Chapter Two - Puzzling.3

Parenting for an Age of Information

Chapter Three - Puzzling (continued)

5. Model the Crow's Nest Perspective

Captains sent observers to the crow's nest, a perch high up on the mast, because the added height provided an unusual perspective from which to view the water, the land and the challenges ahead. They recognized that what we see when we are close to the surface may be distorted. From the crow's nest one can see over the curvature of the earth's surface to identify objects such as islands that might otherwise escape notice. One can also see below the surface to greater depths than from the deck of the ship, reducing the chances of running aground. The crow's nest affords the observer an excellent "vantage point" from which to interpret data and create a reasonably clear picture of the future.

Many children and young people are never shown how to climb the mast to the crow's nest. They spend their lives on the surface being surprised by life's storms and shoals. They come to feel that their destinies are predetermined and outside their own personal control. They ascribe power to institutions, leaders ("they") and magical forces. They leave the steering, the navigating and the planning to others.

On the other hand, many young people do learn to climb the mast, and the evidence is fairly clear that they most often learn this skill and spirit from a parent or mentor who shares the perspective and shows them how to climb.

You can teach your child the attitude of adventure and the skills of perspective-taking used by crow's nest climbers. To climb the mast for that 360 degree view, a person has to keep her/his eyes on the goal. Climbers do not look where they have been, but where they are going. They keep focused on the goal. Such singlemindedness and concentration is often the deciding difference between competitors, whether it be on the tennis court or in the boardroom. In life, when the puzzle pieces do not seem to be fitting together, the climb for a crow's nest perspective makes saying "no" to distractions worthwhile.

To teach your child to focus on a goal, allow uninterrupted play time. When your child is working or playing, avoid interrupting her or him. Compliment sustained attention on projects, or intensive reading that blocks out distractions. Encourage your child to do activities of increasing length, so she or he may taste the experience of time flying by. This level of concentration can translate into being "lost in the work" later on in life.

This crow's nest metaphor may make you nervous if you have a fear of heights. Puzzling requires facing the unknown and dealing with the lack of knowledge about what will happen. If you teach your child to look forward to the unknown as an opportunity for something new, a fear of the unknown may not develop. Being "out on a limb" can be exhilarating as well as scary, depending on how you look at it.

To teach your child to look forward to the unknown, have lots of pleasant surprises in his or her life. This will develop confidence that the unknown can be very positive. Make, "What a nice surprise!" part of your own attitude toward the unexpected. Make holidays and birthdays a time for surprises, as well as everyday events like shopping or even meal preparation. Prepare or buy unusual foods, "just to see what they are like." Encourage your child to try new foods, new routes to school, new friends and new ways of doing things every day.

Because the crow's nest perspective is so exhilarating, you will also need to teach your child to integrate it with the perspective from the deck. Puzzlers often envision solutions for which the pieces have not yet been invented. As they return to the ground, they have to reshape their vision to fit reality. They need to take the knowledge and insight they have gained from their trip to the crow's nest, to make a more limited vision work.

To teach your child to integrate vision and reality, always build sand castles in your mind, before commiting them to bucket and shovel. Engage your child in thinking about "all the ways we could do this," and then choosing one that will work. Be careful not to make the solution seem less then desirable because it is not the most elaborate or ultimate plan, but celebrate it as a solution incorporating parts of the vision. Both the crow's nest and the deck perspective are needed to steer the ship.

The strategies in this chapter provide good practice in the skills required to view life from the crow's nest, but the power of example emphasized throughout this book must be repeated once again. In order for your son or daughter to embrace this perspective as a lifetime commitment, you must share the spirit as well as the skills. You must demonstrate your own commitment by sharing how the crow's nest has helped you with events in your own life. Tell stories, give examples and identify the process as it is happening. Bring your child into the crow's nest with you and point out the shoals or new worlds visible ahead. Show her or him how you change course when you see the squall coming. Point out the bright stars which guide you through life.


When thousands of puzzle fragments threaten to turn life upside down and topsy turvy, when Chicken Little runs around screaming that the sky is falling, and when yesterday's truths become tomorrow's lies, your child will need good puzzling skills to make sense out of all the non-sense. Magic or sleight of hand will not be sufficient for them to move ahead.

The Information Age greets us with what amounts to a flood of data, rushing in upon us before we have time to grab a life preserver or even think about building an ark. Because the meanings passed down to us by prior generations may not "float" in this new world, our children will need to develop their own insight, fashion their own meanings and find their own truths. Like Ishmael floating with Queequeg's coffin after Ahab and the ship have been destroyed by Moby Dick, our children may grab hold of some useful objects which rise to the surface, but they can rest assured that self reliance is mandatory for getting to shore.

Because smokestack education persists in emphasizing memorization and departmentalization of information in most places, the family's role in teaching puzzling and connecting is primary. As emergent technologies undermine much of the human communication and the social fabric which once tied families and communities together, the urgency of making good connections is at a peak. While the climb up the mast to the crow's nest may leave one somewhat queasy, the view is worth the trip for you and your child.

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Chapter Four - Choosing (continued)

©1991 JMcKenzie

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