Brainwave motivation: creativity edification for kids and educators

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WENDY CITY MOM: the parenting column.

Chicago-area educators are in for a real treat May 3-4. The International Conference on Creativity, Thinking & Education, which takes place at the historic Congress Plaza Hotel, will provide intellectual and inspiring fodder — keynote speakers, authors and educators, interactive presentations and more — for those that attend.

T.A. Barron — a New York Times bestselling author of children’s fantasy literature, a Rhodes scholar and the winner of numerous awards — will kick off the weekend with a talk about the magic of creativity and the power of words.

“Creativity is a way of life,” said Barron. “As a dad of five great kids, as well as an author who works with kids of all descriptions, I can tell you that young people have an amazing ability to be creative, but they need the help of caring, engaged adults. Creativity is a positive value; if you live creatively, it means that your ideas and choices matter – just as you yourself matter. ”

To learn more about T.A. Barron or the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes — the national award he founded to recognize diverse and exceptional young people who are involved in their communities or the environment — please visit

On day two, Patricia Rose Upczak — a former teacher, the founder of the conference and an acclaimed author — will lead a workshop, focusing on techniques that can be used in the classroom, illuminating, as Upczak said, “creativity, joy, balance, good health and passion for an extraordinary and colorful life.”

“We will explore techniques the participants will be able to use for themselves and in their classrooms,” said Upczak. “Some of the techniques we will investigate are tapping, Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and making a mind map for your life.”

According to Upczak, the inspiration and direction of this conference can guide and help people involved in education in a powerful way.

“The mission of this conference is to allow educators to explore horizons on the cutting edge of creativity, brain-based education and techniques to help relieve stress in the classroom in order for children and educators to reconnect with the essence of authentic teaching and learning,” said Upczak. “We are involving people and organizations who all hold keys to helping children have a well-rounded and meaningful education — this is vital if we are going to help children become life long learners and productive members of society.”

A portion of conference proceeds will benefit the Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation of Chicago, which is an organization, founded by David Heiser, that utilizes chess as an essential educational tool to teach a range of skills that ultimately translates into detectable progress in reading, math, science and cause and effect strategies.

“Renaissance Knights brings the many educational benefits of chess to young people throughout schools in the Chicago area by providing a complete chess curriculum, after-school enrichment programs and tournaments,” said Heiser. “By sponsoring chess programs at Title I schools and through the use of volunteers, we are able to bring chess to students that otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn and play the game of Kings and Queens. We also sponsor inner city children to attend local and national tournaments.”

Playing chess, according to research, is a powerful way to strengthen a child’s mind, encouraging well-rounded critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, abstract reasoning and more.

“Teachers need techniques to relieve stress in the classroom and maintain the attention of students while fostering learning through fun, creative and educational activities,” said Heiser. “Educators need to cultivate progressive learning for our 21st century students to become problem solvers, critical thinkers and develop the higher order thinking skills that are imperative for students to succeed in school and for their future success in the global information society.”

Chess, Heiser said, has proven to be one of the latest pedagogical tools for young students; through the game of chess, children learn analytical and disciplined thinking skills, which are applicable to many other intellectual pursuits.

“More than any other game, chess has the potential to transform a child,” said Heiser. “Chess can be a student’s driving force, helping him or her in every aspect of critical thinking development.”

Participants in the conference can expect to learn about the plethora of ways chess can impact social skills — healthy competition, sportsmanship and teamwork — and academic prowess in children.

Retired Chicago Public School teacher, Dan Raven, offers up his storied expertise as he represents The Labyrinth Society — a wide-reaching organization that demonstrates and promotes the use of non-religious labyrinths — at this year’s conference.

“Labyrinths are a walking meditation or mind-calming tool that engages the body and promotes a personal peace of mind,” said Raven. “Walking and breathing slowly helps reduce tension and anxiety.”

Attendees will have the unique and complimentary opportunity to walk and experience a portable canvas labyrinth for themselves, designed in a large room. Raven and his wife will be available and accessible to answer any burning questions.

“People often confuse a labyrinth and a maze,” said Raven. “A maze has dead ends, different paths of left or right (thus, wrong choices) and high walls, which is a challenge that is meant to confuse you and that often becomes frustrating. A labyrinth has one path, with many turns; once you start, you will get to the center, which is meant to help you find yourself. The labyrinth is flat to the ground; you can see the entire labyrinth all the time. It’s a safe and nurturing place to be.”