What got us started was this: I was driving my oldest daughter, Isabella, to school. This involves a rush-hour drive down the interstate into the city; we live in the Berkshires. The ride is always a little challenging with two young children, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, screeching and teasing from the back seat while your author, still un-caffeinated, navigates through traffic that insists on checker-boarding, usually at high speeds, across four (sometimes six) lanes. So what ensued was an attempt on my part to (1) put my kids in a calmer state of mind and (2) try out a game I had been thinking might be a great way to help teach mental flow as well as higher speed attention skill.
I turned on the radio. The station we usually listen to was playing a holiday song, and that was followed by another. From past years, I knew that their playlist would now be straight-up holiday music for the next month or so. That's when I got the idea.
Remember that old game, Name that Tune? The song that was playing was "Frosty the Snowman" (sung by Jimmy Durante). Isabella -- then 5 -- had been a fan of this song for several years. So it would be easy for her to guess, I thought. So I asked, "Do you want to play a neat game?" My personal experience with children is that they love to play games. "Yes, yes." They both replied. So Veronica, my youngest, was interested as well. "Nice," I thought. "Let's see who can say the name of this song first." I let Isabella take the prize. "Frosty the Snowman!" she offered.
"That's it," I said.
I asked her if it "felt good" to know the answer. This step is important because it helps the child understand and experience intrinsic reward (reward from within) -- a necessary component of the flow experience.
"It feels great," Isabella replied.
And I went with that, telling her about how good it feels to me as well when I know the "name" of a song from just listening to a little bit of it. I soon thereafter began to develop the lesson into other areas, substituting the word, "title" for name and introducing the words, "point" and "theme." Isabella told me that if what I meant by theme referred to "the point" of the song then theme is "like the point of a needle."
I jumped the gun and corrected her, saying that that is not exactly what "point" means in this case. But then she added, "I know what you mean by point, but what I mean," she said, [by point of a needle] "is ouch that's a good idea." And we laughed, as I learned more about my daughter's verbal capabilities than I had previously been aware of, and she learned more about theme and other ways she could entertain her dad with language.
My approach to our music "game" was to let her out-guess me for a while to build her confidence. My wife Elaine, on the other hand, when she got hooked into playing the game, just jumped right in and guessed correctly. After one or two of Elaine's right answers, Isabella guessed first again. Then she got another. She was pumped to get right answers and fully involved and enjoying the whole process.
Every time things started to seem a little competitive; I would ask a few times, "How does it feel to guess right. Isn't it a good feeling?" And she would respond, "Great."
As Elaine began giving her a run for her money, I did too. What I saw next was that Isabella now had to put her attention on developing a quicker way of recognizing the song titles.
That's when she started to realize (on her own) that titles often come from the first few lines of a song. This helped her tag them more quickly.
Then Elaine and I started to give her even more of a challenge, and that provoked Isabella to put her attention on listening to and memorizing the first few instrumental notes of songs, instead of waiting for the lyrics to kick in.
A few days later, she nailed "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" at lightning speed. And even though I was going all-out, she nailed it before I did.
Later on, she came to realize that titles sometimes appear in a chorus and that first lines are not always the titles. So she learned that waiting to guess may sometimes payoff as well. So she was developing a variety of different criteria for correctly ID-ing the song titles.
Not wanting to be left out, her younger sister, Veronica, nearly 2 years Isabella's junior, one morning ID'd "Jingle Bells" -- enthusiastically shouting out the title before anyone. Elaine and I were amused and pleasantly surprised as was Isabella. Veronica had joined the game, without any coaxing, and has been playing ever since. So Elaine and I happily started on Veronica: "How did it feel to get that right?" Good?" "Yeah," Veronica said. "Good."
As for heightening the flow experience, the more involvement the merrier (all puns intended), kind of like being at a concert and feeling the crowd's excitement feeding your own. Nowadays, our car is filled with all kinds of fun-loving, flowing, high-focused energy, and we love it.
Driving into the city (or anywhere) has been much lovelier. We've all bonded a little more by the end of our rides, and I have noticed that both Isabella and Veronica often initiate playing Name that Tune -- which is great for all of us. It also appears that the girls are somewhat transferring their flow experiences, gathering more intrinsic reward from other aspects of their lives as well: like household chores and even their relationships with others.
Tip: Try making a more challenging playlist that plays just the first few notes of your favorite holiday songs or even just random notes from somewhere within the tune. Enjoy.
Note: For a more in-depth discussion of attention building techniques for any age you may wish to check out my book, Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration.