creating with children

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

The family at “Se7en + 1are a family with eight kids, who enjoy a lifestyle of creativity and live in Cape Town, South Africa. 

When I was a child there was a lovely old lady who lived up the road, in a wonderful huge house full of quiet spots for projects. I used to pop in for tea on the way home from school. She had heaps of crafty projects on the go: fabrics, painting, knitting. I thought I was being treated to a very civilized “time for tea party” each day… an exciting journey because it was always in a different spot: the sun room, the verandah, the attic. In fact, I was naturally being exposed to a heap of crafty skills.

This old lady didn’t use running a student boarding house as an excuse not to be crafty, in fact quite the opposite. With eight kids, some folk might think I’m running a boarding house, but raising kids has never been a reason for me not to create. In fact, without creating something each day, I find it hard to be the best mom I can me. Many folk say that while they are busy raising young children they can not be creative but I have found that raising our children has lit a fire of creativity in our home.

I wanted to raise my children to be curious and creative characters. Before I had children I thought that meant providing everyone with a desk and tins with markers and paints and copious amounts of paper. Well, I was quite mistaken! Children become creative long, long before they are ready for a desk and markers. I very quickly discovered that the line between kids crafts and adult crafts is not well defined and definitely not confined to having a desk available.

With the arrival of our first child, I realized that to raise a curious and creative character, meant providing that little character with opportunities and I had to get intentional about it. There is a lot to be said for setting yourself up for success and it isn’t really about having fancy materials or incredible facilities available – it is more about having a holistic attitude that brings out the best in all of us, not just the little people, in our family.

Plenty of hours to ponder and heaps of time outdoors provides us with the spontaneous energy required to see the world as a creative opportunity. So getting outdoors and generating creative spaces was a good place to start our intentional creativity. There is nothing on earth like little people on nature walks, or armed with a large recycling box, to inspire you to just stop and create. Establishing spots around our home for different projects meant that I was also creating opportunities for my children to explore and to be a little surprised and WOWed by their world.

For example, a nature zone outdoors is really a lot of fun and can quite easily be done as a family project. We have a spot for collecting natural treasures that we have found on adventures. Somehow we always come home with interesting artifacts: feathers, stones, sea shells, driftwood. Wonderful, natural materials to be used on future projects.

The transition between outdoors and indoors is also less well-defined when you have small children. At the entrance to our home we have a workbench, full of real tools and wood scraps… but underneath is treasure: a supply of poles, cushions, blankets … and a picnic basket full of the necessary equipment for constructing a “home from home”. Another great transition between indoors and outdoors is a scientific spot. A child’s natural curiosity leads spontaneously to scientific fun… flower pressing, fossil collecting, bug collection, growing and observing. This wasn’t part of my creativity until I had kids, but I can’t help myself. Their curiosity has made me curious.

Initially, when our family was small, I found it really hard to get messy… I would put it off, I would suggest anything else. Just the idea: Taking ages to set things up and then the kids finish in about five seconds and cleaning up for the rest of the afternoon would leave me kind of pale. I overcame my lack of enthusiasm in two ways: The first was to get a lot more open ended with our craftiness. Provide a paper shopping bag, glue and magazines… and see what they do, rather than lets stick magazines pictures on a paper bag. Just by being more open plan meant that my kids explored the materials for much longer, they got involved and stayed interested for hours. The other way to conquer my inability to just dive in was to invite little friends over to craft. On the day, not only were my kids expectant but so were their guests… I had to do something even if it was just concoctions at the kitchen sink.

As our children grew older and we began homeschooling so I realized that while creativity was part of our lifestyle, we needed to get a lot more pro-active about providing our children with crafty skills. They required skills to create the meals they envisioned, to construct the go-kart they had planned, or to sew a new soft toy. Mastering skills became an important part of our educational experience. Not in a “lesson planned way” or a “half an hour” every other day kind of way – but more as a “I have this idea, how can we make it happen” kind of way.

To prevent myself from intervening with every project my kids did, I started to work alongside them. It was a situation that worked best for all of us! I realized that  armed with a couple of skills, what we all really needed was practice – and hours and hours of practice. Not because we are looking for perfection, but because crafty processes tend to be a lot of fun. As a family we spend a lot of time creating and crafting. We begin each school day with some arty time, a day doesn’t pass when we don’t use our watercolors or pastels. Our favorite projects are the ones we do all together like our sketchbook projects. These are crafty collections of works we have produced together, collage, watercolors, drawings all gathered in one spot.

Where I had once thought that my special pens and markers and sketchbooks would stay on a shelf well above my children and their crafty materials would be readily available to them. My materials very quickly became theirs as they worked alongside me, mastering the skills needed to use my tools properly. There are no dedicated places for children’s crafts in our home, but there are dedicated corners to crafting as a family and our crafting materials are all within reach. As a family we have grown as we create together, there is nothing like working together to tighten the team. As my children continue to grow and move on along their own creative paths my hope is that they will be tied together by memories made while spending time creating together.