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Whimsical environments, fine furnishings and learning tools for the young at heart

Kinder Realm Blog

Open House Letter

By James Carlin November 21, 2013

An excerpt from a letter handed out to folks who came to an open-shop event in March, 2013

We've tried to create an environment for kids that will keep them immersed in possibility: worlds of nature and science to study; realms of imagination to explore; an environment that can range from quiet and secluded to a grand space for friends to gather; a space so comforting and nurturing that kids will truly feel at home.

The whole concept of putting essentially a clubhouse type room inside a child's bedroom or playroom stems from wanting to create a child-sized world. Putting one of these cottages in a typical bedroom breaks the space up into smaller areas and hidden corners. A child now has to maneuver through his/her environment – including the 'second story' loft. The space becomes a little more complex and so more engaging – more mysterious. We're trying to convey to kids that we understand a child's world is fundamentally different from an adult's and that this is something to nurture. We want to give children permission to explore their innocence and curiosity free from adult parameters and adult expectations … for a while at least.

Many of the furniture pieces have compartments with trick openings to spur kids' curiosity and encourage them to pay attention to inner details. There is a little artwork 'around every corner' because kids should see the possibility of creating beauty from their earliest years – something, we believe, that comes naturally for every child when s/he is given the opportunity to explore it.

The 'Gateway Cottage' allows for a variety of functions: it is a retreat when quiet is wanted; it's an art studio; it's a highly organized study room (potentially, at least) with many storage spaces – some secret – for kids' varied interests. The cottage is also a theater space to offer performances for friends – puppets, singing recitals, backlit shadow displays, etc. And the cottage is a vehicle to help the imagination take off and soar.

The pieces of furniture built to accompany the cottage include a serious workbench with a 7 inch, quick release vise; a two-tiered dresser with a big secret compartment; and the 'incline' cabinet with its tilted countertop. There are several  mechanical devises built into the furniture. The hope is that kids will grow curious about how these devises function, study them and eventually design and build some of their own. – ever advocating for 'Young Engineers!'

The individual pieces of furniture each have thought provoking aspects to challenge a child's view of the typical. Several of the pieces have multiple uses and are built to fit in different places. We want kids to realize that their environments are not static – that simple changes can rearrange whole outlooks.

Will these luxurious environments, filled with wonders, really implant all these lofty concepts? Hard to say as enthusiasm is tough to measure. We are really just hoping to give children an delightful place to live that will encourage their curiosity and sense of freedom in being a kid.

The traditional construction methods, and the use of only beautiful hardwoods is purely selfish on my part. I'm spoiled by years of building fine furniture and I have come to believe children will appreciate the comfort and warmth as much as any adult – maybe more. I would like to see these environments in as many kids' homes as possible. Ultimately too, we hope to spur kids' appreciation for all the wonders of our natural world and to encourage them to approach life artistically.

James Carlin
March, 2013



By James Carlin August 28, 2013

Excerpt from my paper (Master’s degree coursework, 1993) written about E Paul Torrance – educational theorist and author of the Torrance Tests for Creativity

The question being discussed:
What is the inherent philosophy and the implications for future programming for the Gifted student in the following basic yet essential principles Torrance proposes:

  1. Protect their creativity
  2. Protect their passions
  3. Maintain associations with positive role models
  4. Teach them to ‘play the game’

Finally, I’ll return to ‘teach them to play the game.’ Sounds a little subversive, doesn't it? I don't recall my last principal suggesting this as a strategy! The implications this has for all students, especially for underachievers and perhaps even more so for the creatively gifted, are I think extensive and profound. Firstly I think Torrance is suggesting that school is a skill, the complexity of which is substantial and which, of course contains many sub-skills. Never-the-less, he sees it as a prolonged set of activities that can and should be tackled with the prospect of continual progress and ultimate success. This has of course been the task of educators since the dawn of time – to foster this success, but a basic precept of this has been too long lost in its translation to students – the source of the motivation. All manner of extrinsic motivations are offered by teachers, by family and community members, and by societal norms that school is the great challenge and key to success. And even the intrinsic motivations students are expected to develop seem to me pointed toward the notion that school is IT. Torrance is offering a much wider perspective – that schooling, even in its broadest sense is just one of many necessary life skills. As a skill it requires time and commitment but not necessarily – maybe even opposed to – heavy-labor. ‘Play the game’ implies learning the strategies, the rules, the correct and incorrect moves. It also implies a personal approach and the courage to manipulate the pieces to the student’s advantage. Students need to see school as flexible and existing to guide and assist their development. Too often, I think, students base their self-concept on success or failure in their classes when clearly it is not the only ‘test of manhood.’ We need to invite students – and offer circumstances that let them feel safe – to view the whole educational system from an outside perspective. If they are counting on success in school being the end-all of their academic strivings, they (we) will forfeit the better half of their learning.

Torrance, I think is suggesting that learning, both in school and out, should be a joyous activity. ‘Play’ implies pleasure which again implies a personal choice. No one can implant pleasure. It is an inner construct but one that is essential for progress. Torrance is implying that we all need to consider our personal motivations and intrinsic rewards in our pursuits of knowledge and creativity, and not dwell too much on the difficulties … We should be joyous in recognizing our own growth in all the many aspects of our lives.

The creatively gifted, the academically gifted and the socially and intra-personally gifted (Howard Gardner’s ‘multiple intelligences’) can have difficult roads ahead and there are many who will shrink from these difficulties. If however these learners can find educators who, like Torrance, see the whole child – with needs and frustrations but also with endless possibilities – maybe these children will come to see the ‘game’ as an adventure and be able to pass that sense along to others.


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