Ten Tips for a More Creative School Year: Home Version 2013

schoolbuswaveCan it really be time for back-to-school? In Michigan, the store displays of pens and notebooks seem to appear just as the summer temperatures soar, confusing my sense of season altogether. 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. Last year I posted some thoughts for school-year creativity, and this year when I tried to revise them, I found much of the content worth repeating. And so here, slightly revised, are thoughts for a creativity-supporting new year.

  1. Beware of over scheduling. Creative imagination requires time. 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. None of us can be our most creative in a frenzied race from one activity to the next.
  2. Take time to play with your family. Even 15 minutes will do. Finger paint with pudding. Tell a silly joke. Make a meatloaf that looks like a cake—or maybe a cake that looks like a meatloaf. Model the notion that every life needs a few minutes of playfulness—preferably every day. Time in the car offers familyplayingwonderful contained moments for play. Make up a story, change the lyrics to a favorite song, or take turns asking and answering silly questions: What five things would be better if they were ten times as big? What 5 things would be better if they changed color every day? If you are feeling too frazzled to think of something playful, check out the app Creative Genius on the Go for some help.
  3. Guaranteed time unplugged. Don’t get me wrong, electronic gizmos are wonderful. I love my smart phone. I teach online. I blog. But with very few exceptions, electronic imaginary play offers the most creative experiences to those who design the games, rather than those who play them. You want young people to have the chance to have adventures in their own imaginary worlds, not just those designed by others. Leave time and space for dress-up and puppet games, running races, exploring the woods and fields, parks, or even nooks and crannies of your own home. Older students can become involved in maker activities and perhaps create some games of their own. But they have to unplug to do it–at least part of the time.
  4. 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. The more open lionfacegirlended, the better. We have a local store, the Scrap Box, that recycles factory scraps of all kinds for creative upcycling. Perhaps you have something similar near you. If not, you might find something interesting through the Scrap Box’s occasional mail order options.  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….
  5. 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 (see suggestion 8).
  6. Take a family field trip periodically, just because you all need a break. You don’t need to go far. 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.
  7. 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 want to learn to do a cartwheel or taste eggplant. That’s OK. Someone might try building a robot, or taking a cooking class, or listening to a jazz concert. Great! A couple years ago I decided to try taking a mosaic class and it has been more fun than I ever imagined. The act of choosing something and accomplishing it is a powerful lesson in intrinsic motivation. You could take photos of each family member doing his or her new thing and IMG_1774send them to all the relatives.
  8. Encourage creative responses to school projects. If your child is given similar assignments week after week, consider helping him or her negotiate some options. Instead of using spelling words in sentences, could they be combined in a story? Could the monthly book report be written in the form of an advertisement, a poster, or a skit? Of course, it is never wise to surprise a teacher with an unexpected change in an assignment. But helping a child practice politely requesting an option is a valuable life skill as well as an opportunity for creative thinking.
  9. Make the just a little world better. Few things are more empowering than feeling as if you’ve made a difference in the world.  At least once this year, help your family look around for ways they can make some part of the world better. At the core of this task is developing ability to walk through life with open and curious eyes—exactly the skill needed for creative problem finding. The problems need not be huge. Perhaps a neighbor is ill and unable to weed the garden. Perhaps a local Boy’s or Girl’s club serviceneeds school supplies. Perhaps an older relative is lonely and needs a chance to visit, or an older pet who needs a way to climb the stairs. Of course there are plenty of examples of young people who identify a cause and organize local or even national efforts. I know your communities are full of opportunities. You can even apply for grants to help you. Here’s one example. It is not the size of the effort that matters, but the process of looking for a need and finding at least a small way to address it that is empowering—and the beginning of many creative processes.
  10. Take time to restore yourself. Parenting is demanding—and lists like this can make it feel even more overwhelming. Know that isn’t the intent. You need time to breathe, too. 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!

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