When my youngest child was small she was watching a nature programme when she exclaimed with utter delight that there were glow-in-the-dark monkeys! The rest of the family took a moment before realising what she was seeing. David Attenborough was filming in the jungle at night using a special night vision camera which made the monkeys glow green. We laughed at her for a while but then it became such a charming idea that there might be monkeys in the jungle somewhere on Earth that glow in the dark. The possibility was real enough as there are other glowing creatures on the planet. We kept this idea going as we discussed the benefits of being able to glow in the dark, to hide in trees and frighten the parrots. Although it was nonsense, fostering this level of creative thought is a great skills to learn. If we are to foster creativity in children we need to work through their imaginations and ideas to see if they can develop the ideas. You might consider whether the monkeys can be seen in the day, how do they glow? Is it down to something that they eat? The process of thinking up more ideas is a fun activity and it doesn’t matter that it goes nowhere.
When my child is amusing us with these little mental challenges I am in awe of her mind – she sees the world from a very different viewpoint than the rest of us; and she keeps us on our toes. But there is a but… She rarely sleeps before 10.00 pm despite being under 9 years old. She never stops. There is always something she is working on or trying to create, drawing and sketching, writing novels (yes) and poetry, baking and painting, then she might pick some flowers to put in a display, ask how to make a fabric collage… and I don’t joke when I say this might all have taken place before 8.30 on a Saturday morning.
My child has an insatiable need to create. She has a desire to be in the PROCESS at all times and in more than one PROJECT. At the moment there is the photographic project – we go on walks in the local countryside and photograph the changing season – currently the beautiful change from Summer to Autumn. The walk then takes on a new life of PROJECT; she becomes frustrated that she cannot get the right picture and her ‘creative temprament’ takes over. We have swings of self-loathing, glory, depression, enjoyment and then others. The other ‘one the go’ project at the moment is a series of books that she is writing, she illustrates them and gets them ‘published’ by her grandmother with proper binding and front pieces. She is very proud of this work and often gives herself a critique on the pointers for improvement.
These things are projects that she tends to work on a complete. But her spirit is Creative – and that is where she becomes a bit of a challenge to parent effectively. She needs ‘ponder’ time – and this is a time of complete inactivity where she will simply stare into space or watch a TV screen (or other screen) for quite a while, sometimes a couple of hours, before springing up and spreading herself around the house with paint, or chalk, paper and a camera – or whatever the project requires.
Another feature of this creative spirit is that she can be on a totally different thought thread to all of us – she gets frustrated that we don’t know what she needs or what she is talking about. Her thought processes have been buzzing away for hours and she needs some answers immediately – and when we are scrabbling around our imaginations and brains to find a response, she becomes very upset and angry with us.
When she was tiny I realised that this was a very different spirit – my other two children were equally artistic and enjoyed all the same things – but the little one went further. She NEEDED so much physical stimulation as a toddler that bed time was more like an hour in a playbarn to calm her down. I attended classes at JABADEO and with the INPP to learn about Developmental Movement Play – and applied it to her. She loved it and I learned how much to help her explore her natural state through tumbling, rolling and bouncing – I watched until she simply became satiated then she could settle.
Similarly she now needs so much input in order to keep her on track. She has such varied methods to express this need that we keep her plied with paper and notebooks, pens and paints, a permanent art station in the garage and a white bedroom wall which is her ‘canvas’ – she is allowed to do whatever she likes on that wall either posters or doodles or stickers. With the confines of the one white wall, she can go to explore in her own space and slightly contain her exuberance for art in the home!
I have two other children, both bright, intelligent and artistic but they never needed this intense input that my youngest needs. I have worked for over 25 years in teaching and in particular early years practice – I have seen a few other children with this same drive – they are also the ones given another title usually ADHD or Aspergers. I don’t think it is a simple coincidence that they are so creative – they do think in different ways but rather than be suspicious of those differences, with looking at her from a Creative point of view I can see how she is working through a journey – on a non-prescribed pathway – to an undisclosed end. No wonder she thinks we are all from another planet sometimes!
Dealing with a child who’s creative spirit is so prolific can be an exercise in constant failure to properly support them. I have spoken to other parents who also find this aspect of their child’s development to be a challenge. By indulging this creativity your child settles, fulfilling their need for seeing what else they can achieve. Parents need to remember to pause a little, step back and wait before judging the odd things that their child might be doing – I was concerned about a child in my pre-school who was constantly painting pieces of paper orange – he was almost 5 and the other practitioners thought it was well below his level of development but for 3 days he kept this up. Piece after piece of orange painted A4 paper – at the end of the session on the 3rd day he brought them all to me – he wanted to rip them up into long strips – I let him do this and helped – when we finished he put them all together and used glue to make a bonfire on the display wall. It was November 4th! You just never know what their project is going to be.
When my child is being stifled she is angry, subdued, frustrated, wakeful, weepy and generally miserable. When we can’t give her the total freedom to indulge her creativity she is a different girl. This isn’t indulgence insofar as we don’t just given in to her every whim. She often wants to make up a poem just before bed time, or make a short film early in the morning. Most children want to have just a bit more time and she has to be treated just the same way. She has learned to deal with this concern for herself and now has some strategies to save her being frustrated, she writes down her plans, mind maps before bed time, puts up post-it notes or does mood boards. These little tricks help her to stay focused on her project but work in with the rest of the family.