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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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6 Tips to Help You Get Some Creative Time With Kids in the House

A lone tree in the midst of a lake.If you’re a parent, chances are you have to watch your kids while trying to schedule in some creative time for yourself. Sure, you can get down and dirty with them, get yourself covered in paint or mud, and have loads of fun, too. However, you likely once in a while feel the need to work at your own creative pursuits. I’ve found a few ideas that work for times when I need to work on my writing with minimal interruptions. Maybe some will help you in your creative endeavours, too.

Your children’s age will depend on how much you can accomplish. In the early years, when children are very young, you may simply need to arrange for extra help or be satisfied with what you can squeeze in:

  • A tiny human often requires more attention than you have hours in a day.
  • You shouldn’t leave your eyes off a toddler, especially if you want your kitchen cupboards to stay intact.
  • Kids in the midst of toilet training are an accident waiting to happen (that you need to clean up).

My kids are in elementary school and by no means independent enough to look after themselves for an hour or two while I work away at the computer. I’ve found few ways, though, to integrate my work into their lives.

Idea #1:

I rarely write at the computer when home alone with the kids. My kids run to the computer as strongly as most working adults run away from it. I lose my patience easily when I get interrupted so frequently that the period I’m aiming for seems two miles away. My best alternative is to avoid the situation altogether.

Idea #2:

Therefore, I work with paper and pen at a table, usually brainstorming. I have enough projects on the go (paid and personal) that I always have something to brainstorm. Doing this after a meal works best, because my kids are re-energized, usually happy, and eager to play with each other.

Idea #3:

I taught my kids how to knock. (If you don’t have a separate room, teaching them to say, “Excuse me, Mom/Dad,” could play the same role.) I can then finish my thought/sentence and turn off my timer. Then I tell them to come in, and they have 100% of my attention. If my husband’s home, though, they get a very quick, “Mommy’s working. You have to ask Daddy.” Which brings me to Way #4:

Idea #4:

I set reasonable boundaries for their ages. I can set the oven timer for 20 minutes and ask my kids not to disturb me until it beeps. However, because of Rule #1, I only use this when I’m alone with the kids and facing a tight deadline. I’ve also heard that having a box with special activities reserved for such times can help, but it didn’t work for me.

Idea #5:

Ask for help. Whether it’s the grandparents, your significant other, a trusted friend, or paid child care, if you need a long stretch of creativity time, you may need to bring in the cavalry. Kids are programmed to desire their parents’ company, but having someone else in the house who loves them, or at least cares enough about them to have fun with them, may give you that extra space to work on your project.

Idea #6:

I spend scheduled time with them each day, and ensure that work is far from my mind. I don’t write between 3:00 and 4:00 so I can pick up the kids from the bus, have a snack with them, see if they have homework, etc. I also read to them many nights of the week. I limit writing on the weekends, again, depending on my workload.

Think through your own rules carefully to make sure they’re appropriate for your family’s situation, but then gently enforce them. Be understanding that kids need help when things change, especially when the kids are really young. Based on my experience, the angrier I get with the kids, the angrier they get with each other, and I have to frequently stop what I’m doing to break up their fights. Gentleness, patience, and consistency usually ensure longer periods of time for me.

One warning, though: whatever you do, don’t make your creative pursuit appear like something that’s keeping you away from your kids. Children may grow jealous of your hobby/job instead of being inspired by it. Just be gentle with your children. In my few years of parenthood, I’ve learned that patience and teaching generally beat force if I’m looking for long-term compliance.

Do you have any tips on how to carve out some creativity time for yourself with kids in the home?

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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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Quick-and-Dirty Felt Book Cover for Kids

Although I admit to going a bit nuts at a local arts & crafts warehouse during Boxing Week sales, I’m still trying to use up old materials lying around. After all, isn’t part of the point of getting a sewing machine so you can save some money?

I had a large piece of red felt from I-don’t-know-when. It was big enough to make a quick book cover. My older son helped cut it out, but then he lost interest during the sewing part.

I quickly finished it, simply by folding in the edges and attempting to sew straight lines (the hardest thing in the world, I tell you).

Inside of a felt book cover for my son's notebook journal.

It looked a bit plain, though. My son had cut and paste a house together out of felt and pipe cleaners, so I sewed that on to the cover.

Outside of a felt book cover for my son's notebook journal.

The result? A wonderful new journal for him, in which he can draw, cut and paste pictures, and even print. (Right now, printing dinosaur names is all the rage.)

How a letter-sized journal fits into the book cover for kids

Completed felt book cover for kids, with the felt house sewn on.You can easily get bitten by the perfectionist bug when you’re attempting to be creative. I simply wanted to whip something useful together really quickly for my kid and surprise him at Christmas this past year. It worked.

Have you created anything for your kids where perfection was not your ultimate goal?

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Showing Your Kids What Work Is

Kids at a tableThe hardest thing about writing as a job is that it looks the same as Facebooking, emailing, surfing, and reading. To a child, at least. Of course, it would help if I didn’t get caught turning “I’ll get you another bedtime water” into 15 minutes at the computer socializing.

Guilt aside, though, it’s much harder to show children what you’re doing as a writer, especially when they can’t read proficiently yet. More difficult is when the subject matter means nothing to them. I imagine that visual artists inspire awe in their children, because a child doesn’t need an interpreter to make out the art: they’re more than happy to interpret it themselves.

When I received my copy of just dance! magazine in the mail with my article on The Next Step in it, I could finally show my older son what I actually do. The two-page spread of the cast, a collection of smiling faces, appealed to him right away. He quietly scanned everything. I showed him the next part of the article, which had more text but still had graphics, and I could tell it clicked.

“This is what Mommy does. You see? I wrote all of that.”

Of course, I only got an “oh” as a response, but that meant he was throughly engrossed, even if for a moment. (The article didn’t have any pictures of trains.)

I’ll need to find ways of showing him more often what I do – it’s a lesson I think he’ll need to hear again and again, simply because the act of writing is so abstract to him. His world is full of single sentences that take five to ten minutes to write and beginner readers that still push his endurance. Now, if I can just teach him to cook, then I can write even more…

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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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Tree Angels Out of Coffee Filters

Kids tree angels with coffee filters.Lori StrausI owned a coffee maker, but because I never drank the stuff, no one trusted me to make it. Ten years later, Keurig (and others) thankfully saved my guests from eternal dessert-drink dulldom. But what to do with those extra coffee filters lying around? Tree angels!

I took two coffee filters, glued them together, and attached them to a craft stick. I used a container lid as a stencil to cut out two circles for the heads. I didn’t attach the heads until the kids had decorated them, because if they wanted to colour on faces, they’d be colouring over the craft sticks.

I don’t have a demonstration photo of these angels on trees, but so long as you don’t glue the coffee filters closed, the angel should, in theory, sit on top of your Christmas tree.

You can tell which angel belongs to the younger one and which to the older one. My logic-driven, school-attending older son included all the usual features of a face and also felt that angels needed legs, too. My younger son right now loves gluing on googley eyes, so there you have it: an angel with five eyes. (“All the better to see you with, my little gift-openers.”)

I think it’s crucial that a Christmas tree call up a lot of memories in our adult lives. I’ve of course inherited a lot of our old decorations. Some of the more generic ones have found their way into the local dump to make room for newer ones. Some of the more personal ones, though, have stayed, including a few I made as a kid. These tree angels are my first attempt at helping my kids create memories for themselves.

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Review: The Artist’s Way for Parents

The Artist's Way for ParentsI would argue that most parents in North America gain most of their parenting skills from “I’m not doing what my parents did” and parenting books. Whether Dr. Spock or Dr. Sears, we all have someone’s reference book somewhere telling us what to do in case of illness, what milestones to expect, whether babies need schedules or not, etc.

What I was sorely missing, though, was a more spiritual way of parenting. I’m not talking religion here. By spirituality, I mean a deeper sense connectedness to the world. Because creativity helps us connect with each other, I believe it’s important that kids be exposed to many forms of creativity so they can learn how to connect with others. This isn’t free play, though that’s also important. It’s simply arts and crafts and exposure to others’ creativity as is appropriate for my kids’ ages. Not easy for very cerebral types like myself.

My mom gave me a copy of The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron. Cameron is well-known for The Artist’s Way, and while I haven’t worked through that book yet, I hear good things about it.

The beauty of The Artist’s Way for Parents is that it helped reconnect Kid Lori with Adult Lori in a non-self-help way. It fuelled my ideas and drew on what I’ve already experienced in my life, no steps to memorize or supplies to buy (unless I want to). Simple suggestions and case studies about activities like going for a walk with my kids, for example, inspire me much more than the rules I’m supposed to live my days by until the kids move up to the next parenting book. The Artist’s Way for Parents ever so quietly nudged me to remember what I enjoyed as a child and then encouraged me to simply draw on that.

So really, The Artist’s Way for Parents is actually about what my parents did right: they let me be creative.