Thirteen thousand six hundred children from Traer, Iowa to Dedham Square to Australia collaborated to honor International Dot Day - a celebration of a child’s creativity in the classroom and the world-renowned book The Dot, by Dedham author Peter Reynolds.
The worldwide effort to tap into a child’s imagination and creative side didn’t start with Reynolds though – or even in Dedham.
It started in a small Iowa K-12 school of roughly 500 students 85 miles northeast of Des Moines.
“I was so inspired by Peter’s book. It sends such a great message that kids need to hear – to make your mark,” said North Tama County Community School teacher Terry Shay, who initiated the day four years ago.
The Dot inspires kids to start with nothing – a blank page – and let their creativity run wild, Reynolds said.
“Teaching kids to think for themselves is really key. When you start to teach that early, it pays dividends later on because that’s where entrepreneurs come from, and innovators,” the author said standing in his Dedham Square bookstore, The Blue Bunny.
While the book’s “sweet spot” is elementary school-aged children, Reynolds said the lessons of The Dot – and of the international salute – stretch to generations.
“A lot of people don’t start. They think about it. But they never get around to making their mark. Whether it is writing a novel, or writing a business plan or painting, they never get around to it,” Reynolds said. “It is that gentle invitation.”
In recent years, the shift toward standardized tests, back to the basics of English and arithmetic, has put caused creativity to fade, Reynolds said.
With pressure of passing the tests – both for students and educators – much of the curriculum inside a school focuses on those assessments, Shay said in a phone interview Thursday.
“I thought it would be great to have a celebration where we did something simple and got people thinking more creatively,” said Shay, who teaches music for grades four through 12.
Four years ago, Shay reached out to Reynolds to confirm the book’s release date after a student inquired about The Dot’s “birthday,” Reynolds said. Shay wanted to take a favorite book amongst his students and turn it into a life-long lesson.
Then he turned the idea and branched it out to other classrooms – not just at North Tama, but also in Illinois. And Portugal.
“It’s touching – the sort of things [students] have created,” Shay said.
Soon enough without much pushing from the author, it blossomed into what happened Thursday.
Teachers from around the globe published student work on websites and social media networks showing the different forms that their student’s Dots take – from computer-generated to videos to paint.
Shay and Reynolds tracked what teachers around the world were celebrating International Dot Day, and by Thursday afternoon students on five continents had made their mark.
“It speaks to people. Once they hear about it, they want to get on board,” Shay said. “Thirteen thousand kids doing the same anything – I’m in awe.”