Child of Wonder
Nurturing Creative and Naturally Curious Children
By Ginger Carlson
Common Ground Press Copyright © 2008 Ginger Carlson
All rights reserved.
explore your wonder
Understanding and Encouraging Creativity
"Do you hear it?" A young boy looked up at his mother with wide eyes.
"Hear what?" his mother asked.
"My heart," he said. "It's whispering!"
"What is it saying, honey?" 4 "It says ..." He listened for a moment, "It says ... keep listening."
From the moment they enter this world, children are keen observers. With each observation, they bring a unique interpretation and expression. They are special individuals with their own views and ideas. They bring a passion to life at which many adults marvel. If given freedom, they play, experiment, question, make enormous messes, take risks, explore freely, and then apply what they have learned to the world by thinking, reporting, solving problems, expressing ideas, shouting, crying, laughing, and creating anew. Somewhere along the way, the driving force for that freedom of expression, listening to the heart, begins to fade.
As children grow and enter situations where they must conform for issues of safety and, sometimes, adult sanity, they often become more limited in their expression. "What happened to our baby who used to make up songs on her way to Lompaland?" asks one couple, reminiscing about the change they notice in their daughter as she has grown and become more practical. With an increased need to look to others for direction and approval, children often create less imaginatively and sometimes even lose the ability to think for themselves and solve problems effectively.
By stimulating thought, honoring the creative process, and offering ways of unique expression, parents can help their children return to the place of listening with more understanding, knowledge, and abilities than ever before. Towards that end, we must first look at what really is this elusive thing called creativity.
The creative personality is certainly a complex one. The definition of creativity varies, depending on with whom you talk. One accepted definition is that creativity is a new idea brought to fruition by a unique listener. Ancient rhetoricians described it as invention. Creativity has also been described as the ability to create ideas and solve problems. It can be seeing the same thing as everybody else, but seeing it differently. Creativity can be taking a challenge and innovating on what has already been done.
Nurturing creativity is a means to extend problem solving and positive change well past childhood. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, one of the foremost creativity researchers, said it is a "more personal experience, which affects the way one experiences life, with originality, openness, and freshness." He speaks of one type of creativity with a lowercase "c" and another type with a capital "C." He states creativity (with a lowercase c) "makes life enjoyable," while Creativity (with a capital C) "changes culture." If joy is an indication of creative expression, we only need to look to the smiles that appear as children play to witness creativity. If life is enjoyable, then how can it not change culture if even only on the smallest of levels? Perhaps "creativity" has the great potential to grow up into "Creativity."
This process of growth is what we can help children tap into and continue to nimbly grasp throughout life. We live in a result-oriented society. The process of discovery and play has often held less value than the end product, perhaps because children have not always been allowed to be children. The notion of "childhood" is a relatively new phenomenon in the last one hundred years. With increasing perspective of what a child deserves to experience in childhood, we now suddenly find ourselves in an exciting place where we can help guide thinkers who enjoy life and, ultimately, develop the problem solving skills and ingenuity to make the changes they envision as they become adults. As children are still able to effortlessly listen to the whispers, it is essential that we nurture that ability to keep hearing how the heart wants to express itself. In doing so, the world and its possibilities will be endless for our children.
ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY IN THE HOME
Aristotle offered a definition of creativity, which eventually became the accepted definition for rhetoric, as the "art of discovering the available means of persuasion for any given case." He described the art of this discovery as being systematic. He suggested looking only to the commonplace ("topoi" to the Ancient Greeks) to realize and discover creativity. What is more commonplace than the home?
When babies arrive, no one can tell parents how these distinguished visitors will change their lives. Children often become their parents' greatest teachers. They challenge and change parents' thinking. In this book, we will ask questions, explore ideas, dialogue about what creativity means in the commonplace of young children, and consider how we might assist these teachers on their creative journey.
Parents as Creative Guides
Parenting styles have surely arisen in the search for what makes creative families and what kind of parents the most creative people have had. Almost without exception, parents who provided materials and resources that encourage growth of imagination have raised those who have developed their creativity to the fullest. They allowed creative expression and encouraged discourse. They held high standards of behavior, but were not heavy handed with rules.
Parenting styles are as diverse as people, so there is certainly no single right way to raise a creative and critical thinking child. However, there are specific actions parents can take to encourage creative thinking in the home. The following are foundational beginnings that parents can incorporate to encourage creativity in the home. Each of these topics will be revisited throughout the book with specific ways for incorporating each key point of a creative life into daily routines and learning experiences. As you learn about these elements of creativity, consider how they might fit into your own parenting style and the needs of your family.
Being able to solve problems and thinking creatively do not happen on their own. They also do not happen without encouragement along the way. Eventually, it is the ability to create and solve problems with a degree of individuality that leads to the Creativity we strive towards. William Blake said, "No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings." We can help our young children discover those wings by giving them responsibility and freedom to try things on their own: tying shoes, experimenting in the kitchen, packing their own snack, pouring their own milk even if it spills, or choosing their own combination of clothes for the day. This is not to say that if your child has been characterized as clingy that he or she cannot be creative. It is important to recognize every child as having a unique starting place, and some children will need extra support towards getting to a place of self-reliance. Equally important is to recognize that a child who feels secure in his or her relationship and attached to his or her primary caregivers will be more apt to take risks and experiment with independence.
Creativity by Association
Just like other personality traits that can "rub off" on a child, creativity can be enhanced through association. Surround yourself and your kids with other creative people you know. Let them experience the varied ways other people in their lives use ideas and solve problems. From the neighbor mechanic figuring out how to make the old lemon run again to making cookies with only a few ingredients, talk to your children about how solutions are found to everyday problems. Help children witness examples of creative thinking by experiencing local artists, filmmakers, musicians, scientists, writers, storytellers, or other creative people who would otherwise not be in your social or professional circles.
Play with Your Imagination
Rudolf Steiner asserted, similar to Jean Piaget, that imagination is one of the stages of development. A creative climate, one that has a true relationship with creative behavior and imagination, is one in which humor and play are active and evident. Play with puzzles, brainteasers, simulations, games, and toys that allow for creative expression. Be silly. Laugh. Have fun!
Provide Creative Space
Provide a stimulating environment. Some kids can handle more stimulation than others. Know your kids, and their personal thresholds for activity and stimulation, and go from there. Most importantly, balance your supplies and creative space. If there is too much going on or supplies cannot be found, creativity can be inhibited. Overabundance of things and stimulation has led to thrill seeking rather than children having a genuine desire for creative problem solving. Find the balance between excess and having just enough to stimulate creativity.
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Routines are important for children. The predictability of a day is calming and can ease transitions. That said, it is only by experiencing new ideas and having ideas challenged that creativity can continue to develop. Question your habits and then provide your children with new ways to look at the world. Travel. Encourage cultural pursuits. Read together about topics you normally don't choose. Try something new.
Allow for Quiet Time and Relaxation
The brain needs quiet time to solve problems. Without relaxation, the human being does not have mental space to create or innovate. If you must, schedule quiet time. Write stay at home days into your calendar and stick to them. Take a few moments of down time. Just like having a baby, there is no "perfect" time. There will always be something to do, somewhere to be. When you choose quiet time, you choose time for creativity to flourish.
Use Responsibilities to Your Advantage
There is nothing that you cannot be creative with. Use your daily responsibilities (laundry, cooking, cleaning, gardening, pet care, etc.) to both model and help your children practice being creative. Approaching daily tasks as practice in creativity will also make them more fun and easier, even more so when they are done together. As Carol Channing said on the Free to Be You and Me album, "To seem sunny as summer weather, make sure, when there's housework to do, that you do it together!"
Provide Examples of Creativity
Albert Einstein said, "Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means." Creativity is available everyday if we can listen for it. A model of creativity can be a child watching her mother using a recipe as a guideline and making it suit the needs of their family. It can be telling stories that show another person being creative. It can be the extra flair, a fancy scarf or a unique belt, added to an outfit. Find everyday creativity and just listen to it. In addition, expose children to other impressive examples of creativity. Incredible buildings. Wondrous works of art. Opera. Ballet. The examples are endless.
"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
— Robert Kennedy
Scientists and inventors find solutions, make discoveries, and experience breakthroughs by having to try and try again. Encouraging creativity in no way means needing to do things perfectly or the right way all the time. Delight in the mistakes you and your children make. Model viewing each stumbling block as a learning opportunity with the potential to lead to the solution or perhaps something completely different.
Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes." Perhaps he should have also mentioned having new ears. Listen to your heart whisper. Keep listening. It's telling you to explore your wonder.
let the flower bloom
Allowing Children to Arrive at Their Own Pace
A flower is a delicate creature. From seed, the journey requires special care and extreme patience. Balance the nutrients in the soil. Prune just so. Take care to water, but not too much. Clear the weeds. Allow sunshine to reach it regularly. Leave it alone. Eventually the bud appears, begins to open, and the vague scent of the blossom reaches the nose.
Children too, need this time to find their blooming potential. Characteristics of creative individuals who have been studied had common threads running through their households. A common key component of the house in which a creative individual was reared, is that children were allowed to become independent. Their mothers were often present, and facilitated their needs, but were not overprotective. Their originality and pace was respected.
When our children are born, we often see a blank slate rich with potential. Parents bring high expectations to the new experience of being a parent. Many people spend a great deal of time telling children to act their age and otherwise forcing age and development expectations upon them.
In schools, benchmarks and standards are the measure for whether a child is learning at a pace that has been previously determined. Many of the brightest, most curious, and creative students do not meet this measure because tests take only facts, and not potential, into account when assessing.
Learning happens on a range, on a continuum. Among many educational professionals who agree that children develop best at their own pace was Maria Montessori. She believed in helping children reach their fullest potential by creating a climate and community of learners that were multi-aged, so no child felt either ahead or behind. She stressed the importance of allowing children to develop at their own unique pace.
LETTING THE FLOWER BLOOM
The potential of the flower is greater when we allow it to bloom before reaching out to pick it. Holding back from the urge to pick is easier if we understand the elements of allowing children to arrive at their own pace.
Understand the Range
Over the years, childcare and health professionals have developed a timeline for how children develop: walking will happen at around a year, talking starts to emerge anywhere from several months to well past the first year, a child will naturally learn to read between ages four and ten. It is important to know the milestones of development, but also that children learn and grow at their own pace. It is also important to know that children who reach certain milestones early are not necessarily healthier or smarter or better than those who achieve them later. The range of what normal is can be quite wide, and usually balances out with time.
If we understand our children's strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes, personality traits, preferences, and the intimate details of their learning styles (see sidebar in Chapter 3, Breaking Ground), we hold the key which unlocks their innate ability to thrive. In order to understand how our own children fit into the model, we must first spend time carefully observing them.
One mother recalled how her daughter who eventually went on to become a member of a diving team and lifeguard and found much joy in the water, sat on the edge of the swimming pool for the entire first session of her early childhood swimming lessons. "She didn't want to get her babysuit wet," the mother recalls. "I told the instructor that's how she is and that she will get in when she is ready." Sure enough, the second session proved to be fruitful. "She jumped right in and started swimming. She'd been paying close attention, but needed space before she felt comfortable in trying."
Some children jump right in and some sit on the edge of the pool for weeks before dipping their toes in the water. Both are valid forms of learning. As parents, the more we are able to observe our children and how they react to situations, the more we will be able to support them in their creative ventures.
As parents, one of our hopes is to raise children that are well-rounded. Naturally, human beings have varied interests. While many children naturally focus on a few specific areas such as trains or dinosaurs for a period of time, it is important for parents to try to balance and provide access to all areas of interests. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Child of Wonder by Ginger Carlson. Copyright © 2008 Ginger Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Common Ground Press.
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