Saturday, March 30, 2013

Art and Sensory Overload- A Floridian Note

This past week I visited Florida with my kids. One day we chose to go to Young at Art an active arts experience in Davie Fl. It was a great facility with a lot of materials, styles and sensory inputs to explore. The place offered a plethora of art ideas from digital media, to architecture, plastic arts and visual arts. It also included music (mostly through percussion) and drama.

I was really looking forward to sharing this experience with my kids, but the place actually made it difficult to do that. What welcomed us was a wave of sights sounds and materials that overwhelmed not just my older than the mean senses but my kids (7,9, and 16) and their cousins (4,6,8). Every time I tried to stay at one point to explore in depth and create the eye of the child I was with at the time was immediately drawn to a different sound or sight beyond what we were doing. In a way the place was an invitation to not attend to anything but instead just move through the space constantly stimulated but never truly attending to any one thing.

I love art/science spaces designed for learning and I agree that we do not need stuffy old museum in which you have to stay quiet and not touch anything. But this option was so far the other side- that it serves to reinforce the idea that this generation of kids needs to be constantly bombarded with new inputs. This isn't true in any way but if we only create such experiences our kids and students will come to expect them. Just like my undergraduate students expect lecture, powerpoint presentations and letter grades. They are not wrong to expect them, it is what they grew up with. These are schemas that are usable even if not the most efficient.

The over-stimulation of spaces (real or digital) designed for kids may create a short attention-span generation, but this development is in direct conflict with the way our brains are designed. We can attend to only a few things at a time and develop deep understanding only given the time to focus on one thing without disruptive sensory inputs.

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