basically, the more you use the right brain, the stronger it becomes.

Remember that, although the main characteristic of the Shichida Method is its concentration on right brain education, Shichida believes that the secret of genius lies in the ability to use the left and right brain as a whole. If the right brain is not bridged to the expressive consciousness of the left brain, its abilities cannot be utilized. Therefore, the Shichida Method promotes “whole brain education” by developing the right brain and connecting it to the left brain, thus, allowing both sides of the brain to work in balance. The great abilities of the right brain are developed, and then transferred to the left brain to express, as the left brain is in charge of expression.

Remember also that right brain education starts with opening up the heart. This is why Shichida says that the genius is the person who has received enough love from his parents. The right brain cannot be accessed if there is negativity, because the child will deal with negative emotions by suppressing the right brain.

Ok, that's it for this post. Hope it was informative!

So in this post let’s talk about what Dr Makoto Shichida hoped to achieve with The Shichida Method. In my last Shichida post, I mentioned The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl. Did it leave an impression on you?

I read the story when I was a child. At the time, I did not know that it was based on a real man called Kuda Bux. On all accounts, to me, the tale was completely fictional. Yet, it made perfect sense to me. There was scientific proof that human beings used less than 10% of their brain and we could already do so much with that tiny portion. What would the unused portion be for? Surely it couldn’t be merely storage space.

I was convinced that it was possible, as Henry Sugar did in the story, to focus your concentration such that you achieved a deeper level of consciousness and, in that deeper consciousness, draw out those hidden abilities. I even tried training with a candle, as explained in the story, and, when I saw how extremely difficult it was, I believed even more that there was this untapped power in all of us which was accessible to a select few.

And the part of the story that made the deepest impression on me? It was the change in Henry Sugar from an avaricious, selfish man to a kind and generous man who went to great lengths to make money for charity. He travelled around the world, from casino to casino, always on the run as the casinos were on the hunt for him. He had to travel with a make-up artist and was always in disguise. Yet he carried on, seeking neither fame nor fortune, and used his abilities to better the lives of others.

This made perfect sense to me. I very readily accepted the idea that human beings had been created by God with all these powers and of course these amazing abilities could only be accessed by people who were wise, people who were innocent, people who were good, or in other words, people who would not abuse these powers and who would feel the responsibility and the obligation to use these powers for the greater good, to help others and to make the world a better place.

Sounds utopian? Perhaps. But if you want to believe in something, it should be something that’s worth believing in. And the idea that we could all be kind and generous and compassionate to each other and live unselfishly is something that’s definitely worth believing in.

Of course, at the time I read the story, I knew nothing of Shichida or of left/right brain education. It was therefore a happy day for me when I discovered that Shichida believes the exact same thing. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is, in fact, an excellent explanation and introduction to the Shichida Method.

The Shichida Method trains our focus and concentration such that we slip into an altered state of consciousness, during which we can access our hidden abilities (in his book, “The Science of Intelligence and Creativity”, Shichida even mentions focusing on a candle flame, just like Henry Sugar did, as one way to do image training). This altered state of consciousness can be achieved by activating the imaging capabilities of the right brain.

Just as Kuda Bux had said, Shichida also says that we all have the same right brain abilities and Shichida says it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to “pull out” the originally large potential capability any child was born with to the fullest extent through education (he points out that the original meaning of education (in Latin) is “to pull out the innate ability”). Shichida says, “Children, given a Shichida style education, have amazing concentration and absorbing power”.

And the aim? Professor Shichida believes that the future of the world, which includes achieving peace and a sense of goodwill among human beings, depends on the children of today and he also believes that, “Education will shape the future of the world because one of the objectives of education is to create a better world.”

Shichida marries the two concepts and says that, “When teaching children that they are valuable beings in the world, we should also teach them that they must take great responsibility as well. We must teach the children that each one of them has a responsibility to nurture his or her own innate capability to the fullest degree. Also, it is important to tell them to use such hidden treasure for the entire nation or the world.”

“We should not fall into the education trap that tries to produce the intellectually strong. “For what purpose do human beings live?” Ask your child this fundamental question about life and have him or her think about it.”

“Right brain training does not focus on academic achievement alone. One of the miraculous results of right brain education is that all the children treated with this method develop a gentle and harmonious mind. They will start showing richly nourished sensitivity, humanity, imagination and creativity. This is the natural result of right brain education whose learning principles based upon love, the sense of one-ness and cooperation. On the other hand, left brain-centred education is based upon confrontation and competition.”

Therefore, “The aim of the right brain education is not to give children mere knowledge but to foster love, the sense of oneness and cooperation among children.” This is why Shichida’s right brain education method is known as “the education of the heart”.

And that is the reason why we believe in the Shichida Method. Because our wish for Ryan is for him to grow up with a kind heart, with a compassionate soul and with a generous spirit. Because we believe that he can make a difference.

It's something that's worth believing in, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Our homemade jigsaw puzzles

Something simple to share today - these are our homemade 3 and 4-piece jigsaw puzzles! Ryan has been able to complete them easily, so we will graduate him to 6-piece puzzles soon.

Very easy to make - take two copies of an interesting picture, stick them on some cardstock and cut one copy into pieces. The pieces don't have to be the same size but make sure that each piece shows a distinctive part of the picture. Leave the other copy intact as a reference.

Happy jigsaw puzzle-making!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

We started reading The Gruffalo when Ryan was still an infant. Ryan had other favourites at the time so we just read this on and off. When we were reading it few months ago, I noticed that he was hanging on to every word, his facial expressions were changing at each scene and he was making comments on the illustrations. Now it is one of his firm favourites.

This “David and Goliath” story, written by the great Julia Donaldson, is a poem about the courage and imagination of a mouse, wandering the “deep dark wood” in search of nuts. Predators approach him, one by one and he scares each one away with tall stories of the terrifying Gruffalo, topping each tale off by sharing that the Gruffalo’s favourite food is that particular predator. Suddenly, the figment of his imagination appears and wants to have him on a slice of bread! The quick-thinking mouse employs his wit and ingenuity to show the Gruffalo who’s the boss and the Gruffalo flees.

Donaldson has said that the story is based on a traditional Chinese folk tale of a fox that borrows the terror of a tiger. Donaldson was unable to find rhymes for “tiger” so came up with the “Gruffalo” to rhyme with the word “know”.

The illustrations are equally important to the telling of the tale and are done by the incomparable Axel Scheffler. Ryan loves them, as do I. The forest backdrop is drawn in such detail, it is simply magnificent. After we finish reading, Ryan loves to go through the book again and point out the little details on each page – the woodpecker and the fallen tree, the kingfisher and the dragonfly at the stream where the owl lives, the reeds and the stepping stones in the stream, the snake’s logpile house (the logs are from different trees), the green frogs in the stream, the acorns and the mushrooms lining the mouse’s path, the butterflies and bugs, the pink and blue bluebells, the different types of trees, etc. The power of the illustrations is particularly felt when the mouse is describing the fearsome features of the Gruffalo. Only one part of the Gruffalo is shown at a time, and this effectively builds up the suspense in the story. When it finally appears, the Gruffalo isn’t that scary, it has kind eyes and looks a little goofy (apparently, initial sketches of the Gruffalo were much more menacing) and this endears it to the reader.

While reading it aloud, I use a variety of voices and accents to give each animal a personality and I try to express, through pace and volume, the mood of each scene whether whimsical, scary, funny, suspenseful, victorious or peaceful. You can get an audio version of it (the audio version won the Best Children's Audio award in the Spoken Book Awards) but I couldn’t bear to miss out on the fun!

Published in 1999, this "modern classic" has sold more than 5 million copies, been translated into 40 languages and has been staged in repertory since 2001 – not just in the UK (including London’s West End) but across America (including off-Broadway), Chile, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. The Gruffalo has spawned a sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child, and even has its own website where you can play games and be part of the Gruffalo gang.

The Gruffalo won the gold award (in the 0–5 years category) of the 1999 Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. In 2000, it was UK's bestselling picture book and won the 2000 Nottingham/Experian Children's Book award plus the Blue Peter “Best Book To Read Aloud” award. In November 2009 the book was voted "best bedtime story" by listeners of BBC Radio 2. In a 2010 survey by UK charity Booktime, the book came first in a list of children's favorite books.

It has been adapted into a 30-minute animated film, which was broadcast in the UK on Christmas Day 2009 with an all-star cast including Robbie Coltrane in the title role and Helena Bonham Carter as the narrator. The film was nominated for a BAFTA in 2010 and for an Oscar (Academy Award) for Best Short Film (Animated) in January 2011.

Hope you enjoyed Part 1. Have you been hugging your children and telling them that you love them? Have you been giving them a safe space to express themselves without scolding, criticism or impatience? Did you talk less, ask and listen more? If you have, great!

Remember, Shichida believes that the right brain pathways close when a child senses negative emotion and is stressed, afraid or bored, in which case right brain training and interbrain training will not yield the expected results.

Shichida teaches us that there are 6 important points to remember when viewing our children:

1. Don’t look at their shortcomings.
2. Don’t look at the present form as the completed form, know that the child is growing and progressing.
3. Don’t be a perfectionist.
4. Don’t compare. Every child has a potential to be the best.
5. Don’t place priority on academic achievements.
6. Learn to see the child as perfect – just as he/she is.

A Shichida parent will Love, Praise and Accept his/her child.

Now, in my next Shichida post and still on the fundamentals, I want to share with you what we are trying to achieve with Shichida parenting. Here, I will give you some food for thought first. Have you read Roald Dahl’s fictional 1945 tale, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”? I read it as a child and it made a great impact on me. It truly is a wonderful story. Here is a summary, which I copied off the internet (with minor edits).

Henry Sugar is a 41-year-old Englishman, wealthy and idle. He is a selfish playboy (he is unmarried because he does not want to share his money with a wife) and greedy (he is always looking for ways to increase his wealth). He inherited his wealth and he has never learnt anything or done any work before. He likes to gamble and is not above cheating to win. One weekend, while feeling bored at a friend’s mansion, Henry wanders into the library and discovers a book titled: "A Report on an Interview with Imhrat Khan, the Man Who Could See Without His Eyes" by Dr. John Cartwright. Henry reads the whole thing. The book talks of an Indian man, Khan, who comes to see Dr. Cartwright to get confirmation of his ability to see without using his eyes. The doctor seals his eyelids, fills his eye-sockets with dough, lays a thick pad of cotton-wool on his eyes and bandages his hands with two rolls of 3-inch bandage. To the doctor’s surprise, Khan walks out the hospital, takes his bicycle and proceeds to ride out into the bustling honking traffic. Amazed, the doctor invites Khan to have supper with him and asks Khan to explain how he developed this magical power.

Khan tells the doctor his story. As a young boy, he was fascinated with magic and ran off to be a magician's assistant. He was terribly disappointed to realize it was all trickery and sleight of hand. He decided to learn the strange power called yoga. It was hard to find a teacher, because Khan wanted to learn yoga for fame and fortune, and real yogis refused to teach him for those reasons. Eventually Khan managed to locate a yogi called Banerjee, and he watched in secret as Banerjee levitated during meditation. The yogi discovered him and became enraged, chasing him off. Khan went back every day though, and eventually Banerjee agreed to recommend him to a yogi friend for instruction. So Khan began the yoga training. He learned about focus and concentration. He described all the exercises he did. After three years of exercising he was able to walk over glowing embers, and after this success he decided that he would concentrate upon this exclusive aim – to see without his eyes. So every night, he lighted a candle at dead level to his eyes, stared at the black part of the flame, then shut his eyes and concentrated upon one single object. At the age of 24 he was slowly beginning to develop an inner sense of sight. At 29, he was able to read a book blindfolded, “seeing” with other parts of his body. Dr Cartwright is amazed with Khan's story. He decides that it must be published, that Khan's abilities might pave the way towards helping the blind see and the deaf hear. However, before he can speak to him again the next day, he learns that Khan has died in his sleep.

Having read this report Henry Sugar realises that if he could train himself to do the same he could make a fortune. So he tries the trick with the candle-flame. Surprisingly his progress is remarkable. Henry thinks he must be the one-in-a-million person who is gifted with the ability to acquire yoga powers at incredible speed. At some time during the 10th month of his training he becomes aware of a slight ability to see an object with his eyes closed. And that’s when he tries the thing with the card. And it works! His aim is to see the reverse side of a card in four seconds. After three years and three months of exercising he reaches his aim and goes to his favourite casino and wins a lot of money. When he gets home, he realizes that he doesn't feel as happy as he expected. The yoga training has changed his outlook on life. In the morning, he throws a 20-pound note to someone on the street and realizes that charity makes him feel good. Without a thought, he throws the entire pile of money out the window. A riot ensues and a policeman comes to question him. Henry is astonished when the policeman berates him for not giving the money to a worthy cause, like a hospital or orphanage. Henry decides the policeman is right and formulates a plan. For the next twenty years, Henry travels the world winning fortunes at casinos and, with these winnings, his personal accountant sets up orphanages in every country Henry visits. By the time Henry dies, he has over 144 million pounds and set up 21 well-established, well-run orphanages scattered about the world.

I want to mention that Roald Dahl’s character, Imhrat Khan, is based on the true story of an Indian man called Kuda Bux. Kuda Bux even had his own CBS tv series. In 1934 he allowed a team of experts and scientists to seal his eyes shut with dough, tinfoil, gauze and layers of woolen bandages and astounded them by being able to still read from books placed in front of him. In 1935, in front of an audience of scientists from the University of London Council for Psychical Research and news reporters, Kuda Bux walked across a 12-foot pit of burning coals unscathed. In 1937, he amazed onlookers in Liverpool by walking the entire length of a narrow ledge of a roof 200 feet above the ground while blindfolded. In 1945, Kuda Bux skillfully rode a bicycle through congested New York’s Times Square while his eyes were taped shut.

Ironically, in his later life, Kuda Bux lost his eyesight to glaucoma. Yet, he still managed to reproduce his amazing abilities. Most astoundingly, when not blindfolded, Kuda Bux required reading glasses to read fine print. Whilst blindfolded Kuda Bux would read the dates on coins which are held on a spectator’s hand, read the fine print of a magazine, thread a needle, duplicate words he had never seen written, shoot a bullseye with a pellet gun, and many other mysteries. When asked how he could see, Kuda Bux explained, “I can see due to the power of my concentration. I bring my attention to a finer level of my vision. It’s my power of concentration.” Kuda Bux paused briefly then stated, “My back was broken in three places. Doctors said that I would never walk again. With my concentration I was able to heal myself. I have no problem walking now,” he asserted. And when asked “Can anyone learn to do this?”, Kuda Bux affirmed, “Yes, you can develop your power of concentration by gazing at the gap between a flame and the candle. Do this just a few seconds at first,” he explained. “After some time you will be able to do this for much longer.”

Now, what part of "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" made the deepest impression on you? Think about it - your answer will be relevant to the question of what results you expect to see from the Shichida Method. So think about it, and in my next Shichida post, I will share with you the aims of the Shichida Method.

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