Tag Archive | creativity

Don’t let curriculum suffocate creativity

There’s an exhibition about the work of Quentin Blake touring the country at the moment and I was lucky enough to see it.

If you’re not sure who he is just think about your Roald Dahl books, as most of us are familiar with his work through his illustration of them – the BFG or Matilda being among them. Quentin Blake also produces his own books in collaboration with John Yeoman.

I suspect most parents who’ve read a Roald Dahl book to their kids will be familiar with Blake’s beautiful scribbly drawings, the characters and their expressive faces clearly displaying the emotion and telling parts of the story the writer cannot with simple words! He is extremely clever.

The beauty of his drawings when you consider them as art works, particularly as an example to our children, is that they’re not exact representations of what people actually look like. They’re better than that – and showing so much more as such.

And why that’s important is this: people get so hung up about drawing and trying to make something actually look like the object being drawn – rather than making their own personal representation of it, their own art work. And this inhibits so many creatives, puts a stop to many people being creative when they’re feel their work is no good. When they’re judged.

Our daughter was seven when she was told that by a teacher in school; that she’d drawn something badly, (?!! at 7 for goodness sake!!!) and it took her a long time to recover from that and begin once more to practise her creativity in its many forms, as part of her home education. (The tale is told in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

No art work is wrong or bad! Any art work or creative endeavour in whatever form is incredibly personal, and incredibly individual. That’s the whole point of it and why it’s so special – no one else could do it the same as you. ‘Wrong’ doesn’t come into it!

Although skills can be learnt through studying technique or understanding materials and marks, the raw creativity and imagination needed to produce drawings and artwork of any kind is unique to an individual and should never be made to ‘fit’ or ‘look like’ anything else necessarily. Original expression is inherent in each of us and needs to be nurtured as such not inhibited by comments such as my daughter received. And that’s a great flaw in curriculum in relation to creativity; if we’re not careful curriculum can be the death of it. Curriculum diktat ruins originality. It can stop you being creative and thinking outside the norm with your education too!

Children and young people need encouragement to create. Especially when these days they’re more practised at holding a console than a pencil. But essentially creativity is the foundation of many valuable skills that can be transferred across education, and enhances brain development far more broadly than learning times tables for example.

Anyone can learn times tables – they already exist. But creative endeavours are unique to each individual, who knows what will be created, and they play an essential part in the perpetuation of our species and our planet. Read this to see why. We need creative skills like we need air! It’s an irreplaceable part of the educational process.

So drawing, painting, modelling, telling stories, drawing stories like Quentin Blake, scribbling, doodling, all develop part of our children’s intelligence in a way nothing else can. Along with being creative in how you curate education!

I suggested our daughter spent some time ‘drawing badly’ to get over those remarks!

And I suggest you encourage your kids to draw in whatever style suits them, like Quentin Blake draws in his own distinctive style.

You never know, you might have another Blake in the making!

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Don’t Bah Humbug me!

 I may switch to making instead of blogging so much – just for Christmas!

I don’t need the excuse of little people in the house to get the glitter glue and art materials out! It’s something that I do for myself anyway. Practical, creative pursuits are my antidote to screen tired eyes and the medium of words!

I don’t know how ecologically sound it is still to be sending christmas cards. But I like making them so much and try to reuse materials already to hand or saved for the purpose, so they have a second life. I also use what nature provides and inspires. I picked and pressed some ivy leaves earlier in the year, from the mass that’s overtaken the barn roof. I felt sure it wouldn’t miss a few.

The cards that come into the house will also be reused. The ones I kept from last year make good tags. The backs used for scrap card and scribbled notes. The wrapping paper is always carefully untaped and used again. Some pieces last several Christmases and a friend and I have a decorated paper carrier we pass between us – it’s become a bit of a funny tradition!

Some people would think this is miserly. I look upon it as respect for what the planet provides.

And as well as benefiting a purse already stretched at christmas, a third advantage is that it gives your brain a good exercising inventing ways in which you can use what’s around, creating ways to reuse what comes to you, and making things. Creating is as good a mental exercise as doing maths.

And it’s enormously valuable for the kids to see you do this, to see you creating christmas as much as buying it. For inventive, creative, conservational, budgeting, and problem solving skills are the best gifts to be passing onto your children and down the generations. Along with respect for the earth and remembrance of its natural place in the season. These skills are gifts that set them up for real living as much as academic ones!

So to anyone who says this is miserly, I would say Bah humbug!

 

Why you should make this bank holiday an ACTIVE one!

I was in Hull recently at the ‘Freedom of Expression Centre’ at the Hull School of Art and Design looking at an exhibition by Bob and Roberta Smith.

His exhibition was about protest, but I love his work mostly because it champions creativity in education and why it’s needed. (See this blog here)

Picture from the Hull Daily Mail

Later, I sat in the city centre watching the children run in and out of the fountains which shoot up out of the paving. Such a pleasure to see their enjoyment, their delight in the water, to actually see kids ACTIVE, running about, moving, getting some exercise. Far too often you see children in the opposite mode!

We all acknowledge that exercise is important – for us all. It keeps our bodies fit, keeps our brains fit too, and ups our wellbeing.

But did you realise that it’s essential not just for now; because an active habit throughout life, starting in childhood, has an effect on our brains later on?

Whatever activity you and your kids do now, and throughout your life, will impact on your mental agility at the other end of your life too, could make the difference to your kids succumbing to conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s?

You wouldn’t think older age had anything to do with kids, but not true. The current thinking is that the amount of activity they’ve engaged in throughout their life impacts on the likelihood of mental decline as they, too, hit those older years. Of course, this is as relevant to you as it is to them.

We’re urged to be investing in pension schemes right from being young. What we should also be urged to do is invest in an active lifestyle right from being young. Not invest in terms of money. But in terms of exercise and activity. It’s free, after all!

And another important reason why ALL SCHOOLS SHOULD BE ACTIVE SCHOOLS, to borrow from Bob and Roberta Smith’s piece about art schools! And further evidence of the short sightedness of the government for squeezing out active pursuits, as they squeeze out creativity.

But you can commit to an investment in your children in terms of action, right from this very minute: make your bank holiday an active one! And make sure your child’s education and daily habits are active ones too.

Don’t stick with what it says on the box – or in the school!

There were some interesting comments from Ben Fogle in the press recently as he drew an analogy between the development of Lego and the development of the education system, both of whom he feels had become increasingly prescriptive.

He says that once upon a time you bought boxes of random Lego bricks and created models yourself, now children are frustrated over prescriptive kits that require you to stick to instructions. And this sounds very like schooling which has become so prescriptive kids have little opportunity to build the skills, or learn the subjects, that interest them but have to stick with within restrictive boundaries dictated by others.

Thank goodness for the choice of home education where we can step beyond those prescriptions about learning and approach it another way.

But we also have a choice with the Lego don’t we? And isn’t the issue really about training minds to exercise choice and not stick always with what it says on the box? To be brave and imaginative enough to try other approaches – either with Lego or learning? Lessons or life?

This is indeed what home educators do all the time. And the knock on effect of this creates something else; for once you’ve broken out of the idea that everyone has to go to school in order to learn anything, I believe we develop the skills to see possibilities in breaking out of other frameworks of thinking that can hold us imprisoned if we don’t examine them.

No one has to be imprisoned by Lego kits! Child or adult (apparently there’s a huge Lego cult among adults now too – I watched a fascinating programme about it). And the more we encourage the children to look for possibilities beyond the preconceived or prescribed the more this develops their intelligence, creative thinking and mental aptitude. So equally no one has to be imprisoned by other aspects of life either.

So whatever activities we buy for the kids or encourage them to do, we can also encourage them to consider other possibilities.

We can do that with Lego and we can do that with life; we can encourage vision beyond what we think are boundaries but may not be so at all. Both require innovative thinking. And innovative thinking is as useful a skill for living as being able to follow instructions!

Wishing you Happy New Year energy!

One for me - a landscape to look at on those wintry days I can't get out

One for me – a landscape to look at on those wintry days when I can’t get out

I get sick of words sometimes! Yea – I know I’m a writer but everyone gets tired of their job!

I often spend ages looking for the right ones, sometimes it takes a whole mile of tramping out in the wild to rustle up enough inspiration to even think when writing so depletes it. Let’s face it any work depletes it!

And finding the right words to express yourself is extremely difficult. Even great philosophers have a problem with language, because some concepts are so intangible and difficult to express the language can limit what you mean. It can be a barrier to pure thought. Certainly hard to write what we mean at times.

And we expect kids to do it?!

Anyway, sick of the linear form and released from the writing treadmill (yep – it can be as much a treadmill as any other job), I’ve been taking some time over the holiday to try and restore some creative energy, so turned my hand to more practical, hands on and visual forms of representing the things I love, or expressing love to others through making them gifts.

Several bags and cushions later I feel much refreshed. And practising some of the other ideas I’ve preached here throughout the year I bought nothing, just reused stuff we had, some of the fabrics dating right back to when the children were here and we’d collected materials from the recycling centre. So glad I didn’t pass them on as I threatened to do on several occasions I felt over cluttered!

And I was able to express my love for others, my love of textile, and my love of the land, in a different way from words, even if I did write this blog to tell you – the experience turning me back to writing and thus being just the refresher I needed.

I hope you were able to refresh over Christmas among all the other demands and now face the new year nicely rejuvenated.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my wonderful readers whose support means so much words still fail to do justice to it!

Wild in the UK

Ben Fogle; ‘Lives In The Wild UK’

I’m totally loving the new Ben Fogle programmes; Lives in the Wild UK on channel 5.

I’m not especially an admirer of his but I love what the people featured in the programme are trying to do; trying to live their lives a little differently and not bow to mainstream pressure to do it the same as everyone else.

When you listen to the interviews with them during the programmes their heartfelt values and principles come shining through and I always admire anyone living by their values, even if it’s going to be challenging. For many of them it certainly is.

As a former home educator I know all about challenging. And I also get to meet some incredibly courageous people also living by their independent values, courageous because they have to step away from mainstream thinking and other mainstream lives, as home schoolers do.

Looking at these programmes it is comforting to see others, not necessarily home educators, but others who are upholding values outside the mainstream thinking of a heavily consumerist society, that tends to judge people by what they have rather than what they do or what values they uphold.

People who are finding that others ways of living, that are not to do with the treadmill of wealth adulation, are turning out to be more fulfilling than even that. Who are returning to their connection to the earth, in fact to ways in which we all must have first lived, living as much with their hands as with their computers, in order to restore something that modernity tends to be neglecting; our need for something other than big wealth, technology and a consumerist treadmill.

Collecting fuel for warmth, raising crops, farming and feeding and keeping a physical roof over your head can be just as much a treadmill as the commute to work to earn enough to buy it. But these people are finding that doing it for yourself sometimes, instead of always buying it in, can be satisfying in ways that buying cannot.

It’s making me look at my life and see if I can think more creatively and find little ways and changes that help me do the same, rather than always opting for the mainstream way, which so often seduces us by default. And the more we do this as parents, the more we encourage our children to question and examine their own ways of living, rather than always opting for the norm without questioning if it’s right for them or the damage it may be doing them.

Forget forever busy – learn from nature!

One of our fledglings that'll be flying thousands of miles!

One of our fledglings that’ll be flying thousands of miles!

It won’t seem right without the swallows in the sky. They’re gathering to make their epic Autumn journey.

I see them swooping about the sky as if with pure enjoyment. If you live in a city it’s more likely to be the House Martins and Swifts you see flitting around, flexing their muscles for their long migration.

Nothing marks the turning of the seasons more than the summer visitors going – people and birds! And the harvest gratefully done, the fields a little quieter for a bit, fallow and golden, the garden dropping down to seed head slumber.

I won’t be tidying the dead stuff away. I leave it for all the little creatures and insects to overwinter in a duvet of fallen leaves. They can sleep in peace and shelter.

I’ve written about this fallow time before. How these seemingly fallow times can be so developmental and we shouldn’t worry about children having fallow times too. These are as instrumental to their progress as productive times. Just because there’s nothing tangible to show for it doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in their minds. Intellect needs fallow on occasions; it’s a valuable to growth as stimulation is.

It’s the same for the parents actually. Parents, especially mums, mostly operate at high energy levels, whether running round after toddlers or finding new ways to negotiate teenhood, it’s all exhausting. Even twenty somethings can exhaust you with concerns, says she with experience!

And writing, or any creative pursuit, certainly exhausts you. You certainly need fallow times in order to recuperate some of the energy expended on a project to bring it to harvest.

So I wanted to say that whatever work you do, not to worry about fallow. It’s hard to sit and rest and cogitate in a culture that upholds forever busy. But forever busy is not the best way I’ve found, not for kids, nor parents, or for writers or workers.

All of us worry sometimes about the kids never doing anything, about us needing to constantly motivate them, about never being able to write anything again. And the guilt in doing nothing is paramount! The over emphasised work ethic that surrounds us heaps guilt on thicker than mayo on coleslaw.

But it’s best to push all that aside and enjoy a few fallow Autumn moments. For have you noticed, whilst nature’s settling into the season with a sigh, she has no guilt about lying dormant at all!

Neither should we. It’s what charges us all for future success.

Nature I find is often the best teacher. We can learn valuable lessons from her.