Friday, November 03, 2006

Creativity in Kids

Right now, all three kids are sitting in the kitchen playing (I'm not making this up) spin the frozen turkey. Whoever it points to gets to spin it the next time. They're laughing and enjoying themselves, and I think they're taking turns riding it occassionally. And they're singing, "The turkey in the straw" and "The turkey in the well." Now they're pushing and carrying it. Hopefully the thing survives to become our meal. I suppose the evening's activity is "What can you do with a frozen turkey"-- 3 and 5 year old style.

It's a very hands-on version of the old game I used to play with my school class: 101 uses for Alligators. It was a game suggested by the artist James Christiansen to awaken creativity in your students. And it always did. You try it--try to come up with 101 uses for alligators. At first, you get things like shoes, luggage, purses. Then you get to things like "guard dog". Eventually kids come up with stuff like "swimsuit model" and "ferry." And other equally creative things. This game is too abstract for small children. But hand them a new object (Anda is now sitting on her "turkey burkey" the way a duck sits on its eggs) and give them full reign to explore, and they do. A friend once told me that the best toy for a three year old is an electric typewriter. My kids played for hours with theirs. I guess any new thing works though. Like a frozen turkey.

I was at a party with some friends on Halloween and we were talking about our yards. A few of us have partially or completely unfinished yards--full of dirt. And I was the only one who let my kids go out and play in the unfinished yard. The rest couldn't stand the mess that came inside. I said, "That's why my house looks like it does." And then I realized that I was right. It's not just that I'm disabled by fibromyalgia. It's not just that I can think of a hundred things I'd rather do than clean up. It's also that I hate to stop the kids from learning stuff. So I don't. And so my house looks like it does. And my kids are like they are. It's a package deal.

What I didn't tell my friends was that not only do I allow my kids to play in the dirt, I taught them how to turn the hose on and make mud so they could play in that, too. I'm also the one that taught them how to cut magazines into bitty bits, and blow bubbles in their milk, and paint with watercolors, all manner of other messy but fascinating activities. And I buy them "kits"--like train tracks, or cooking sets, even though lots of my friends avoid those kinds of toys because the pieces get spread everywhere. They do. But a cooking set can give a kid hours and hours of creative, educational fun. Why would I give up on that? Besides, they entertain themselves with creative toys, so I get time to read or write....

I'm not saying my friends are wrong to avoid the messes. We all do what we have to in order to survive with the kids we got. Their kids will all grow up with a strong sense of social propriety, and with the ability to fit into sequential systems, and will be less likely to challenge "the way it is" and authority. My kids will struggle with those things.

What's been interesting me is the idea that Heavenly Father knew I would parent like this, and so I suspect he sent me kids that need this kind of upbringing. It's the kind I got. Mom once said she wondered how she got all these creative kids, when she "doesn't have a creative bone in her body." (I would take issue with that, by the way. Problem solving is, by nature, a creative activity, and Mom is a great problem solver.) I think it's in the upbringing. If kids are allowed to be creative, and to try new things, and to play spin the turkey, and to pursue their interests relatively unfettered, why wouldn't the creative sides of their brains be developed?

Messes may be impractical and socially anathema, but they are so good for creativity. I once told Tim that the kids see a clean floor as a blank canvas, begging for a project. That's why the floor doesn't stay clean for long.

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