Why we need to develop creative intelligence in education

I had a surprise visit from friend and artist Bob and Roberta Smith the other day.

The artwork of Bob and Roberta Smith

We were connected in our childhoods but rarely get to meet these days living in different places.

It’s a shame because we have a common quest; our desire to get people to understand the importance of creativity in education.

People often respond to that idea with the question ‘What use is painting pictures in the world of employment?’ as if that were the only interpretation of creativity. It also misses the point; creativity isn’t restricted to painting and drawing, for goodness sake!

Creativity is primarily about thinkingcreative thinking. Intelligent creative thinking.

Intelligent creative thinking is what enables us to lead our lives on a day to day basis.

Intelligent creative thinking enables us to find solutions, solve problems, rise to challenges and develop as people.

We use intelligent creativity every day even in little ways like getting the dinner, what to wear, how to fix the hole, how to best parent the children, what colour to paint the bathroom, how to make a tenner last all week. And I haven’t even touched on creating artwork yet.

But on that subject, have you ever considered that every single man-made thing you own was created and designed by someone? Someone who had to apply creative intelligence.

From the sofa you sit on, the cup you drink from, to all the technology you use, not to mention the Web, it’s all been designed by someone applying creative intelligence.

And anyway, aside from the fact that everything we have has been made by a creative, our young people will have to employ their creative thinking skills in order to fit into a job market that has less jobs than the people applying for them. They will need to be creative in tackling employers, in making their mark in whatever form or industry.

Creative intelligence is required for that self development process that puts a young person in front of others.

All these skills; mental and practical, personal and social, are developed by all kinds of creative practices, whether creating artwork, fixing stuff, making decisions, gaming, designing, or feeding yourself on a tight budget.

Creative intelligence helps you think outside the norm, outside of prescriptive academic conditioning, to more useful transferable skills that take you further.

Neglect of creative experiences, subjects and practices, is neglect of a huge part of our children’s education and personal development. Those in charge of the education system should be ashamed to call what they offer ‘education’ without it.

Thank goodness for champions like this trying to put the balance right.

Read his letter to Nicky Morgan here.

School doesn’t always equal education!

I recently met another teacher who is now home schooling.

She’s home schooling not because she knew about teaching and thought it would be easy – being a teacher doesn’t necessarily make it so! It’s because she’s seen what goes on in school and can understand why her child is unhappy there.

She won’t be ‘teaching’ her child because she knows it isn’t always required, she’ll just facilitate her further learning. But she’s yet another someone who agrees that school is not the answer to every young person’s learning needs.

We have been sold the schooling system as the norm for so long now it has become well entrenched in our thinking about educating children. In fact it’s created a commonly accepted equation: School = Education.

Now that equation may turn out to be true in some cases, with some youngsters. But it is certainly NOT true for all. And its monopoly of our thinking has masked the fact that other things are also true.

Things like:

Other approaches = Education

Learning outside school = Education

Life Experience = Education

And it is also true that children can learn without teachers and our commonly accepted notion that teaching is required for children to learn is misleading.

Children can learn from a multitude of other people who are not teachers, parents among them. They learn by themselves. They learn through experiences. They learn through their own investigation, exploration, experimentation and research. All equally effective, often more effective because if youngsters teach themselves they are often more interested, engaged, and absorb it more readily.

Teachers in schools have to adhere to prescriptive curriculum, deliver it to crowds of kids in specific, sometimes coercive ways, for the sake of narrow inhibiting outcomes.

This is not really an education. And not the most efficient or inspirational way to learn.

Every time I meet another home educating, former teacher, I see that the number of people who understand this about schools is increasing – even among these educational professionals. (See this blog here). If they are straying away from that system because of what they see happening there, then there certainly must be cause to question it. The more we question the more we might be able to convince the powers that be that there’s a need for it to change.

And the further we can spread the idea that there’s a workable, successful and inspirational alternative to school should anyone need it.

If you’re fairly new to home schooling and want to learn more check out some of my other pages. You’ll find a wealth of inspiration and tips among the other home educators’ blogs. My two books may also help; ‘Learning Without School’ is a guide and ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is an easy to read story of our home educating life that will change the way you think about education for ever after!

The bravery of art

You might think it brave climbing on the roof to do repairs as per my last blog. But it’s not the bravest thing I do!

The bravest thing I do is putting writing out there.

If you’re one of those brave people who do it too you’ll know why.

If you’re not, you might be one of those who think it requires no courage or stamina at all and is just an excuse not to get a proper job!

However, it’s one thing creating something. That’s hard enough in itself especially if you do it day after day on your own. But it’s something harder to make it public. Especially since the majority of the public seem to think they’re qualified to criticise, even though they’ve had no direct experience of doing it themselves.

That’s a bit like home education, I’ve found. Those who have absolutely no experience of it still think they’re qualified to pass judgement.

Doing art work is a bit like raising your child. It’s something you have nurtured and protected, developed and grown with devotion and emotion and times that have cost you dear. And just like with a child, the moment of letting go, letting it out to fend for itself in the battering world, is like tearing a part of yourself off. You want to hide and lick your wounds.

Some people never manage it. Never manage to allow their children or their art work a state of independence.

To do so is immensely brave. It involves trust. It involves confidence. And it will involve taking the knocks that will sometimes be the consequence.

The thing is, no one knows what it’s like to raise your child, they’re not you, they don’t live to your circumstances, they have no understanding of your challenges. And those who never put art out into the world in whatever form; books, pictures, sculptures, films, performing, textiles, designs, whatever, have no comprehension of what that’s like either.

Or what the personal cost is in courage.

I now know both, as a parent and a writer.

Many of us know what it’s like to parent and let our children go. Equally many don’t and insult us with the term ’empty nest syndrome’. But parenting is an art form in itself, so we are all creatives. Even without home educating, when parents are extremely brave and creative in educating their children independently of others, we are all creative parents – have to be.

But less of us know what it’s like to write or paint or perform, create films or textiles or designs, and actually put it out there. This is the bit that takes the most courage.

So whatever creation you come across whether it’s by a five or a fifty year old, perhaps after reading this you could show a little compassion rather than criticism towards those who’ve done it, most particularly if you’ve never done it yourself.

And consider the bravery it takes not only to craft something, but also to share something so personally nurtured with the rest of the world.

The bright side of a leaky roof

20150729_120816My muscles have been feeling a bit like they’ve had a good session in the gym.

They haven’t – I don’t do gyms, I exercise outside, cycling or walking daily and gardening, if you could call it that. It’s more a case of wrestling back the rampant nettles and brambles that would take us over. And the roses and vine that creep under the tiles when I take my eyes off their growth spurts, causing the tiles to lift and roof to leak.

This is the reason for achy muscles; climbing the ladder, clinging to the roof top and fighting wind lashed polythene sheeting into place until the builders get here. Thanks to former exercise I’m fit enough to tackle it!

I can’t blame the roses for the leak this time. I think it was the birds pecking the insects off the flat topped windows that stick out from the roof, making little holes as they do so. And the pigeon who struts about showing off to any watching females. That and the age of the house of course. Time has gone on and we were happily oblivious to the consequences until a steady drip of rain water onto carpet in the middle of a stormy night raised alarm through our senses.

Nothing gets me more wide awake than dripping where dripping shouldn’t be. Or makes you feel more vulnerable than the sudden knowledge that your impenetrable fortress is not so impenetrable as you thought.

Look on the bright side, I said to myself whilst lying on a plank on the flat roof in the rain spread-eagled against rearing plastic, at least it is repairable and at least I have a roof even if it is temporarily leaking, unlike those poor folks I see in grubby blankets sleeping in doorways and under bridges.

Temporary cover laid, the tricky bit is to squirm back to the ladder top and get my foot on the first rung, always a fall risk moment. But back down on the ground with fatigue wobbly arms and legs I know that a bit of a challenge and drip disturbed sleep is small price to pay for this roof over my head. I know I am privileged to have it. And maybe even lucky to have these little hiccups to keep me from taking it for granted.

This might be a very ‘Pollyanna’ attitude. (Have you watched that film with the children? It’s a great one for promoting discussion on appreciation). But it’s also a reminder that appreciation of all that we have serves us much better than an feeling of lack and envy, which the insidious advertising we’re bombarded with can instil in us.

Pollyanna makes looking on the bright side an art form! Thanks to a leaky roof  and wobbly muscles I’m reminded to practice that artistry a bit more often!

Read; for your children’s sake!

The best thing ever on a summer afternoon is to take a book outside and read. 20150806_134010

Notebooks inevitably go with me and I inevitably end up writing – often inspired by the reading whether it’s a novel, non-fiction, whatever! But to have an afternoon devoted to reading outside in the breeze and sunshine is my favourite summer delight. I can spend hours reading, when I probably wouldn’t if I was still inside.

Funny how we can spend hours watching telly or web surfing, yet seldom devote that amount of time immersed in a good book. Soon as I get outside that changes – I can relax and lose time to it.

And apparently we get a double dose of benefit if we do so. Not only do we get the important benefits of natural light, but reading itself also improves wellbeing and has other benefits on society too, like increased empathy and reduced stress. (See this research from The Reading Agency)

And, as if you needed another excuse, your children need to see you reading.

As parents we’re always keen that our children read. It’s an essential part of their development, education and lifeskills. And the biggest influence on children’s connection to reading is whether and how much we read. If they see you reading regularly, they’ll be drawn to it too, especially when you appear to be getting so much pleasure from it.

It doesn’t matter what format you choose to read in. Just as long as you’re reading.

There are so many little moments in a day we could be reading; on journeys, in a queue, waiting room, on the bus, trips out with picnics, waiting for the dinner to cook, with your lunch. The more you read, the more they’ll want to.

The effect may not be immediate or apparent. But by reading, you’re establishing a valuable attitude to it and that’s what counts. They might want to run about and build dens, that’s fine, but you can read whilst they do so. Then they’ll have that image of you – their most important adult – attaching importance to the activity of reading. That lays the foundations of what they’ll attach importance to in times to come.

So take a regular afternoon reading. Take things to read on your family picnics, outings, journeys and holidays. Or just slope off into the garden on a sunny afternoon and take a moment out just for yourself to have a home holiday with a good book.

See if you don’t feel the benefits too!

(If you haven’t read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ it’s a sweet, funny, family story just right for an outdoors read to move your mind and emotions!)

Mood miracle!

I know it's not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

I know it’s not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

It’s amazing how one little moment can become a mood miracle!

Last week was a bit of a wretched one. They can get like that sometimes, can’t they!

I’ve done book events for the new book ‘Who’s Not In School’ and much travelling recently, working in between, and was a bit exhausted with it despite meeting lots of lovely complimentary and sweet people.

So I strode out under the sky early this weekend; for even cloudy is supposed to help the spirits. The tide was seeping over the marshland in that calm and comforting way it does, lifting birds and gently filling creeks. I watched it a while.

Then coming back to the garden I saw that our Buddleia was bedecked with more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in one place. So rather than going in and getting involved back indoors, probably back at laptop, I took a cuppa and sat there and watched them. Not something I’ve ever done – or thought of doing – before.

There were so many I started to count and in just a few minutes counted ten different species. And there were more than one of each species so you can see how many there were in all.  I was totally absorbed.

And then I noticed something else had happened; something honeyed had happened to my spirits.

The doldrums of the week had vanished. Banished by mindful attention to the butterflies and that natural life outside the laptop.

I must remember, must remember, must remember, to take a few mindful moments outside each day and then maybe the week wouldn’t get so far down as wretched. I used it all the time as an antidote to children’s indoor moods. I’ve got to remember that I need it just as much!

And if you’re interested in butterfly watching you and the kids can get involved with the butterfly count this August – another great reason to be outside.

Teach them everyday food habits

Isn’t food info confusing? You think you’re guiding the children towards a healthy habit of eating then new research comes along and challenges it and you find it’s not so healthy after all.

I watched the programme; ‘Trust me, I’m a doctor’ last night and discovered that several of the habits I thought were healthy turn out not to be!

One was the idea of using healthy oils, like sunflower or vegetable oils, to cook with as an alternative to the demonised butter. On the programme it showed that some of these oils. although okay in the cold state like perhaps in salad dressing, were quite unhealthy once cooked as the heating process released harmful substances.

The other surprise was to do with organic food. There is no doubt that growing organic food is far, far better for the environment. But tests they’d conducted for the programme showed that in view of our personal health, the fact that veg were organically grown or not made little difference.

One good piece of news for me was that the claims made about the health benefits of the extortionately priced Manuka honey were just a con. The cheap brands, which are all I can afford, were just as beneficial. Excellent – I always had my suspicions anyway, being aware of selling hype.

One of the benefits of having the children learning at home with you is that you can plan meals, talk about nutrition, shop for, cook and eat together and incorporate a healthy approach to food choices and eating into your everyday habits.

It is these lifestyle habits and routines established at home with you, in particular what and how you parents eat, that influences the children in the long run. Your attitudes inform theirs really. And learning how to feed themselves well is an essential aspect of education.

Okay so they might dodge into a fast food chain occasionally, especially when they’re teens, but we don’t have to be perfect. The best we can do is be conscious and educate them to be aware. To discuss, to develop healthy habits and to educate them to the idea that the fuel we put in our bodies affects not only our physical health, our heart and other organs, stamina and muscle tone, but also our mental and emotional health too. It’s worth being conscious of it.

Just as I am conscious that too much chocolate is bad for me, despite my desire for it. And I might even get around to trying the method they suggest in the programme to wean me from it!

That’s going to take one helluva lot of imagining…!