Just-right adventures

How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists.  If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground.  I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.

The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves.  I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening.  The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.

busrideJust a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective.  In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time.  Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides.  Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals.  Wolves and bears board the bus with her.  They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign.  The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure.  It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.

It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did.  That is a message that I can firmly get behind.  I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult.  Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life.  Some solo, some together.

Read More:

  • Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
  • The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
  • A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
  • Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.

Let’s Talk about the Arts

Last week I listened to a Round Table conversation about art, and I found myself nodding vigorously at so much of what the guests were saying that I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to relate it to my areas of interest–books, libraries, & community.  Here are some of my thoughts on the discussion:

The librarian in me was interested in ways that people connect with art, including the idea of community spaces.  One of the guests said “The social spaces that art creates, they can be just as important as the art itself.”   Of course, many people think of libraries as quiet places with lots of rules, but I believe, and there are many, many librarians out there who also believe, that libraries can be vibrant social spaces to access or create art in various forms.

The mom in me wanted to applaud the notion that anyone can be an artist.  Scratch that.  That everyone is an artist.  Artists do not exist in a separate group that the rest of us watch.   We are all part of the show.  I love the way that technology has made so many forms of art so accessible to amateurs, and I am glad that my daughter is growing up in a world where creative aspirations are within her reach with a lot of hard work.  Frankly, I appreciate this on a personal level too.

While I’m not usually the girl in line for autographs or wharever, there is a fangirl in me that values digging for the stories behind the art that speaks to me.  This is why I seek out author blogs or look for sketches from my favorite picture book illustrators.  It’s why I follow authors on Twitter.  I want to know about the writing life in all its gory detail.  It doesn’t take away from the magic of the art.  It highlights the humanness of the endeavor in a way that makes it much more alive.

There are so many great examples of artists (of all sorts) and arts organizations doing the innovative work that the Roundtable guests discussed.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Open rehearsals.  I remember attending a couple of Elgin Symphony Orchestra Open Rehearsal events as a teen in my home town, and I thought it was fascinating.  A quick internet search brought up several large orchestras that do similar programs, especially for kids.  What better way to see what being a professional musician is like than to see the preparation that goes in to performance?  
  • Blogging Your Blocks.  Publicizing one’s creative frustrations might seem like the last thing anyone wants to do in the world, but I’ll use Veronica Roth as an example here.  Her wildly popular book Divergent resulted in the opportunity to write a sequel (then turn it into a trilogy), and she’s been blogging her experiences as she continues the story.  Not only am I anticipating the next book more after reading her creative journey (as if it were possible for me to anticipate it more), but also there’s a deeper connection to the story and to the author now.
  • Reinventing spaces.  The Chattanooga Public Library launched a public laboratory space focused on connecting people to the production and sharing of knowledge.  Here in Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center’s Open Field is a summer time creative space for anyone interested in the arts.  There are all sorts of programs and plenty of supplies (and a Little Free Library) free for use when the weather is nice.    Then there’s Northern Spark.  This night-time festival reinvented the entire city as an interactive art gallery.  Absolutely amazing.

How have you connected with the arts in the past year or so?  Have you seen any really interesting opportunities to connect with art or artists?  What would you like to see?

How to be 3rd Grade

I love Radiolab.  I was thrilled to hear that one of the co-creators of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad, was recently named a MacArthur Fellow for his “distinctive new aesthetic” to science journalism.  This morning he spoke with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio about his work with Radiolab and his connection to science.  I was particularly intrigued with something he said the way to encourage a stronger interest in science is to engage people (especially kids!) in the process, in the failures, in the disappointments that come before the end result.  Too often our perception of science becomes about results.

I think there are some great children’s books about science that illustrate the process behind science.  I mentioned the “Scientists in the Field” series in my recent post about choosing science books, and I must bring it up again as an example of a window into science that shows more than just the results.

Since most of what I know about science either comes from Radiolab or children’s books, I found the podcast in which Jad and co-host Robert Krulwich talk about their effort to “Be 3rd grade” pretty amusing.  Apparently third grade is the last time people remember enjoying science.

Let’s all follow Radiolab’s example and be 3rd grade.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.