Is creativity beneficial for children?

I recently read a blog post by @butterflymum83 entitled  Can Creativity Encourage Good Mental Health? . In it she talks about her need to have a creative outlet and how having one has helped her to combat Post Natal Depression. It was an interesting read and it made me think about my children and how using creative activities with them has had really positive outcomes too.

Although I consider myself to be a creative person and have always had some sort of creative outlet in my life, I wouldn’t say that either of my boys naturally are, despite having fantastic imaginations.

When Big Bear was small my parenting style was different to how it is now. Between the routine parts of our days I tended to follow Big Bear’s lead. If he wanted to run around dressed as Batman then we did. If he wanted to play Lego and get me to “make the man talk” then I did. I always offered creative activities as a choice but Big Bear rarely chose them. In fact he rarely chose anything that involved sitting at a table.

Fast-forward to last year when I now had two boisterous boys to entertain throughout the school holidays. I realised my parenting style had to change. It was impossible to follow two children’s leads at the same time, especially when one child needed close supervision and the other needed to know that my love and attention for him had not been usurped by his brother. Ideally I needed chunks of the day where both boys were in the same place doing the same thing so I could be with both of them. And to be honest, for my own sanity, I did want some quieter times when they weren’t both running around crazily.

The truth is: I have hoodwinked my children into crafting! I took to setting up activities at the kitchen table then calling both Bears to me. They would walk through the door, I would pop an apron over their heads before they even noticed and the next thing they knew they were sitting down getting creative. I quickly discovered that despite the activities not being of their choosing they both loved them anyway.

You can separate the kinds of activities we do into two broad categories: those where I provide the raw materials and the boys just go for it in a ‘creative free for all’ and those where there is a specific outcome that we are aiming for. I have found that both have their own merits.

Having a creative free for all

I mean activities such as painting, Play-Doh, Kinetic sand, decorating biscuits, glue and glitter, Lego without instructions etc.

I started with these activities for Little Bear because he didn’t have much experience of crafty-type things and following the rules was extremely difficult for him. These tasks have very few rules (mainly just staying on the messy mat) so there wasn’t much for him to oppose. They were fairly low risk for this reason and therefore there was a good chance of success for him. Also, most of them are very sensory and suited his level of play at the time.

Whilst a creative free for all was ideal for Little Bear, they were generally fun and accessible for Big Bear too. One of the first times the Bears played together properly they were making Play-Doh ice creams.

My main reason for loving a creative free for all is the huge opportunity for praise-giving that it provides. Because there is no aim or expected end-product, literally anything goes. Imaginations can run wild and free and even if they don’t, you can still say that whatever they produce is beautiful.

Thankfully both Bears are accepting of praise. That being the case I don’t really think it is possible to give them too much. A creative free for all allows you to praise how hard they are trying (my favourite thing to praise), how neat they are being, how expressive/ imaginative/ creative, how well they are sharing materials, how well they are concentrating. The boys seem to have picked up on the positive nature of the task and now take quite an interest in what the other has produced too. They praise each other’s creations which is lovely to witness. They don’t know it, but we are working on lots of other skills while we’re at it. Sharing is one that has improved significantly.

When we have created something we tend to take photos to send to Grizzly or The Grandbearants or we find some space to display it on the shelves. I think this helps the boys to take pride in what they have made and builds their confidence in what they are able to achieve. Little Bear often says “I didn’t know I could make that”.

Over time we have explored different materials such as Bunchems, spray chalk (outside) and most recently craft maize. The latter is our current favourite and kept them both busy for AGES the other day. In fact, the main problem I had was trying to get Little Bear to stop because we needed to go out. You just dampen the maize and it sticks to itself or paper or card. It’s unbelievably easy (I’m not exaggerating, I actually couldn’t believe it was that easy after looking very sceptically at it in the bag) and it doesn’t keep coming apart so has a low frustration factor, which is perfect for the little dude. I highly recommend it.

Creating something specific

I generally mean any creative task that has instructions: baking (I’m nowhere near capable of making it up as I go along); Lego sets; Hama Beads (though you can go rogue); craft kits etc.

I do think children need more of an attention span and a bit of resilience behind them to get creative in these ways. However, I also think that sometimes you have to just try stuff and if you show your child you trust them enough to have a go, they often rise to the occasion.

I remember asking Little Bear’s foster carers if they had ever tried baking with him. They laughed and said “he’s too busy for that” and in so doing wrote off a whole chunk of his potential.

Admittedly I didn’t try it straight away but after a few months when I did, he was far more compliant than usual because the task was so novel and exciting for him. I love the photo I have of him proudly clutching the tray of cookies he made.

Because most of these activities are fun for children I think they are a good time to practise listening to instructions. The motivation to complete the task usually helps with the listening part. Obviously we’ve had our challenging moments but I’ve generally found that the natural consequence of not being allowed to complete the task if you can’t be sensible with it seems to keep them on track.

Little Bear continues to find tasks with too many steps of instructions difficult e.g. building a Lego model but I think the practise is helping to build his resilience and attention span. Getting to the end of a task (even if it’s with help) seems really beneficial. Seeing the end result and being able to say “I built that” (or “I builded it by my own” to be more accurate) is brilliant for both Bear’s confidence and I feel encourages them to have more of a “can do” attitude when faced with other challenges.

 

Now that both boys are in formal education I’ve noticed that the curriculum doesn’t seem to allow much space for expressing yourself so it feels even more important to facilitate creativity at home. I also feel that having more of these tasks around and having gently nudged the Bear’s in the right direction with trying them, they are both much more likely to choose them of their own volition now. This has definitely helped with getting Big Bear off his IPad (I know there is a place for technology but I honestly feel that Big Bear’s growing addiction to it was making him sad). I think he is much better now at finding something to do and doing it, rather than wandering about moaning he’s bored.

The benefits of getting creative have been wide and far-reaching for us. Apart from anything else, we enjoy doing the activities together and that alone is reason enough to carry on. I am struggling to think of any negatives, apart from the tidying up and the stress of having to surreptitiously bin a creation or 3 every now and again to make space for new ones!!

I distinctly remember a little girl we know constantly getting told off for not colouring in the lines when she was very small. It really upset my belief in freedom of expression. Creativity should be all about what you CAN do and not at all about what you can’t. Who cares about the lines? Draw in them, on them and outside of them if you want to.

 

 

Is creativity beneficial for children?

October at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Here are all the best bits of the past month with the Bears:

Events:

I find that there aren’t that many events to report on during the school term as we tend not to get up to much after school, so it’s just the weekends. The first couple in the month seemed to be taking up with getting jobs done and maybe a trip to the park. A fortnight ago we had noticed a bit of a decline in Little Bear’s behaviour during the school week so decided to keep things easier for him over the weekend. We ditched the usual Saturday morning swimming lesson and cancelled an early evening party that he was supposed to be going to. We didn’t know the family who had invited him at all and given his behaviour at the time, it didn’t seem like a risk worth taking. Now that we were free from the confines of our commitments we decided that a family trip somewhere might just be what we all needed. It felt like ages since we had been anywhere different and I for one was excited at the prospect of just escaping for a while and having some quality time with my Bears.

We ended up driving out to Monkey Forest at Trentham Gardens. It’s quite far from us so we have never been before. It was great. The sun was shining, the leaves were beautiful. We ate pie and mash for lunch, had a little mooch in the shops then went for a walk around the forest where the monkeys are free to roam about. The Bears loved it, especially when the little ones jumped all spread-eagled from the bushes and the big ones chased each other, vying for a scrap. The boys rested in the car on the journey back and to, watching their DVDS and hubby and I were able to chat. The following day we took the bikes to the park and had some more family time. It felt like the perfect autumn weekend. Don’t tell anyone but I’d be up for ditching the commitments a bit more often…

Milestones:

We seem to have had a few firsts this month. Little Bear appeared in his first ever school assembly. It was a whole school one for Harvest but his class stood up and performed a song they had learned. It is very difficult for Little Bear to learn a song because there are usually a lot of words, they are not always clear because they are sung and the pace is often too fast for him. Other parents talked about their little one driving them mad singing the song repeatedly at home but we didn’t have any of that because he couldn’t. I had no real idea how he would be in an assembly because it involves a lot of sitting still and let’s face it, can be quite boring. However, he was a little star and I felt really proud watching him. Although he obviously hadn’t learned all the words, he joined in with the ones he knew and had made a sterling effort to learn the actions. His little face looked so proud and happy about performing and he was so animated in his gestures and dancing. He looked a lot happier to be there than some of his classmates and I couldn’t help thinking he was one of the best performers, despite the lack of being able to sing the song. Don’t worry I know that I’m a little biased.

Little Bear also had his first friend over to play. It wasn’t planned, his friend lives on the same road and playing outside led to a spontaneous invitation in. Apart from an over excited ending, most of the event went really well. Little Bear shared his toys and the two boys interacted really nicely, which bodes well for future play dates and shows us how grown up and sensible he is becoming.

Although the grandparents have picked Little Bear up from school before, they have never taken him out anywhere at that point, always bringing him home and looking after him here. He gets very tired which can lead to challenges with managing his behaviour so we tend to keep after school very low key to make things as easy as possible for him. However, my parents have been away quite a bit recently and wanted to get some quality time with each Bear whilst they were back. We decided to try them picking him up, taking him to their house, having a play and some tea then coming home and thankfully, it went really well. I don’t think we are quite ready for after school activities or clubs yet but it is a step in the right direction.

Talking of after school activities, Big Bear has had a first this month too. He decided he wanted to join a football club. He has been going to training after school for a while but they don’t play matches and he wants to be “a proper footballer” We had some anxieties about this because Big Bear is by no means heading for the premier league and we have found that some parents/ clubs take the whole thing very seriously. One child we know “plays” for a local club but spends the whole time on the subs bench. We didn’t want that for Big Bear because it’s demoralising and takes the fun out of it. He’s only 7, it’s great that he’s in to sport, but neither of us wanted it to be confidence sapping or a negative environment for him to be in. Grizzly did his research and we finally found a club that still had spaces and seemed good on paper. Big Bear has been twice now for training and he loves it. Grizzly is really pleased with the set up – the coaches are strict but fair and won’t accept any name-calling or unsportsmanlike behaviour (which unfortunately does seem to be quite widely accepted in children’s football) and they give each child the same amount of time on the pitch during matches, irrespective of skill level.

Big Bear is SO happy that he’s a signed up member of a team and can’t wait to get his kit. He also cannot wait to play in a match and for Little Bear to come and watch him.

Last weekend, we were invited to another party that would involve keeping Little Bear out late and up past his bedtime. This time it was a good friend who had invited us and the party was at her house. I knew that she would understand if things went awry or if we needed to leave early so it seemed a good event at which to try the staying out late thing. It was a fancy dress Halloween party with fireworks. Little Bear went in full dragon outfit with detachable tail and wings (obviously) and loved the whole thing. He was good as gold and despite me getting him ready for bed at their house he was wide awake all the way home as being out in the dark was just too novel and exciting. I don’t think I’d keep him out late often but it’s good to know that he can cope with it now, if the circumstances are right.

School:

Apart from a small blip for about a week, school has continued to go well. We had Little Bear’s parents evening just before term ended and it was a very positive conversation. They have seen fairly significant progress even within the 8 weeks he has been in school. He is doing really well with learning his phonics and his counting is coming along too. He finally mastered counting to 4 in the right order a couple of weeks ago and in this past week he has started getting to 10, pretty automatically. It is amazing how quickly his skills can progress, once all the right foundations are in place. He is already showing interest in what comes after 10.

A huge relief for me has been Little Bear’s behaviour in school and the fact that he has straight away accepted the teacher’s authority. Apparently he is largely co-operative and doesn’t even growl at them! Of course there are still things to be worked on: at the moment things like understanding physical boundaries/ not invading other’s space; not reacting by pushing/hitting/poking; and of course educational targets. However, all I can ask is that we are moving in the right direction and that I feel able to have frank discussions with school and that we are able to work effectively together. So far, I feel all of those things are in place.

It has been a long term for both Bears and they were both more than ready for half term when they finally finished last Friday. More about that next time…

Me, myself and I:

Last month I talked about filling my spare time and getting lots of house jobs done. This month things seem to have slipped a little on the home front because I have agreed to a few too many other things…

My friend, A, and I have been having fairly regular meet ups because she is currently off sick due to pregnancy complications. We decided to do some crafting, mainly for fun but also because it is therapeutic for her. When we were going through the adoption process, she gave birth to the gorgeous Lucas. Very sadly he arrived too soon, at 23 weeks gestation and though he put up a good fight, he only lived for 18 days. As I was off then too, we spent quite a bit of time together and made memory stones for friends and family with Lucas’ name on. The creative task was therapeutic for A and she went on to make Christmas decorations later in the year (I was kind of busy with Little Bear by then).

This year, she suggested we do some Christmas decorations together, over a cup of tea. What started out as a bit of a hobby to help pass the time and get her from one week to the next of her very stressful rainbow pregnancy, has well, grown out of all proportion. Over 200 orders later (generated from one Facebook post) and somehow having agreed to do 2 craft fayres, we both have Christmas decorations coming out of our ears!!

I also went a little blogging crazy during National Adoption Week and wrote a post for each day. I think it must have been first timer’s enthusiasm getting the better of me!

I also finally agreed to have some patterns shaved into the shaved part of my hair by a lady I met in the playground! It sounds foolhardy but it looked much better than it sounds (especially given that I’m not a teenage boy) and my new hairdresser is lovely. There are not many people who would shave patterns into a near strangers head without ever having done it before and without a plan of what it was going to look like. I liked her straight away.

I would sum up my actions in October by saying that I just kept agreeing to things but I’ve found that saying ‘yes’ can lead to some fun and fulfilling places. After years of automatically saying ‘no’, I think I might prefer ‘yes’.

Big Bear’s Mini Projects:

We’re still trucking as and when we can. We (I) have decided that we are going to home make all our Christmas decorations this year so that is mainly what we have been doing for our projects. Big Bear is very taken with the idea of the ones I’m making with A and has made some good attempts at helping me. He has also created some of his own. Here is some of our collection so far:

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I still cannot figure why it keeps putting the image sideways when it’s stored the right way up!! I apologise that you’re having to crick your neck!!

Project Home Improvements:

Nothing was happening and now everything seems to be happening. Isn’t that always the way? We seem to have a builder organised (though he has now been to our neighbour’s house twice in error and I have fears he will extend the wrong property). We don’t really understand what we’re doing with Building Regs but we think we’ve sorted that out (who knows?!) and we’ve had to move a load of big plants from the front garden to the back and cut a raised bed in half (harder than it sounds, it’s made of railway sleepers) to make space for the building work which could be happening imminently. I suspect I will get home one day soon and someone will be digging up my front garden. It is a good job we are used to chaos.

October at Adoption: The Bear Facts