Hello everyone. My name is Ian Chia and I'm the founder of Being Prudence.
Being Prudence makes useful things. Think of it as a handcrafted 21st century "publisher" of handmade apps, books & goods for children and families.
I would like to offer a sincere, contrite apology to everyone who came to play with Felicity from Thin Air during December and have been disappointed by the lack of updates mid-way through the month. We (the creators) made Felicity for a number of reasons - one was to introduce ourselves to the world at large, another was to bring happiness to families worldwide through participation in a creative and art-filled game that we could all share and play with. One of the most primary reasons was to inspire creative thinking in children - to show how the arts and STEM based thinking within education could intersect and create something more wonderful and grand.
We failed in that and it was my fault.
So - again, please accept my sincere apology. I'll explain why things went astray.
When we launched Felicity at the start of December, it was my responsibility to go and invite the world. I went out to meet parents, families and children and educators. What I discovered in terms of connecting with people was far more wonderful, complex and richer than I had ever ever dared to imagine. I also discovered shocking realities, far harsher than my own personal experience as a parent in Australia had shown me. I heard many stories like Melissa's, about why she didn't want to send her children back to school. Those situations are thankfully still rare in Australia, but I began to understand from talking to teachers and parents in the US, Canada and elsewhere that it's common, endemic and becoming institutionalized within education systems. We were very surprised by the reception that Felicity from Thin Air received from educators, how some of them took our advent calendar and re-imagined it for use within classrooms; not only for our craft-based activities but also for the daily ideas within the calendar to inspire creative thinking.
In response, I started to repurpose the calendar so it would be more useful to people's needs. As the scale of the "creativity-within-education" problem began to dawn on me, I sought with some urgency to find out more, by introducing myself to teachers and principals, homeschooling familes and educators around the world. I wanted to find out how best to help, how best to approach the problem.
Being Prudence was created to solve problems. And this is a big problem.
So here we are in January - the current result is that I have a far more comprehensive understanding of the problems we all face. Problems that will no doubt affect where I live and bring up my family in Australia as much as families elsewhere. I've made valuable connections with families and educators around the world. I've also met a number of potential collaborators to help tackle this massive problem - one that I and some others believe can be solved with shameless optimism conjoining prudent pragmatism.
However, I have broken your trust. For a business that has espouses prudence, that is a very poor introduction to the world.
Here is my proposal to earn back your trust. It's all I can offer at this stage. (I have to attend to some serious family health issues for the next few weeks and am unable to release the revised calendar until then.) The current thinking is that we plan to release a number of apps in 2011 and in the years ahead. Our apps, like the other things we're planning to make will be very different. They exist, not only to delight, but to tackle serious issues. They will be priced at $15 or more - these will not trinkets or apps that occupy your attention for an hour or so at most - we hope you'll find them far more useful than that.
What I would like to propose is that I give you a $15 app for free, in an attempt to earn back your trust. I can see by the signups to our mailing list and from the Facebook numbers that there may be around 400-500 families who came to play and have been disappointed by Felicity.
In this day and age, when businesses like Facebook are valued with astronomical "imaginary" numbers, when a financial crisis in one part of the world can cascade globally, I believe one of the few things we have left is the social currency of trust. Trust is vitally important and I have squandered that.
As a new business, we can't afford to give each of you a $15 app at launch. 500 families times a $15 app is impractical for a new business releasing its first paid product. However, there will be LOTS of different apps coming. Far more than 15. What I propose is that, over time, you can cherry pick from the range of apps and I'll give you a dollar discount off each until I've made up that quota. If at some point I can make up the deficit with a larger contribution, I will.
If anyone of you would like to accept this offer, please email me - I probably won't be able to respond much as I'm attending to this family situation. I will respond when I can, if not now, then in February. Aside from the 350-ish email address on the mailing list, I have no idea who the extra affected familiers are. So I'll make it open to the first 500 families who accept this offer. I'll also leave you below with an incomplete Publisher's Manifesto, so you can understand the core philosophy behind Being Prudence and the issues we're are aspiring to fix. I hope that I've re-earned your trust that you'll be around in February to hear the completed manifesto.
Thank you for listening.
All the very best,
- Ian Chia
Founder: Being Prudence.
PS: For those of you in Melbourne who might be concerned at my family's prolonged absence and wish to case the joint to check whether anyone's feeding our cat, thank you for your concern. Our housesitter's looking after that.
Being Prudence was created to solve problems.
Our team is spread across the world, in different countries including the USA, Canada and Australia. Because the people behind it are artists and artisans, scholars and storytellers, educators and game developers, child development experts and software engineers, we're combining our skills, thinking and art to solve some problems that we share. We'd like to invite you to help us.
First, please allow me to sketch out how we see the world from one perspective. This is partly an outsider's viewpoint as I'm in Melbourne, Australia. Even though I'm on the other side of the planet from many of you, we still share the same world. Many of these issues are as relevant for my family and my daughters as they are for you.
If we step 80 paces back, the big picture affecting the shaping of children and youth is like a giant, complex 3D jigsaw puzzle with big interlocking pieces. I'm going to try and pry some of them gently apart. I hope that sharing this view with you, however incomplete, will allow Being Prudence an opportunity to plant a seedling. You and I can collaborate can nurture and grow something new in this decades old tangle knot of enmeshed interests.
Let's first talk about play. Childhood play, like air, is something we take for granted. Kids play. Today, your children's play is being shaped by a number of factors. Consider that when we talk about play; when our children run to play; one of the first things that comes to mind are the toys. The idea of play being focused on toys is something that's only happened since 1955. Alix Spiefel in a 2008 NPR report interviews Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University. Chudacoff identifies that, around 55 years ago, it was when a toy company's attempted to market their product on television outside of the Christmas season, that "almost overnight, children's play became focused, as never before, on things — the toys themselves." He goes on to observe that during the second half of the 20th century, play became increasingly tied to marketed toys. It became more focused on objects rather than activity. Instead of freewheeling make-believe, the toys became specific and supplied pre-determined scripts. I'm not saying that children today no longer have the ability to take a chopstick and pretend it's a magic wand, or that a lightsabre doubles as a tentpole in a game of imagination. However, I think we'll all admit that increasingly, we purchase toys for our children (particularly electronic ones) that encourages an experience delimited by a piece of plastic or glass and metal. The environment where children use to roam in play have become increasingly virtual worlds. Here's an atlas mapping most of the virtual worlds that currently exist, delineated into playgrounds for 5-10 year olds, 10-15, 15-25 and higher. I think you'll be as staggered as I that so many alternate pre-canned, pre-scripted versions of reality exist for our children to play in, environments that partly shape their online social behavior, and secondly that a large proportion of them directly map to physical products from toy manufacturers.
As parents, there are very understandable reasons why we have encouraged our children to play more with objects and less with the outdoors. For many of us, the last 40 years have been decades filled with increasing concerns about public safety. Hence a number of environments sprung up that were insurance against the unknown. Gym classes, summer camps, art classes, music lessons - aside from providing healthy alternatives to staying indoors, they also offered the prospect of improving our children's bodies and minds.
This decline in free playtime occurring all over the world has had some unintended consequences. Esa Helttula in an article for momswithapps.com, noted that Natural England reported a 30% drop in children's play in natural settings down to 10% today. In 2008, the Outdoor Foundation discovered that outdoor activities in the USA dropped by 11% and over 30% of children didn't venture outside to play for the whole year. Along with these precipitous worldwide drops in children engaging with the natural environment, a growing number of psychologist and learning experts believe that this altered social behavior is shaping children's cognitive and emotional development. Aspects of critical cognitive skill such as self-regulation, the ability to learn how to control their own emotions and behavior, to exert self-control and discipline are being affected. The same NPR article compares the results from a study performed first in the 1940s to one in the 2001. It notes that "today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago". The article goes on to discuss that make-believe is vital tool for building self-discipline. I invite you read more.
Within the context of the loss of play, we are also facing a worldwide focus on the problems of reinventing education. Sir Ken Robinson, a internationally respected education reformer, eloquently highlights the challenges facing worldwide education to prepare children for an uncertain future. When we ourselves don't have a firm grip on the context of the world's economies and technologies in the next 10 years, how do we provide skills for our children who inherit far more than a decade. He also notes a stunning loss in the creative thinking ability of children. One of the heartbreaking facts of this video from one of his lectures highlights that children in kindergarten have an innate creative ability to innovate at what psychologists rate as genius level, and that ability steadily drop as they grow up educated by our current schooling system. I encourage you to take 10 minutes of your time to learn something vital to the children in your life. (When it starts discussing ADHD, please persist. It's probably not what you think - if you're interested in the first portion, it's worthwhile hearing him out.) At a point when our shared world faces large problems, we seem to be shaping our children to lose the ability to innovate ideas and solve problems creatively. This would seem to be a dangerous legacy to be leaving them.
In most of the developed world, Australia included, standardized metrics have become the priority, endorsed by policy makers as a way to measure our children's growth at school. It's almost as if we can measure their cognitive abilities and skills in the same way we ask them to lean against a wall and measure their height with a pencil. You and I know that children grow differently. Just as you and I are different people, with different interests and skill sets, our children launch into growing up at different trajectories. Dr Elaine Heffner (a Senior Lecturer of Education in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, an advisor to the Children’s Television Workshop, a Lecturer at New York University School of Social Work, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University where she taught Parent Education) wisely observes in her notes about the current US education policy known as "Race to the Top":
"Children do not develop in the same way or at the same time. They can’t all be at the top – and certainly not at the same time. Yet getting the best education – whether in private or public schools – seems to be more and more dependent on a competition to be at the top. And parents feel responsible for getting them there.
As parents we have a number of contradictory goals: we want our children to be individuals, to be like everyone else, and also to be better than anyone else. Starting with their youngest years we seem to have the idea that earlier is better. Mothers compare notes on whether children have given up the bottle, are toilet trained, are saying words, or have taken other developmental steps. They are proud when their children are first, and worry if they see differences from other children.
Educators as well as parents, we all seem to have forgotten what we once knew about child development. There is a range in the ages at which children achieve developmental milestones. Perhaps even more significantly, there is a range of innate differences in personality, temperament, skills, talents and interests among children. This translates into differences in behavior, readiness for specific tasks, and mastery of skills, at points along the way."
I'll leave you to ponder her thoughts (again, echoed worldwide by many concerned and passionate hands-on educators) on her blog at http://goodenoughmothering.com/
Within the context of a worldwide education reform, there is an enormous focus on STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Those subjects are absolutely important but as you've noted from Sir Ken Robinson's preoccupation, where is the subject called Creative Problem Solving, or Innovative Thinking. Do children magically reshape those parts of their brain by themselves, after they've successfully aced their scores and graduated in the race to the top? At what point do we show them about how they have to share the world with others? Are we seriously considering that we no longer need to shape our children and youth with values focusing on character, citizenship, our cultural values and artistic expression and a context historically for *when* they live in this world and *why* the world is the way it is? Do we really believe that these values are less important than STEM? Will STEM alone give our children the ability to remake the world to be a better place?
Diane Ravitch, a core architect of the No Child Left Behind policy has since reconsidered her ideas. At 72, Ms Ravitch has just won the prestigious Daniel Patrick Moynihan award of the American Academy of Political and Social Science for 2011, awarded by the American Academy of Political and Social Science. As someone pivotal to the NCLB policy and in her eyes, its successor: the Race to the Top, it's eye opening as an Australian, to hear her views. You can view your daily thoughts here: http://twitter.com/#!/dianeravitch
(To be continued in February ...)
Hello world! Serendipity interposed - we've been invited to help create the future even more while re-orienting our past. We're sorry that Felicity and Bunny are a little out of sync with the real world. Our tardis WILL land momentarily with an exhibition of all things good, but here's a special magic trick we'd like to share. It's even more free and will soon land on your shores from the land of Thin Air. Thank you very much for putting up with us.
Help us dream up a dinner from Thin Air and
share your wonderful platefuls with us.
If your family uses Facebook, click here to add your comments to the menu question:
Our dinner plate from Thin Air was ________________.
If your family uses Twitter, share your menu by saying
"Pls RT Magic munchies @sendfelicity was ________________."
(140 characters is pretty squishy for a plateful,
so you may need to use a few servings of tweets.)
We'll gather the first 200 intrepid chefs serving ingredients of wild imagination
and them to a menu on this page, with your names (so please include
your children's first names and yours as well).
We'll help other people fill their tummies with delicious delights from Thin Air.
(Lovingly handmade by Evie Lala.)
(Lovingly handmade by Amber's family and Ian's family.)
Today we are boldly making mistakes.
Today, our children will make a small mess.
Today, we'll set out on an adventure and begin with an "oops" and end up in a place where we can look and wonder. Together, we can do something mistaken and wrong; and audacious and wonderful to surprise everyone.
Let's get the materials we need first onto a table, so we don't get sidetracked. We'll need a clear plastic lid per person from a takeout or takeaway food container. Some PVA or craft glue (it needs to really stick. Starch based preschool glue won't make you happy. A hot-glue gun is TOO sticky). A small paintbrush. Some small pasta shapes (tiny or small will be fine - shape is up to you.) Some food dye is optional but very nice. A drinking straw is also useful as an eyedropper. Some colored tissue paper and a pair of scissors would be helpful but not necessary. Assorted spangly bits like tinsel, or beads or glitter etc. would spice things up if they're around.
The first step needs everyone to get comfy and watch our friend Barney show you his book for a minute and a bit. It would work much better to show you the book in person, but this is the next best thing. One nice bonus is that Barney sings his own catchy song on the video. Barney wrote songs for the PBS show Arthur so he's very good at things like that. We hope you'll enjoy it as much as we did.
Step 1: Get comfy. Make sure everyone can see the screen. Clickity click here and watch the one minute-ish video. Talk about HOW Barney made mistakes into something beautiful, using his imagination to surprise himself and us.
Step 2: Take a plastic lid each and drizzle some craft glue. Not too much. Not too little. There's no correct amount, but the more glue you use, the longer it will take to dry. The less you use, the harder to stick the ingredients onto it. It's up to you. Add a bit here and there as the steps continue.
Step 3: Use a drinking straw or a stick or whatever, and add some drips of food color to the craft glue. Watch the loveliness of the food color as you swirl it into the glue. That's a nice little moment to enjoy.
Step 4: Paint away and enjoy mixing it. It doesn't have to be all mixed through. Streaky works too. It's up to you.
Step 5: If you are feeling adventurous, take some tissue paper and fold it into half, and half, and half again. Add another half if you wish. You'll end up with a little triangle that you can snip bits out of. When you unfold, you'll have YOUR own version of a snowflake which will look different to this and beautiful.
Step 6: Add your own magic ingredients. What you add is up to you. Make mistakes and turn them into beautiful oops. There is no right or wrong. Ian personally loves adding bits of pasta, and Amber loves other spangly ingredients.
Step 7: When the glue is dry, it's time for more unexpected magic. A beautiful oops. Hang them with some thread onto the window. They look lovely, don't they? Now turn them around so the flat part of the lid is facing you. WOW. Stained glass made out of spangly bits of stuff.
Your children will be happy because they made something magical out of simple things. We hope you are too. Many good things in life can made with simple items, thought and love. We'd like to show you some magical work by Canadian designer Marian Bantjes, from her book I Wonder. She's invested time and love into her work with pasta shapes, just like you.
When you've hung up your spangly window decorations, please take the time to send in photos using Facebook or Twitter or email so we can build our gallery to show the world. Together, we can show how simple, wonderful things, made with audacity in the face of mistakes can be something wonderful and new.
This is not an ad. This is because we treasure this thing, invested with love and care and we want to share it with all of you. We hope you'll adore it as much as we do.
Our friend Barney made the book Beautiful Oops that we showed you in Step 1. If you're interested in seeing a little bit behind the scenes, Barney has a website here. His friends at Workman Publishing also have some ways for you to buy his wonderful book, by clicking here.
(Australians like Ian will probably have to settle for Amazon, as it's not available in Australian bookstores.)