I recently read, in Ken Robinson’s The Element, a story of a blind six-year-old boy. Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield tells us that doctors were baffled by his condition and couldn’t work out why he had lost his sight because his eye was perfectly normal. Eventually they realized that he had been treated for a minor infection as a baby. The treatment included bandaging his eye for two weeks. At this crucial time, when neural pathways are being made, the boy’s brain misinterpreted the lack of signal from the eye’s neurons to mean that “the boy would not be using the eye for the rest of his life”.
It got me to thinking more about how important it is to ensure that parts of our brain are regularly exercised. I’ve talked recently about ‘losing’ your creativity, but all it takes is some focus to get it back in whatever form. It doesn’t leave us… as long as it is there in the first place.
What I mean is, we need to allow children to have the experience of being creative for it to connect in their brain. We need to give the opportunity to them and not stop them from being interested. I often wonder if we think that it costs money to offer children these opportunities, and yes, to some degree as they develop in whatever creative world they aspire to, there could be a time when they need some financial support. But, to start, when they are very young, just offering them a chance to explore is more than enough to fire some interest that could take them on a path unknown!
Obviously, if we had a crystal ball and knew what their passion was going to be, that would be wonderful and oh so easy! But we don’t. Children need to explore, and it is up to us to notice what lights them up. Sometimes things change. As a small boy, my son was fascinated by trains. Thomas the Tank Engine sparked that interest, and we made many a train ride, even managing to ‘meet’ Thomas himself! My son is not now a train driver, and after about the age of 6, lost whatever passion he had for the next exciting thing.
Let’s not confuse these moments for anything more than ‘fan-dom’. Had the interest developed into his early teens, then I would have expected some sort of train related career to be explored.
These things that catch children’s attention and absorb them for a while are essential to exploring the world and discovering something that they enjoy. It is us that needs to offer the freedoms to do this. Imagine a young Gerald Durrell not being allowed to explore the world around him and keep animals for observation. Yes, he was exceptionally lucky for the family’s turn of events and his up-bringing in Corfu, without the confines of an English education system which he loathed, but even in England his desire to be outside and his love of the natural world was evident. Had all of this not happened, his work in conservation wouldn’t be making an impact on the world.
Imagine if Adam Peaty’s parents hadn’t signed him up for swimming lessons because of his fear of the bath water or if Octavia Spencer hadn’t had supportive mother, and teachers who saw her strengths in other areas (she has excellent auditory skills!) and put her forward for their gifted program.
Creating these experiences allows the brain to make a connection and then if the experience is good, they continue to build. If your child has a passion for something, take small steps towards offering experiences. It might be that there’s a club they can join, a magazine they can subscribe to, even some opportunities to watch. Let the passion build and see where it takes them. As in my experience, it may dissolve and something will take its place (hence not jumping in with both feet at the start!) but the connections will have been made and who knows, a skill that the first passion brought up might be useful for the next!
In the Arts, just allowing time for a child to create without guidance and support is just as important as being shown how to do something. We need to ensure that we only teach the skills and then give the freedom to use these how they like.
In our workshops, for example, we deliver a lesson that produces an object, but it is the process that gives the skill. We use felt at lot of the time as it is very versatile for many projects and also allows for delivering a lesson to younger and older children. They can glue or sew. Now, gluing isn’t really a skill, is it, Deb? No, but the process before that – the cutting of templates, the cutting of felt, the precision, the matching… - this all supports learning for future independent projects. And that’s what we aim for – to give children ideas and those “Oh! I did something like that when…” moments to be able to take it forward without or with less and less support – building the connections.
Having this attitude at home means that one time you might show your child how to do something and then the next you take a step back. Alternatively, you might refer to something you did together and say “Remember when we did … Why don’t you try doing it that way and see what happens?”. Guiding them towards the skills they have already learnt but in a different context will help them to see that skills are flexible and can be used in different situations. They aren’t static.
This is how a problem-solver thinks. They have made the connections.
See how you can start to build connections this week with some of the play aspects of your child's life. Use what they already know. It's a bit like when they do measures in Maths at school, having a cookery lesson that week will support their understanding of how much things weigh and how to read scales. Real life solutions. The best way to learn, right?!
Drop me a message here if you'd like more help with something more specific and don't forget that we have a bunch of new workshops coming up for the next quarter, so take a look at those too. There may be something there that you'd like to do together! Btw, if you live outside the UK & ROI, just let me know. We can arrange a self-supplied attendance just for you!
See you again soon for more Creative Conversations!