Oct 22, 2007


Have you taken the step into the quicksand of This American Life? While their stories will suck you in with no hope of ever escaping, they also leave you feeling ripe with human emotion. Depending on the episode, you might develop sore abdominals from so much laughter. Certain vignettes can spark philosophical discussions, while others will have you reining in the tears. This particular episode, Meet the Pros, was of particular interest to me. In Act Three, Martha, My Dear, the author visits his dream job in the crafts department of Martha Stewart Living. His query: if his passion became his job, would it still be fun?


This is a really important issue for me at the moment, as "my little sewing addiction" becomes a "job." It has become all the more essential for me to find ways to protect and nurture the creative process that brought me to where I am, an "official" pattern designer, in the first place. You know the feeling - that crafting "high," the loss of time, the ability to continue working on a project without eating for 8 hours ... the world could be falling to pieces around you, but you just blankly respond "In a minute ... I'm almost done, just one more seam/row/etc."

Flow. Have you read it? You should - as an artist, a parent, or an educator.
C.'s theory is that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity or situation at hand. Flow is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing.

To achieve flow, a task must provide sufficient challenge, but the person must possess the skills to surmount it. If a task is too difficult, frustration ensues. If it is too easy, it is simply not intellectually or physically engaging enough. Flow arises in this narrow spectrum where the person's skills are perfectly matched to the challenge at hand.

sewing a button
Tlaloc sews a button on an apron. He didn't even notice me taking the picture.

My job as a Montessori teacher is to match the child to the challenge, to provide him the opportunity to experience flow. We recognize the need for flow in our adult lives - we all talk about the need to create, the sacredness of the creative process, and how refreshed we feel after we've completed a project. Children need to have the same experience! How often to we swoop in on the child when he is concentrating, shuffling him about from activity to activity? Hold on ... let me whip out my pocket-sized Montessori holy book ... ah hah! Here it is ... Above all else, never interrupt a concentrating child! Welp, there it is. Children need flow more than anyone - they emerge from this state with a newfound self-confidence, increased problem-solving skills, and a love of learning.

My new mantra: protect the flow. So many good things come out of it, whatever your passion or hobby, whatever your age.


macati said...

so interesting! I didn't know that this kind of state had a name!

Anonymous said...

You are greatest inspired with your children and crafts. Amazing to find time to do both. The little ones are very lucky to have you in their life, you have impacted so much for these children and their future.

Bethany Hissong said...

As I was reading the first part of your post, I kept thinking that this is a Montessori principle. I think that when someone takes ownership over the process and the result, then the project is a success and the flow happens. But when there is too much input from others, directing the result, then that's when it can halt the joy of the whole thing. I'm not saying you can't work with a team, but I am saying that working at a place like Martha Stewart might tend to drain you. After years of professional creative work, I lost my "flow" and was just frustrated and never happy with the end product. Once I finally allowed myself to do whatever I wanted that pleased me (here at home), I started to get it back. And your post just made the whole thing make sense to me! One reason I became an art teacher was that I LOVE seeing kids in their creative flow and their joy and surprise when they've created something that they didn't know they could do! It's simply magical.

Wendy said...

This describes perfectly one of the main reasons that I'm considering homeschooling my daughter. Every 30 minutes they've got a bell telling them to move from one project (or subject) to another.

And I don't think that this Flow only applies to creating something. I very much feel the flow when I'm learning something that I'm interested in. All of life is learning and for some reason, traditional schools tend to gloss over this fact and ruin the love that we all have for learning.

Beautiful post!

mamalyssa said...

Right on, Meg! I think it is especially important to bring this to the attention of parents and teachers again and again! Even those who know it already. And to remember to give OURSELVES space for the flow as well. Thanks for the work you do, I am way into the flow of the reading pillows I am making for Christmas right now... piping has a very special way of bringing you right into the current, doesn't it?

marit said...

Thanks, Meg, you've put into words just what I've been thinking!

Jodi said...

my brother and I were just talking about this. he's a college basketball coach in a Div. III school, and he uses this principle when recruiting. He's also taking this into consideration as he weighs the balance between his life with 3 young children, and pursuing a dream coaching job at a higher level.

interesting stuff. thanks for sharing the book.


sarah said...

I think maybe you are the only other person I've ever heard of who has read this book! It is one of the books that has most heavily influenced my philosophy of education and life as well. Thanks for sharing it!

Susan said...

Meg, I have loved this book for almost fifteen years. I design my room and make modifications to it so as to encourage a flow of movement, but also the "flow" that occurs during work. Some of the concepts in "Flow" when active in children's behavior/work often remind me of Elaine Wolf's (Sp?) book "Nurturing the Spirit." Flow is when we see the spirituality of children's work that Dr. Montessori noted. It is transcendent. It is the method working. A child's work is being respected. How often do we become frustrated when children interrupt us adults. I often ask other adults that I work with if they have read this book. I too have never had anyone say yes. Susan Dyer

Sarah said...

I just read this book a few months ago, and it was very interesting! Although I think all of the mind games and everything were sort of over the top (my brain does not have to be occupied every MINUTE for me to enjoy myself!), I really loved how the author expressed in words what I had once only suspected.

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