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Book : When a Butterfly Sneezes: A Guide for Helping Kids Explore Interconnections in Our World ... (2001)

When a Butterfly Sneezes: A Guide for Helping Kids Explore Interconnections in Our World ...

Categories: EducationSystems Thinking

Tags: bookchildeducationsystems thinking

Publisher:Pegasus Communications Inc.

Author(s):Booth Sweeney, Linda

Published: 2001 • ISBN: 1883823528 • 128 pages • Delivery Format: Hard Copy - Paperback

Available from: Amazon (US)Amazon (UK)Amazon (DE)

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From the publisher:

New kind of thinking prepares kids for a complex world

Preparing our children for life in the complex world of the 21st century is arguably the most important of all our responsibilities. Now, a new book focuses directly on how we can cultivate in kids the thinking skills that will help them the most in facing the unique challenges ahead. When a Butterfly Sneezes: A Guide for Helping Kids Explore Interconnections in Our World Through Favorite Stories (Pegasus Communications, 2001, $14.95), breaks new ground by educating our children to think beyond the limitations of conventional mindsets and to find creative, responsible paths to sharing our lives and our world.

Praised by innovators in learning such as Dawna Markova, and Peter Senge, When a Butterfly Sneezes guides parents (or teachers) in using popular children’s picture books to help kids learn the basic skills and concepts of “systems thinking” in a fun and memorable way. So, when you consider the outlandish consequences of giving a mouse a cookie or the escalation of the Zooks’ and Yooks’ battles over the right way to butter toast, you really are starting to understand the same basic processes that underpin such weighty issues as global warming, population changes, and international conflicts.

Systems thinking, a method for understanding complex interconnections, always looks for the “feedback loops” that determine the behavior of a system, whether biological, social, ecological, or economic. These loops are the building blocks of all systems, regardless of their level of complexity. Because most picture books fail to take into account feedback processes, author Linda Booth Sweeney contends that they give children the wrong ideas about how the world really works. Typically, A causes B, B causes C. End of story.

But our world is rarely so simple. Sweeney points out that getting stuck in this kind linear thinking can be a big obstacle for kids as our world becomes more complicated and interconnected. The stories featured in When a Butterfly Sneezes focus on connections that are best described as loops: that is, A causes a change in B, B causes a change in C, and then C in turn causes a change in A. In this way the feedback loops form a web of relationships among the changing elements of a “system.”

Changes in the world around us that are puzzling when examined with linear thinking become understandable from the perspective of systems thinking. Aided by systems thinking skills, children learn to question simplistic explanations. They start to see the systems they are part of, to look for patterns in how things happen, to understand why problems arise, and to figure out what they can do about them. Ideally, they learn to influence and design systems to produce better outcomes.

The first two sections of the book offer a basic introduction to systems and systems thinking, and detailed tips for how to use the book with children. The third section includes a comprehensive guide to the 12 children’s books. The books include The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, The Sneetches, The Lorax, The Old Ladies Who Liked Cats, Anno’s Magic Seeds, Zoom, traditional Native American stories, The Butter Battle Book, and If You Give Mouse a Cookie. Each chapter outlines the age range (generally 4 to 8 year-olds), the relevant systems thinking concepts, a quick summary of the plot, teaching tips, personal accounts from people who have used the stories with kids, the questions to stimulate thought and conversation, and a short list of related books. The book comes complete with several appendices-a guide to reading systems thinking diagrams, tips for choosing your own systemic children’s stories, and guidelines for using the book in trainings with adults.

Linda Booth Sweeney is a Harvard-trained educator and researcher who is dedicated to helping children and adults understand how the natural and social worlds function through the field of systems thinking. As a researcher and consultant, Linda has worked with the Society for Organizational Learning, and has helped member companies-including AT&T, Ford and Visteon, and other for- and non-profit organizations-to develop capacity in systems thinking and its related disciplines. Linda lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children. She is currently at work on several “systems-oriented” stories for children.


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