Krista is away at the Vancouver Peace Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia where, among others, she’ll be interviewing psychologist and neuroscientist Adele Diamond. In April 2009 Diamond was invited by the Dalai Lama to speak at a conference in Dharamsala, India, “Attention, Memory and Mind."

Diamond is interested in how “Executive Function” (EF) skills develop in children’s brains. As I understand it, EF skills reside in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and they help us to stay focused on a task, even when our impulses and other flashy distractions get in the way.

Diamond has studied an early childhood curriculum called Tools of the Mind that uses dramatic play and other techniques to help foster EF skills in young kids. Some researchers, including Diamond, say these EF Skills are better predictors of academic success than IQ scores.

This past weekend, The New York Times Magazine ran a feature article about Tools of the Mind, “Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?” that cites Diamond and her research. The article really helped me to get a better handle on how Tools of the Mind actually works in the classroom, especially how dramatic play teaches children mental focus. As a producer, I get excited when a person or topic we’re covering reveals itself in the popular culture unexpectedly.

Update (12/23): You can now listen to our produced program with Adele Diamond: "Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education."

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"We often think about play as relaxing and doing what you want to do,” she explained. “Maybe it’s an American thing: We work really hard, and then we go on vacation and have fun. But in fact, very few truly pleasurable moments come from complete hedonism. What Tools does — and maybe what we all need to do — is to blur the line a bit between what is work and what is play. Just because something is effortful and difficult and involves some amount of constraint doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.” I loved this. Two years ago, I closed my bookstore - which was both great fun and a lot of work - to try a new kind of life. And one of the new preoccupations that showed up was learning Spanish which I work hard at almost every day with great delight as well as frustration. I'd forgotten how much I love learning a new language. And my worst vacation was on an island where there was nothing to do but "read and relax." I find more rest and play in concentrating intensely on something I enjoy rather than "doing nothing." And I think many people do, but just don't notice that, because we are endlessly seeking empty time, time in which to do nothing. And there's never enough empty time, because it ultimately doesn't satisfy and we assume it's because we need more of it. But what we may need is something extremely engaging, something that we deeply enjoy but that takes a lot of concentration, effort and that precious commodity, time.

I heard this on OPB Sunday night - wonderful.