Exciting ways to get creative with your children-for the tentative parent.

Sketching upon waking

There are many research articles suggesting that spending positive, quality time with our children at home (especially at primary age) directly impacts their attitudes and beliefs in their own capabilities at school. If you’re interested in reading more about this then here are a few articles.

Article 1 Parental involvement in children’s education. Why does it make a difference?

Article 2 Parental involvement in their children’s learning

Quality time put in by fathers, mothers or any other important family member gives  children the opportunity to see, copy and integrate skills that are important on a social, practical and emotional level. Creative activities are a fantastic way to begin some quality interactions with your child and is often an irresistible distraction from the addictive pull of PSP’s, Nintendo, T.V , etc.

In this article I will share some of my ideas (all tried and tested), some useful places to visit, some tips along with great links to online resources.

Get Creative: No 1

  1. Choose a book
  2. Pick a related topic
  3. Choose your focus and skill
  4. Get Creative

Choose an exciting, well written story book suitable to your children’s level of understanding and find a family time where this book gets read everyday (its bed time in our house). Now you’re probably thinking, How’s this creative? Well I’ll explain.

Let’s take The Iron Man and The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes, or The jungle book by Rudyard Kipling. Both books contain excellent language, and vocabulary as well as perfect subject matter to stimulate fantastic art, drama or creative writing.  What I often do with my children is to pick a topic that links in with the current book I’m reading, so for example you could choose topics like recycling, wildlife, pollution, save the planet, reduce, reuse, junk,for The Iron Man/Woman. And for the Jungle book you might choose topics such as forests, jungle animals, India, tigers, traditional peoples.

Once your book and topic are chosen (either by you or by the kids) then you need to decide what you want to get out of this. For me, there are some occasions where I know precious little about our chosen topic so its a chance for the kids and I to learn together. Other times I know that I have a skill, or a particular idea in mind that I want to pass onto the children. And yet other times it is simply another ploy to distract them from the t.v. or from bickering with each other.

Lets imagine that you’ve chosen The Iron Man/Iron Woman, your topic is recycling and your aim is to improve skills in art, creating from imagination, sculpting, painting, cutting and such like. You could then collect all the house hold recyclable junk like cereal boxes, toilet/kitchen rolls, tin cans, milk bottles and lids etc. and build the Iron man out of them and paint him metallic colours. You could make ‘space bat angel dragon’ wings using old black plastic bags, or Iron Woman masks out of old cd’s, wire and cardboard. You could make papier mache half men half fish, or air dry clay painted models of fish and hang them from the ceiling. Go and visit a fish farm and draw the fish there, if you’re in Oxford then here’s a great place to visit. Go and take photos of pollution in a lock, canal or river near you, then make a piece or art work or poster persuading locals not to dump rubbish into it. I know a few local children near me who made posters, laminated them and tied them with string to the fence along my local stream. Also show them this.

All this can be done with any good book at any level and ability. I will suggest some more fantastic books at the end of this article. Just to add one more example for a lower age group lets take a fantastic book like The snail and the whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. (a book appropriate to pre school and foundation year children pictured above). You have topics such as the sea, seaside, whales, snails, sea wildlife, and from these topics can stem all sorts of wonderful art such as painting shells, collecting empty garden snail shells and decorating them with acrylic paint and then varnishing them. Visiting the seaside and collecting objects that can later be put together into a piece or art, or stuck onto a cardboard frame for a picture, making a sand sculpture of sea creatures (remember to photograph them and you can make them in any sand pit), look at Hokusai’s The Great Wave and make your own painting inspired by it. Play them this, a beautiful composition of John Masefield’s Sea Fever.

Get Creative: No 2.

  1. History, Art, Music Drama (and a bit of science too)
  2. Chose the topic
  3. Bring it to life-visits, online links/games, references
  4. Get creative

I did three history topics with my children that worked really well and will share one of them. Although this idea can work with any historical topic of your choice it is obviously most effective if it is adapted to the children’s age, ability and preferences.

My three topics were Castles, the Vikings, and Ancient Egyptians.

Castles hold a fascination for children so it needs little persuasion to capture their interest. I connected it to the battle of Hastings but there are many castles that can be used and many kings, queens and historical events that you could connect to your topic for even more drama. I ‘story told’ ( this is my special term for dramatically retelling a story in an animated way) the battle of Hastings cutting it down to the key events, Of course the most dramatic being that King Harold of England gets an arrow shot in his eye. Naturally here you’ve immediately got the perfect situation for some drama, one child is the Normans, the other child acts out the Saxon army and they have a great big battle using pencil swords and Harold can then rather dramatically die a slow and grueling death upon the living room carpet. Need I mention that your arts and craft’s session is already organized as you will need to make some helmets out of cardboard for your little solders to wear, some cardboard swords wrapped in kitchen foil, some shields with coats of arms for each army, and naturally bows and arrows out of string, garden canes and cardboard. Oh and what about milk-carton horse faces, with knitting wool mane and brown paint.

If you’ve got girls who are far too sensible to launch into full battle with pencils and garden cane bows then take a look at the Bayeux tapestry and try some easy weaving at home using cardboard and knitting wool. Then you can collect some large and small boxes along with cardboard tubes and first design on paper and then make your own cardboard castle. Make sure you all know the important parts of the castle such as the turrets, draw bridge portcullis etc. Why not make a draw bridge that actually works. Maybe make some actual knights that can defend the Queen/King of the castle. Go and visit a castle first to see all the things you need to make. Here is a fantastic cardboard castle . A good blog too. And don’t forget all castles have a well designed flag to tell everyone who’s castle it is.

Here’s a lovely blog all about homemade castles.

Here’s where bit of science comes in. Make a catapult out of lolly sticks and plastic spoons and make the ammunition out of clay, wet tissue and other objects and see which catapult works best with which object. Then investigate what it is that makes the ammunition go further or not and discover the forces behind what makes the catapult work. Here you could challenge older children to actually make a catapult that works using house hold objects or junk such as old spoons/ladle, rubber bands, old picture frame imagination.

Lastly I worked with a class of thirty children last year and we made musical instruments out of junk which we then used to create a series of soundscapes of the battle of Hastings. We made the shakers out of bottles with beans in, tissue boxes with rubber bands round, tins and old cooking pots with pencils and sticks to beat with, bunches of old keys strung together and more. I then set them off with each group working on one bit of the essential part of the story to create a sound scape which they then performed to each other at the end of every session and then to key stage one at the end of term. You can decide together what sort of noises they would hear at each part of the story and then find the instrument that lends itself best to that particular sound. Then put the sounds together in the right order to tell the story.

Places to visit linked with castles, Jousting day at Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, town of Battle, Castles of Great Britain and Ireland.

Web links for castles suitable for children, Castles for kids, Castle interactive learning, Crush the castle game, Bayeux tapestry comes to life

Further ideas. Dragons, George and the Dragon, Mythical castles, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast all have castles in (NOT the Disney version-the proper traditional tales), Jane and the dragon (CBB’s program-well made and beautiful animations), tower of London.

Get Creative: No 3.

  1. Fun and Funky quick ideas-choose one
  2. Acquire your materials
  3. Get creative

For some quick and easy projects requiring less thought than No’s 1 and 2.

  • Get two very large boxes (from super markets, recycling centers), carve an arch in the ends of the boxes with a craft knife so that they become a tunnel through which a child could crawl (you could leave one end un-carved so it becomes a den). Decorate the outside of the boxes. We made ours into a dragon tunnel, we attached cardboard wings using holes and garden wire, a neck and head and toilet paper roll ‘spikes’ along its back. Once painted it served as hours of fun for all the children in our neighborhood from toddlers to eight year olds.
  • Get air dry clay, roll it out flat to about half a cm thick. Impress into the surface found leaves, flowers, twigs, and other interesting textures and then cut sections of the clay and create a clay sculpture. Let it dry and then paint it using acrylic paints. Once the paints are dry you can then varnish it. Mix a little clay with water to make clay ‘glue’, it should be the consistency of soft cheese. When attaching one piece of clay to the other roughen the surfaces a little, apply the ‘glue’ and then press together. This ‘glue’ is properly named slip.

Air dry clay sculpture

Dragon

  • Get ceramic paints and a black ceramic/glass pen along with some old tiles you’re no longer using for DIY and draw and paint on them. Plan it on paper first just to be sure of what you’re doing. There are oven bake paints that makes your ceramic piece dishwasher safe and there are other ones that are air dry only. Here’s some we did inspired by William de Morgan.Boat
  • Collect some bottles with lids, some rubber bands and an old empty frame, and make your own musical instruments. Decorate them with paper and glue, sequins, threads etc. Have a family jamming session.
  • Try body percussion. Create a rhythm using sounds made with your body. experiment with how many interesting sounds you can make with your body and have a jamming session with them. Have a look at this for some inspiration. And this.
  • Lastly, start a sketch book with your kids. Stress to them that the sketch book is for drawings that they are going to take care over.(anything else can be done on scrap paper) Keep an eye on what they do in there, praise them, point out things that could be improved next time. Make sure that they colour pictures done in outline and stress the importance of finishing one picture before moving on to the next. If they cross out a ‘mistake’ then point out that there’s plenty of space next to it to try again and have another go-no need to cross it out. Remember to write the date when you got the sketch book, it may be a treasured memory later on.

I hope this article provides a place to start for some and a little inspiration for others. Please let me know if you have any useful suggestions or resources you know of that I can add.

A few more book suggestions:

Matilda by Roald Dahl, The clever boy and terrible dangerous animal by Idries Shah, The gingerbread man, Goldilocks and the three bears, The rainbow fish by Marcus Pfister, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein, Alice in Wonderland by CS Lewis, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Charley and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl, Grimms’ fairy tales, Beatrix Potter, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

Advertisements

What is the essence of creativity? An artist’s enquiry.

What is the essence of creativity? A question I encountered on twitter and ironically have never considered until now, even though I am regularly engaged in the creative process. I would like to establish the terms that my enquiry will be based upon and any relevant points.

Firstly this will be my understanding of ‘essence’ (which I have taken from here).               ‘In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity.’  Secondly the creative process is a result of creativity itself so perhaps it is important to take a look at the creative process in order to understand creativity. 

Rabindranath Tagore asks, ‘What is Art? It is the response of man’s creative soul to the call of the Real.’ So what is this ‘creative soul’ and What is its essence?  To these questions I have no fixed and final answer but can only explore them as best I can, using my experience and intuition to inform my judgements.

From a theological perspective, if man was made in the image of God and God created the Universe: then this Divine, macrocosmic creativity must be reflected within man on a microcosmic level. The creative impulse within man is therefore essentially a Divine quality, in that man was created by God and created in his image. The ‘creative soul’, as Tagore calls it, is then perhaps this microcosmic creative impulse. So the essence of creativity, weather it manifests itself in the microcosmic or macrocosmic realm is Divine.

The creative process, and creativity itself have been discussed and re discussed by many philosophers and psychologists throughout history.  These ideas range from Plato’s belief that creativity is a result of the influence of outside forces upon man, such as the Muses to Kant’s ideas that the creative person is able to allow his imagination and his cognitive ability to work freely together without the constraints of rules and regulations. Jung believed the creative process to be one of five instincts which is particularly interesting because I find myself compelled to create and cannot avoid that urge.

Creativity was for Jung in a class by itself. His descriptions of it refer specifically to the impulse to create art.

Though we cannot classify it with a high degree of accuracy, the creative instinct is something that deserves special mention. I do not know if “instinct” is the correct word. We use the term “creative instinct” because this factor behaves at least dynamically, like an instinct. Like instinct it is compulsive, but it is not common, and it is not a fixed and invariably inherited organization. Therefore I prefer to designate the creative impulse as a psychic factor similar in nature to instinct, having indeed a very close connection with the instincts, but without being identical with any one of them.(…) [“Psychological Factors in Human Behaviour,” CW 8, par. 245.] The above quote was taken from here

So far both the ideas above capture some elements of my experience of creativity and the creative process. There is an aspect of some creative moments that are unplanned, spontaneous and inspired and it is difficult to explain how those enlightened moments come about without ascribing a higher influence to them. Other artists have described times where they have had clear minds, no thoughts and the creativity just flowed through them as if they were simply a vehicle, it is these moments I am referring to.

There is something more to the essence of creativity that I think only the Dalai Lama has spoken about, and when I heard it I felt immediately released. He states that ultimately we pursue creative activities to bring about human happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is what humans are ultimately occupied with and creativity is one of the means to this end. When I create a piece of art work and someone else appreciates it I feel happiness. When an idea is transformed from a technical drawing into the finished piece it brings joy and satisfaction.  Of course this pursuit of happiness through creativity displays itself in rather misconstrued and twisted forms too, but ultimately weather it is through My bed or the Primavera it is for the sake of happiness and is an essential part of human creativity and the creative process.

To conclude creativity is an essential part of human nature and whether it is because we are a vessel through which the creative force flows or because it is instinctual, seems less important in the face of our desire to be happy. In addition the creative force may have unhappy results for some, or may lead to merely temporary happiness as mentioned by the Dalai Lama (in the clip above). So the search for happiness, although not an essential attribute of creativity itself, is however very closely connected to the essence of creativity and cannot therefore be ignored.

I feel it is important for me to mention that I am not an expert in philosophy, psychology or theology and that this enquiry is my own attempt to understand the creative process. I imagine that as my experience as an artist increases further, as I discuss these questions with others and as life waxes and wanes my thoughts may change. If you have any thoughts/experiences or have considered this topic yourself then please feel free to comment below.