Well, Hello 2016!

Last year I made the mistake of not asking for anything in particular and look what 2015 has brought: Ebola, ISIS, refugee crisis… 2015,  really, was this your idea of a decent present?

Now, dear 2016, to avoid any misunderstanding, here’s my list of New Year wishes:

  1. Peace on Earth (and other inhabited planets). Cliché as it may sound, is there anything, ever, more important than peace?
  2. Health for myself and my loved ones. Please 2016, I don’t want to hear the words “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer” again! Can’t we have a break this year?
  3. Personal growth. (One can never have enough of it, right?) I’d love to become stronger, more independent and learn to finish my countless projects. I guess that’s what they call “growing up” (anyway, I’d rather grow up than down or sideways ))).

And that’s it: three wishes, like in fairy-tales. By the way, I have some hope with number three, thanks to a book I recently came across, “Refuse to choose” by Barbara Sher. I’m still in the process of reading it but I can already tell you that it has opened my eyes on something that I, somehow, never realised: the reason why it’s so easy for me to start a new project and so difficult to finish it, the reason why I’m constantly jumping from one interest to another, why I seem to be interested in everything and ready to learn pretty much anything, and with lots of enthusiasm, why I’m having more “brilliant” ideas than I can write down and that never bring me any profit…

If you have recognized yourself in this description, you might be what Barbara Sher calls a “scanner” (or a Renaissance person, or a polymath – if that sounds better to you) – someone who is constantly “scanning” the world for whatever catches his or her attention, a person of a great curiosity and many talents. Now, I’d rather be a scanner than a looser, wouldn’t you? In any case, it’s great to know that you’re neither a failure, nor alone – you simply happen to own a set of brains that’s wired in a different way and that allows you to do funny things that “normally wired” people won’t even think of. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read about scanners, I felt a great relief: not bad for a start, huh?

By the way, I have a couple of ideas… But I’ll tell you all about it later )))

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Raising a reader

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When I was a kid, reading was pretty much the only way of spending free time. Of course, one could go outside or watch TV, or play with the dolls, which I duly did, but peering into a book was my top of the list. The library was just a couple of blocks away and I went there religiously, at least once a week: no wonder all the librarians knew me by the name and I was allowed to take home whichever books I wanted, including those you cannot take home. From adventure stories to the encyclopaedia of entomology, my reading range was quite impressive, it was like I could never have enough…

In my University years, I became a pickier reader: I had my favourites. Literature studies provided material for “broadening the horizons”, while my old friends were always close at hand for a cosy, relaxing time: rereading and rediscovering has become a new guilty pleasure of mine, and I have never pushed it as far as during my son’s first months when I could often be found sitting up in my bed in the middle of the night, breastfeeding, one arm wrapped around the baby and the free hand holding a smart phone…

I’m not sure if these breast-reading sessions are to blame, but one thing is clear: this boy is a real little bookworm. He has started early: at the age of 18 months he already had a library card of his own and at two, he’s a happy owner of 50-something books (and I didn’t count the magazines). His books are stored on the bottom shelf of the bookcase where he can pick them whenever he wants and I’m glad to see that he does reach for them, every day! His “passion for literature” often manifests itself in the evening and, although it has spoilt many of our TV nights, I keep encouraging him (and reading to him in whispers while we’re watching yet another film) because in my charts, the magic of the “blue screen” will never rank as high as the magic of a good book. I don’t know if his interest in books persists but he can count on me to keep them coming: it takes a library to raise a reader!

My two-year-old doesn’t need a magic wand, thank you very much!

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Watching cartoons constitutes an essential part of our daily routine. Peppa Pig and Pimpa the dog teach my son Italian, Mickey Mouse and Trotro help him with his French and Simon’s Cat is my best ally when it comes to clipping fingernails, cleaning ears or cutting hair. Yes, I let my toddler watch cartoons and no, I don’t feel guilty about it. In fact, I enjoy them a lot, with one exception…

I don’t like cartoons that involve super powers. Whether in the archaic form of a magic wand, or in the modern “super-anything” interpretation, I think they teach children wrong values: that being normal isn’t cool enough, that it takes a superhero to solve a problem, that things can be made to happen by the snapping of one’s fingers… Wrong, wrong, wrong! Being normal is… well, normal. Solving problems takes a lot of thinking and hard work, not the ability to walk through the walls or talk bird language. And the only result you obtain by snapping your fingers is a “snap!” sound (and a couple of scornful looks from the waiters if you happen to practice this skill at a restaurant).

The Universe is full of magic. Soap bubbles. Rainbows. Higg’s boson… Anything we don’t quite understand is a miracle, and even more so once we’ve figured out how it works. So why not teach our kids this kind of magic? The one that involves thinking and participating rather than sitting and waiting for a miracle solution. Because kids will become adults and in the adult world you can’t rely on Superman to do the dirty job for you.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good fantasy or science fiction as much as you do. What I dislike is the early emphasis on all things magical. I believe that kids should first learn about things that exist, rather than those that don’t. Remember that young children take everything they see for granted and introducing the magical too early can only result in a big confusion. If every little girl you know wants to be a princess, and every little boy – a superhero, there must be a flaw somewhere in the way our children understand the world and it’s entirely our fault.

What do I suggest? As long as you control what information your children are exposed to, choose books and cartoons that will teach them true values and relationships. The immensely popular Peppa Pig is a good example of how everyday situations can be made amusing, with good manners and mild humour thrown into the mix. (Yes, I’m aware that it includes anthropomorphic animals!) Stella and Sam (my favourite) is another great cartoon featuring, for once, human protagonists. So as Charlie and Lola, Le Petit Nicholas and Joe and Jack, to name a couple more (although in the last one Jack is a talking cat). By the way, did you notice how few cartoons have humans as protagonists? There are plenty of animals, magical creatures and even mechanisms that feel and act like humans – but where are all the people gone? (But I am digressing: this topic deserves a full-blown research of its own.) What makes all of the above mentioned films different is the absence of the paranormal. No fairies, no superheroes, just “real” protagonists facing real situations and finding solutions the “hard” way, on their own or with a little help from their friends. Isn’t this exactly what we want our kids to do?

And what about magic? Should it be banned from our children’s lives forever? Of course, not: fairy tales being part of our common heritage, one cannot (and needn’t) avoid them. But one can teach the kids to analyse, introducing them to the magical in a safe, guided way. There is no reason to deprive them of the most beautiful part of the world’s literature, once they are ready to understand it. After all, who doesn’t love a happy ending?