(This is a guest post from Laura Potts, mother, writer and cat lover)
All children show creative expression – help them hold onto and make the most of it
My mum rings.“I just found some things I’d saved from when you were little and - you know, you’re a real artist!”
This comes as a shock to me, until I remember that my mum is an unremitting force of positive reinforcement and blinding optimism, especially when it comes to her children and grandchildren. It’s not that she’s lying, it’s just that she chooses to see her own truth. Her own warped, misguided, completely unrealistic truth.
I only have the haziest recollections of drawing, but what I remember clearly are the hours I spent writing, creating little books and magazines. I decided early on I wanted to be a writer. I had romantic notions of the concept, and all else fell by the wayside.
But then something happened. I guess as I got older and became more self-conscious, my confidence ebbed away along with my creative instincts. I still loved writing and had the tools to tell someone else’s stories, so I became a journalist. But creative writing? It met the same fate as my withered drawing career.
Now I watch my own children lost in their imaginations, weaving intricate tales as they mould Play-Doh, finding extraordinary things in clouds and sketching fanciful worlds that, yes, I think make them ‘real artists.’ Or at least show their potential. And I wonder: what might they do with it if I found ways to nurture their creativity? Could they stick with it and develop beyond my own stunted literary ambitions?
I’ve decided I owe it to them to try, so with a little help I’ve compiled a list.
1. Take notice, show interest. Make time to actually listen to their stories, or ask them more about their drawings. How did they come up with the idea? What else might happen? What do they like about it? Is there anything else they want to find out about it (for example: look up different patterns of butterfly wings, or see what whales eat or how skyscrapers are built.) But don’t meddle; kids need space to let their own ideas take flight, without mum tethering them back down to Earth with nagging questions. Know when to poke your nose in, and when to keep it out.
2. Make space and don’t mend. Find a dedicated space or at least some storage trays or boxes for their projects. Without encouraging obsessive hoarding (I cannot think of many things worse for the creative process), hold onto stuff that can’t be fixed but might find new life as an artwork or storybook. Bits of ribbon or old birthday cards or magazines, wheels that have come off a toy car, broken sea shells, even a favourite old t-shirt. Collect pine cones, interesting pebbles, colourful leaves or seed heads. If the thought of such seemingly useless clutter give you hives, try to keep it in check and remember you can always tidy it away at the end of the day. And if it’s something that’s really trashed, it can probably make a quiet exit one night after bedtime.
3. Open their eyes to possibilities. Visit museums, the theatre and concerts. Go to storytelling sessions or look for competitions for photography, artwork, short stories or recipes in children’s magazines or websites such as the RSPB – anything to show your children the possibilities for sharing their work and seeing what other kids have created. Find out about classes or workshops, especially during school holidays.
4. Do things together. Whether it’s colouring alongside your child, drawing a picture together, creating a story in fragments (have each family member write down a sentence or go around in a circle making up bits of a story) or teaching them to snip, sew or sculpt. Or listen to music, get them to dance with you or make ‘instruments’ out of objects.
5. Creativity flows when children feel safe, secure and supported. Your children may show an ability, but too much pushing could turn them off. Let them have freedom to explore their interests, but just because your hobby is watercolours don’t expect them to follow in your footsteps.
As for my kids’ drawings, I reserve the right to think of them as ‘real art,’ even if no one else ever does. Maybe my mum isn’t so delusional after all.
Laura Potts is a freelance editor and writer, a mother to toddlers and teenagers, and an artist in the mediums of crayons, Play-Doh and finger paint. Before moving to Norfolk in 2005, she was a reporter on daily newspapers in the USA. She believes a balanced diet contains caffeine.