Fostering Creativity… accidentally
Last Wednesday, Claire and I did not spend the morning together… between my Bible study and her ballet/gymnastics class, we just didn’t get any quality time that morning. We weren’t home from 8:45am through 1:10pm, which meant rushing to nap time for Ellen and room time for Claire so that no one had a severe meltdown. There was just one problem with that: Claire doesn’t rush to do anything… ever. Well, okay, maybe if there is chocolate or TV involved, she might rush to get those, but otherwise, no rushing… ever. The rushing combined with the lack of quality time that morning lead to the scene I am about to describe.
As we walked upstairs, I told Claire that I needed to nurse Ellen before her nap, but that she could go into my office and pick out one toy and take it into her room to play. ”I will be in your room in just a few minutes when Ellen is asleep, okay?” ”Okay, mommy, just a few minutes?” ”Yes, Claire, just a few minutes.”
Okay, I need to backtrack for a minute here to give you a back story… Claire gets about 45 minutes of room time every day before I ask her to sleep. She doesn’t always sleep afterwards, but she usually does. I learned a few months ago that she NEEDS time to decompress before she can sleep. She also needs defined times to play and times to rest, so she has a clock in her room now, which she sort of reads (it is analog, not digital). But, after about a week of just letting her play in her room, I realized that she could NOT have books in her room. At first, it was cute how she would read and play with them, but then, she started tearing them up to figure out how they are bound together or to see what was underneath. Next, I removed her rocking chair out of her room because she was pushing it all over her room (she liked pushing it up to her dresser and climbing up on top of it in order to see herself in the mirror and practice her funny faces). Then, I got frustrated with too many toys or too many noisy toys, so now, we have rule that she picks one QUIET toy or two puzzles to play with. Most days, she picks out her block puzzles. Anyway, her rocking chair, all of her books, her bookshelf, her puzzles and a few toys are ALL PILED in my office across the hall. Needless to say, it is a mess up there! (Update: Chris and I cleaned it all this weekend! I was sick of it, so we organized her toys & books and the rocking chair is back in her, on a trial visit).
Alright… so, back to the story… So, I go into Ellen’s room to put her down for her nap. Ten minutes pass, and Claire is happily playing in her room WITHOUT having picked out a toy in the office. I walk in her room to find her pillows, doll bed, doll pillows, beanbag chair and a few select stuffed animals were arranged in a perfect “C” shape. Claire then says, “mom! come play with me! let me show you.” She then describes how I am supposed to travel over, through and under all of these things. In essence, my three year old had made an obstacle course that she wanted me to do. Unfortunately, I have about a hundred and, uh, a few pounds on her, so I knew the doll bed wouldn’t survive if I tried to do what she did, so I didn’t. Instead, I watched her do it a few times, cheering for her as if she was competing in the Olympics.
As I walked back downstairs (to let Claire enjoy some alone time and to eat my share of some Easter chocolate), I started thinking to myself about how creative and imaginative my sweet Claire is. I have never encouraged her to build an obstacle course; I’m not sure anyone has, really. And, yet, she took random things in her room to make one. And, then, it hit me… I think we inadvertently fostered creativity by removing toys from Claire’s room.
And, then, I really started to think about the immense amount of toys we have in every crevice of our small home. Sometimes, it is dizzying how much stuff we’ve been given and collected over just 3 short years. I hate clutter, and yet, that is overwhelmingly our life right now. Do we even need it?? If Claire is fine pretending that her books are plates and her blocks are cookies or pancakes, do we need “pretend food” or play place settings? And, then, there are outdoor toys. When we lived with Chris’ parents, they were given a play house and a water table, but we left those behind. So, we have a tricycle and a soccer ball for Claire to play with outside, and yet, she doesn’t even care for those things half of the time. As long as she can find sticks and rocks (or buckets and a hose), she is happy as can be.
There is nothing that makes me happier than to know that my 3 year old doesn’t depend on noisy toys or bright-colored plastic to stay entertained for HOURS every afternoon. In fact, my hope is that all of our children will be creative enough to “make do” in any situation and not just as kids, but as adults, too! What is the saying? ”Bored people are boring.” I used to joke with my friends in high school when they would reminisce about toys they all had in common as small kids (that I did NOT have) that we were so poor that we just played with sticks and dirt. While I know that really isn’t the full truth, I do know that I did a whole lot of climbing trees and playing with dirt and sticks, and I didn’t have a dollhouse until I was almost too old to enjoy it, nor did I have a play kitchen or EZ bake oven. I actually don’t really remember my toys, apart from some stuffed animals and Barbies. But, maybe that is my point. Whether or not the lack of toys fostered my creativity (and my one brother that also has a job in the realm of arts), I do think it is important to find times to just turn off every switch in the house (except for the lights- unless you can go outside!) and just pretend with your kids and let them pretend alone. The world constantly gets changed by adults who somehow fostered the creative parts of their brain from an early age, so here’s to hoping we’re all raising world-changers!