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Mixing Work and Kids = Inspiring Your Creativity

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a hard time balancing work and kids. Next week, we celebrate Family Day in Ontario, and I realized I’ve book the day full of work duties! But the upcoming holiday has also reminded me that your family can feed your creativity and reinvigorate your brain for work.

If you’re more on the cerebral side of the spectrum, like I am, you may find communicating with kids a little hard, because you have difficulty breaking down your thought process to their level. Heck, you may even find what they do boring, because it doesn’t challenge you intellectually. I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still trying to work on it.

(Granted, as hard as I try to find interest in my kids’ hobbies, I can’t develop any amount of enthusiasm for watching YouTubers play video games.)

Over the years, though, I’ve pushed myself to spend creative time with my kids, not just chore and parenting-related time, and not only does this push my brain in different directions, but it brings me closer to my children, and I find they even listen better.

See if any of these ideas work for you.

Creative Activities for Parents and Kids

Mad Libs: You buy these as pads, usually somewhere in a bookstore. They’re short texts with blanks, and you have to fill them in. The blanks are usually described as a noun, verb, adjective, or something similar. Not only will they help your kids recognize some parts of speech, you’ll likely both find yourselves in stitches as you read back the zany story you’ve both created.

Lego: This I find hard, because I’m stuck with some old inhibitions (I can’t create anything out of Lego except basic houses), and because I need to concentrate on the very foreign world the kids have created. But nothing makes my kids happier than showing off their Lego creations, and the brain drain I experience when playing with them improves my concentration.

Sewing: If you own a sewing machine,  just letting the kids (carefully!) run some fabric through it can be fun. I used to let my older son control the foot pedal when he was four or five. But certainly use your parenting judgment here. A sewing machine does have a needle, and kids’ hands are very small.

Sports: You don’t necessarily have to play a game that already exists. My husband loves making up games with our kids, and they have a blast at it. They’ve even created their own boardgames that the two play together in the evening. I’ll admit, this is less suitable for me, because I like consistency, but then again, maybe it could force me to use my brain differently.

TV: Yes, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you watch TV with your kids. Not only does this help you, the parent, see what they’re actually watching, but it will, again, force your brain to focus on something different. If watching YouTubers playing video games is all your kids watch, then try a movie on the weekend, with some popcorn.

Painting: Yup, show your children that they’ve probably already bested you in the arena of art. And if you are talented in art, show them one or two tips that’ll make them better. (Of course, if your kids are old enough, maybe actually painting a room might be more engaging for all of you.)

Colouring: Those adult colouring books are more than suitable for kids over the age of five. My older kid (in the junior grades) will occasionally sit in the same room with me as we both colour for ten or fifteen minutes in separate books.

Writing: My youngest loves this. He’s in the primary grades, so he still finds spelling and printing arduous. He absolutely loves to dictate a story to me as I type it out in Scrivener. I set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes (my forearms can’t handle anything longer), and he’ll easily produce 300-600 words.

Dancing: Kids don’t care how you move. If your kids is active, turn on the tunes and get dancin’!

So, those are just a few ideas of how to build in some creativity time that will help you in your profession but also connect you with your children. Do you do any of these activities already? Or other ones?

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What Creativity Can Do For Kids

Fred RogersI’ll be honest: I found Mr. Rogers boring as a kid. I preferred Mr. Dressup, not knowing that they were indeed very good friends.

A few years ago, I caught an episode of Arthur where Mr. Rogers made a cartoon appearance. My interest in his efforts to provide quality TV for children was renewed. I was also impacted by some of the quotes that swam through Facebook, and I finally understood what type of person he was.

Another quote attributed to him showed up in my Facebook feed. In an attempt to see if the attribution was correct, I looked up his official website and found this clip.

Mr. Rogers was in the same league as Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup: using public television to educate kids. His focus was on their emotional development. This clip is only seven minutes long. Watch it. You’ll learn about how much creativity he put into his shows, what his budget was when he first started out in the 50s, and how he used his knowledge of children’s development to advocate for better television.

45 Years Ago — Mister Rogers Addressed Congress | The Fred Rogers Company.

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How I Learned to Think Like a Kid for 2 Hours

Helping young kids discover the fun in journalingMy parents (or rather, the Easter Bunny, I think), gave me my first journal when I was almost 12 (the top one in the photo). I wrote whenever I felt like it. Sometimes I’d go a year, maybe even more, without writing. Other times, I wrote daily. But for over 20 years, I’ve been keeping journals in some form or another.

Because of all the use I get from journalling, I wanted to introduce my kids to it at a young age. Each kid got their first journal when they were about two; old enough to scribble, too young to write. Once in a blue moon (“once in a while” isn’t rare enough) I’d write down something special about the day or label their drawings for them, but that was it. And since they still can’t write fast enough to keep up with the stories they weave, they rarely use their journals, too.

A day or two after New Years’, I sat down with my journal at the kitchen table and started cutting out pictures of things I wanted to focus on for the year. My youngest was still napping at that moment, but my oldest’s eyes widened and he immediately ran for his “paper scissors.” (They’re red and white kids’ scissors with a regular blade, but they’re apparently more suited to paper than his purple ones.)

He grabbed his journal. I lay a small stack of soon-to-be-recycled magazines on the table and we attacked them. His brother eventually joined us, too.

My oldest cut out a few pictures for me to add to mine. I tried to politely decline a few, but the expression on his face was a bit too much for me. One was a king penguin. He said it must be a mommy penguin and since I’m a mommy, I should have the picture. Can’t say no to that!

My oldest and I were definitely in “the zone,” where everyone’s focused, energy is flowing through without any blockages, and time is standing still. When my youngest joined us, he simply brought his younger energy to our duo. Parenting is often full of admonishing kids about the future effects of their “bad” behaviour or reminding them of past “bad” behaviour (I generally prefer “not beneficial”). It’s the time-aware adult brain trying to teach the in-the-moment child brain about life. But this scrapbooking/vision boarding/cutting and pasting activity had no threats of future doom or reminders of past mistakes. For once, I was able to join their in-the-moment world.

I can see why they fight so hard not to give it up.

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The Seeds of Childhood – Part 2

Jean Little - my favourite childhood author and purveyor of great advice.
Jean Little. Photo from jeanlittle.ca

I didn’t plan a part 2 when I wrote last week’s blog, but the idea wouldn’t stay quiet. A magnet in my gut pulled me to the computer to publish a poem I’d written as a kid. I think I was in grade 7, though I may have been younger. I’ve always carried this poem in my mind, and some time earlier this year I found it.

Ahem…here it goes (typos included):

Friends Are Forever

Friends are forever,
Well, most anyway,
Always loving and caring,
And with whom we do play.

I may cry,
And I may weep,
But friends they are;
And friends I keep.

There are different kinds of friends;
Tall friends, short friends,
Girl friends, boy friends,
Funny friends and crazy friends:
But most of all –
Best friends.

You can tell I prioritized rhyming over meaning, but I commend myself for the effort. (Pats young self on back.) I remember actually reworking this poem several times on a typewriter at my dad’s business. I thought it was so great, I even entered it in a contest. (Didn’t win.)

Turns out I produced a lot when I was 12. I was apparently so focused on writing and learning how to write well that I wrote a fan letter to my favourite childhood author, Jean Little. I had read all of her books that were available then. She’s still publishing now, and I read a recent book a few months ago. I never tire of her work.

I didn’t save a copy of the letter, so I can only surmise that I asked a bunch of questions, because she wrote a bunch of answers. This I do know, though: I clearly wanted the easy answer to becoming a successful writer.

While I’d love to put the whole letter up here, it was actually very personal, and I’d feel like Judas if I published it on the web. But I think I can share this piece of advice from her:

“You want suggestions for things that would be ‘easy’ to write about. Good writing, Lori, is not easy. It is challenging, fun, exciting, hard work, satisfying, maddening but never, ever easy. […] Poetry is worth working at. What triumph is there in doing something that’s so simple it takes no effort? You want to be proud of what you write, don’t you? Then be ready to give it your best.”

It was a two-page letter. I was thrilled to read it then, and I’m more thrilled to read it now.

The reason I’ve posted this is to reconnect to my main point last week: it’s perfectly okay to temper our childhood loves with adult wisdom (not criticism). So I’m going to take another crack at that poem. Given all the work I put in to it over 20 years ago, I feel it deserves adult tempering. I’m then going to post it here. I don’t know when exactly, but I promise to do it before my birthday, which I’m of course not going publicize. It’s not soon, though, hence choosing that date.

If you find some art from your childhood that you’d like to share, post it on your blog and feel free to link to it in the comments section below. Then, if you’re up to it, rework it, see what comes of it, and let the rest of us know about it.

(Ms. Little wrote in my letter that she was actually going to keep my letter. If anyone knows her really well, do you mind asking if she still has it? I’d like to know what I wrote! Message me first for my maiden name, though.)

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Creating Focus Through the Seeds of Childhood

Kids' pile of stuff on a bed in an attempt to build a fort.

I find myself often caught up in the freedom of choice we so much enjoy. My collection of unread books testifies to that. However, this wonderful freedom can also lead to wonderful indecision, and we suddenly lose focus. I decided recently to put a stop to this, and I did it by going back.

I believe the seeds to our talents and skills were already around as a kid, as a teen, and even as we entered into our 20s. So why not build on what we already know? Why not focus on what we’ve already done?

There’s a milk campaign on TV right now speaking to the joys of our childhood. It does a good job of reconnecting the viewer to the nostalgia of youth. I certainly feel good watching those commercials, though I haven’t bought any milk because of them.

Tempering the freedoms of childhood with the wisdom of adulthood has a purpose: it’s how we grow and improve ourselves. However, the overly critical behaviours that often characterize adulthood cause our problems. As a child, I spent a lot of my time reading and creating. I created stories, crafts, dances, games with friends. So why not focus on what’s already there?

It’s such an obvious question I almost feel silly admitting to the world that I didn’t think of it earlier. No kids going to school learn random material: teachers scaffold what students know, building new knowledge on old. How could I forget that most crucial lesson from school?

I think I understand what Shakespeare meant with “To thine own self be true.” It doesn’t mean don’t change, don’t grow. An acorn isn’t an oak tree: it grows into one, but it doesn’t become a tomato plant. You’ve gained a lot of new skills and knowledge since your childhood days, and your life situation is also vastly different, so clearly you’re not the same person you were as a child.

However, we can still match our adult wisdom with our childhood loves. The seeds for our talents and interests were already present when we were kids. So go and water them.

(And add a heavy dose of fertilizer).