Behind every creative pioneer or original thought, is a supportive family and environment designed for exactly that. Right?
If you’re not yourself what’s thought of as being creative, it’s especially easy to cave into the self-fulfilling prophecy of it all. Easier perhaps to pass your child over to someone more artsy and possessed of cultural know-how to influence and inspire their creative leanings. Or to clutch hold of the hope that among the strictures of the curriculum-heavy education they’ll receive, there will be a dollop of creativity sufficient to do the trick.
I was fairly lucky – with two parents for teachers, our time away from academic hot-housing was focused on well, being kids. Risk-taking play such as climbing trees, playing ‘teddy guitar’ to the sound of a Weetabix Top of the Pops compilation tape (the freebies of the eighties remain unsurpassed) and a whimsical Blue Peter-lite approach to recycling is the stuff my childhood is made of. I’ve grown, changed and rebelled over the years, just as you’d expect, but my mindset has never erred very far from this one of habitual creative thinking.
But this hasn’t stopped me from coming unstuck when faced with my own son and his budding creative streak. I was stumped about what to offer him practically, worrying more about the mess and chaos of encouraging his experimenting than about possibly clipping his wings. In short, despite an art school education, I was just about as clueless as it’s possible to be when it came to giving my own kid the freedom to be creative.
So I took matters into my own hands a few weeks ago, deciding that it was me who would need to be a bellwether for his self-expression and use everything I had learned to do it. Armed with some background understanding from a bittersweet School of Life video that bought home the principle tenets of whether we can trust, whether we like ourselves, whether we can be open, what to do when the world hurts us and how much of our naughtiness can be witnessed and forgiven are set in our emotional hard-drives between the ages of one and eight – I quickly realised how crucial simply a loving approach could be. It turns out, both this, and not shying away from experiences or activities you think will be failure-rich are the touchstones of children who grow to be imaginative and carefree in spirit whilst being self-aware, too.At this point, I was looking for how to translate thinking into action. Enter Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: Raising Creative Children; a simple guide featuring everything from activity ideas to how involving kids in daily life tasks from cooking dinner to tidying (yes, really) can help instil the idea that creativity can be functional. I was particularly interested in how this taps into the idea of a ‘creative’ not necessarily about being a lonely, melancholy type in a garret, but could nurture the open-minded cognitive skill set that transcends so many professions from advertising to textile design and town planning. We’re often told that this is the future boom economy, focused on tech especially (so I can feel a tad less guilty about that CBeebies app he loves), yet seemingly built on old-fashioned hands-on muddy and messy play – this, I can do. Darn you, Marie Kondo.
With all this in mind, these are the rules and ideas for rainy days we’ve come up with – and a small note that it’s not about being creative yourself, but simply being open to it!
- Embrace boredom: it’s the root of a capacity to discover new things, invent and adapt that makes kids resilient and positive.
- Provide a stash of basic tools and kit to supply kids with. Divide them into boxes so it feels like there’s lots of choice. For instance, one for collage and making – include old magazines, glitter, glue, lots of nice textures such as feathers and dried pasta/lentils, egg boxes, straws. You could suggest a theme if everyone is a bit baffled, such as designing a rocket or a moodboard for their bedrooms.
- If you need to work from home when the kids are around, don’t be afraid of setting a few activity stations up – a little like circuit training – and working from a desk or table nearby. Just gently reiterate that you are working (better yet if you can explain what you’re doing) if they come over, and they will gradually learn to respect that you are there but busy. They may even find it pretty inspiring.
- Take them on outings – the cinema, beach, even to places you wouldn’t naturally choose to (for me, the theatre) and free art galleries – and simply let them wander and question. Don’t worry about not having the answers or knowing anything about where you are or what you’re seeing; you’ll never know whether you’ve got a future Florence Welch or Picasso on your hands until you’ve explored it.
- Praise their efforts thoughtfully and avoid curbing their enthusiasm with criticism unless it is obviously constructive and delivered with tactful kindness. Much better to say “I’ve never seen a real fairy, yours is very twinkly!” than flatly squash their imaginations. If you can, try to make compliments more personal and mindful than simply ‘that’s amazing’ which soon loses its special quality if it becomes your standard reaction and doesn’t give them a barometer of improvement. Try “You’ve taken such care with that, it must have taken you ages”, especially if they usually rush things to just get the job done, or “What a good job, it’s so fun!”.
- Go out and hunt for found objects to make things from and play with: hours of fun can be had from making pine-cone mobiles, sea shell mandala patterns and leaf printing.
- If you want to get stuck in with the kids but aren’t confident at drawing etc., then gently ease yourself in with entry-point makes, from decorating (ready made) biscuits with piped icing to rolling painted car wheels across a roll of lining paper, and home-made puppet theatre – just grab some googly stick-on eyes, pipe cleaners and some socks that need retiring.