Cultivating Creativity in Children

After a 35 year hiatus, I am back to playing with children’s toys. Actually, not so much playing with them as tripping over them, putting them away, putting them away, putting them away, and, thinking about ways to engage my daughter, Verti, in creative play.
Fairies Treehouse

Around the time Verti was born, I heard an interview with Harvard Lecturer Tony Wagner about his new book, Creating Innovators: The making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Not only is the book’s title intriguing, but the interview was excellent, and I retained a few bits of wisdom in the back of my head otherwise full of the NZ Building Code and the Discussion chapter of my thesis.
Over a year later, I find myself less concerned about the next visit from our building inspector and the critical eyes of my thesis readers, and more concerned about cultivating the conditions for creating an innovator. Racking my brain for the title of the book from the interview, I typed as much as I could remember into Google: Harvard, innovation, creative play.

Homemade fairies
The search carried me instantaneously to Wagner’s website, where I found this inspiring passage: “Wagner identifies a pattern—a childhood of creative play leads to deep-seated interests, which in adolescence and adulthood blossom into a deeper purpose for career and life goals. Play, passion, and purpose: these are the forces that drive young innovators.” www.tonywagner.com
I’m sure that many parents can relate to this idealistic passage, but may feel challenged about aiding a child to such a destiny. We are all busy, and at times the easiest thing to do is to set children in front of a ‘busy screen’: TV, DVD player, computer, smart phone, video game, etc.
Verti eating strawberries in her waka
While this may be good for mum and dad in the moment, it runs contrary to Wagner’s – and many others’ – message. During ‘screen time’ most of the creativity comes from sources outside of the child’s brain. It’s more-or-less passive engagement rather than active engagement.
As a new parent, educator, designer, and one who is fully aware of the massive challenges facing humanity in the decades to come, I consider it my greatest obligation to try to create conditions that will encourage and assist the development of play, passion, and purpose in my daughter.
Driftwood seesaw.
But you know what they say about leading a horse to water. Personally, I am more about the if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy. Put another way, if I create the conditions for Verti to engage in creative play (‘nurture’), it will lead to the greatest probability that she’ll actually do it. That is the best and only thing I can do. The rest is up to her (‘nature’).
Story stones
Of course Wagner was not the first or even second person to come up with this idea. A little more Googling brought me to the Wikipedia page for an American company called Creative Playthings founded in 1949. According to the page: “Play has a basic role in the drama of a child’s development. It is a serious business for the child, his true means of learning and growing…Every child should have a wide variety of play materials to evoke in him a spirit of inquiry; to develop physical manipulation to the fullest; to stimulate creative expression.”
Story stones make me smile!
Aside from the dated male-based language, the philosophy is the same. Our eco-thrifty approach to ‘creative playthings’ includes: two driftwood play houses; a driftwood waka; a driftwood seesaw; two driftwood fairy houses; story stones; and, of course, all the pots and pans Verti can get her hands on!

Story stones are good for sharing.
Sidebar:
2014 Permaculture Principles Calendar with Moon Planting Guide. Available for each $20 donation to The ECO School. Available from these supporters:
• Community Education Service (CES), Taupo Quay
• Delicious Café and Wine Bar, 132 Victoria Avenue
• Riverside Osteopathy, 15 Pitt Street
• Whanganui Environment Base @ Whanganui Resource Recovery Centre, Maria Place

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