Can it really be time for back-to-school? Teaching all summer has confused my inner calendar! Still, one of the great benefits of the academic calendar is that it gives us two “New Years” each year, two opportunities to resolve to do things just a little better this time. For those of you whose September resolutions might include some home-grown creativity, here are some places to start.
- Beware of over scheduling. Creative imagination needs time and space. As you are thinking about after school activities, leave space in the week to read, think, scribble, or just stare at the clouds. This is true for everyone from preschool to graduate school.
- Take time to play with your family. Even 15 minutes will do. Jump in some leaves. Finger paint with pudding. Make a salad that looks like an octopus. Tell a silly joke. Model the notion that every life needs a few minutes of playfulness—preferably every day.
- Unplug in the car. OK, sometimes everyone’s sanity demands that little (or not-so-little) eyes and ears be plugged into electronic toys, but when there are so few free minutes, car time can include the best moments for talking—and imagining. Make up a story together, write new lyrics for a song, or come up with lists like “Ten things that would look better painted blue” or “Ten animals that look like someone we know.” A friend’s family made up a family song on a road trip together. Many years later, the song has been passed on to grandchildren.
- Cook together. Sometimes this entails just following directions, but can also give you chances for inventiveness. Pretend you are on Chopped and see what you can make from four items in your refrigerator or cupboard.
- Collect the “stuff” of creative projects and play. Of course you want to have art materials in the house, but “stuff” can be so much more! Think about materials for building robots, writing music, experimenting with sound, or whatever other creative interests your family shares. It helps if the stuff can be collected in a space where it can be located when needed. Not that I’ve ever had a problem with that….
- Use creative problem solving at home. When there is a problem to be solved, remember the mantra, “Your first idea is practically never your best idea.” Involve the family in brainstorming and other creative thinking strategies when struggling to solve anything from transportation problems to sibling conflicts. Role play ways to interact with problematic classmates, or even teachers.
- Take a family field trip periodically, just because you all need a break. There is some evidence that traveling to another country enhances creative thinking. Not many of us can do that, so do the next best thing. Explore an ethnic festival, a museum from another culture, or even a restaurant with food you’ve never eaten before. Learn a little about where the food comes from. Or maybe you can do some adventurous cooking at home.
- Everybody try something new. See how many people in your family would like to try something new this year. It doesn’t have to be something big. Someone might try broccoli. That’s OK. Someone might try building a kite, or going to a yoga class, or listening to a jazz concert. Great! You could take photos of each family member doing his or her new thing and send them to all the relatives.
- Support children in learning to make choices. This is hard. School (not to mention life) comes with lots of choices. Learning to make them is an important life skill. Sometimes we think about learning to make choices simply in terms of learning about consequences. That is important, but choice is also an essential component of the intrinsic motivation that is basic to learning and creativity. Watch for ways young people can discover the satisfaction of choosing something, then accomplishing it.
- Take time to restore yourself. Parenting is demanding (I know, you never guessed, right?) You need moments of peace and solitude to regenerate for lots of reasons, including being your most creative self. Perhaps there is a creative project you’d like to try. If so, go for it. Or perhaps you just need a moment to help you deal creatively with life as we know it. Take that moment. You deserve it. Then enjoy those creative family times.
What would YOU suggest for Tip #11?