Home Education Parenting

Keeping Creativity Alive

I read a blog recently that suggested our creativity declines as we age. And that the big, dramatic drop comes, not with old age, or even with the maturing adult brain, but with beginning school! This isn’t, however, true for everyone. How can we keep our children’s creativity alive?

A picture Youngling made with the counters from our Frogotter Box.

Creativity Can Be Taught

It may sound perverse, but it’s perfectly possible to teach people to be more creative.

Edward de Bono wrote books about teaching creativity. One of my favourites was ‘Teach Your Child to Think’. You can use some of his techniques to enhance your own and your child’s creativity.

One of the techniques that I really liked for solving problems was to use a random word generator. Then use that random word to spark ideas to solve your problem. We often believe that we will be most creative without any constraints, but actually, having a jumping-off point can help us to avoid simply travelling down well-worn tracks in our brain.

If you challenge yourself to think of lots of possible ways to travel to work, you might think of bike, bus, car, taxi etc.

But, if you challenge yourself to think of ways to travel to work inspired by the random word ‘spaghetti’. You might think about connecting strings of spaghetti to bring work and home together, or taking your work to an italian restaurant, or asking a food delivery service to take you to work.

Of course, most of these ideas are crazy. But, they might have the kernel of a good idea inside them. We can’t connect homes and offices by spaghetti, but we can connect them via the internet and work from home. Working from an Italian restaurant might be absurd, but renting a spot in a shared office could be a possibility. Food delivery services probably don’t want to take you, but you might be able to arrange lift shares.

When I read the idea in De Bono’s book, he included a word list that could be used to generate random words. But, there are tools online for that now!

Find Inspiration at the Crossroads of Limits and Space

One thing that I took from De Bono’s work was the idea that inspiration strikes when people have a combination of limits and space. A blank page can be intimidating and hard to fill.

If we tell our children – or ourselves for that matter – that they can write a poem about anything they like, they may find that their minds are suddenly blank. With a bit of structure, however, the ideas start to flow.

In fact, we had a family poety writing competition the other week, and I foudn exactly this. When faced with a completely free offer of any form and any subject, we struggled. When I challenged us to attempt limericks – a highly structured form – everything flowed much more easily!

Though Youngling reads late every night,

In the morning he’s cheery and bright,

His creations impress,

But what does he like best:

To build them, to draw, or to write?

Eldest and Middly are brothers,

And, deep down, they’re fond of each other,

Though they bicker and fight,

They make up each night,

To play X box with one another.

Structure doesn’t reduce creativity. The right kind of structure frees us to explore ideas and sounds. Johnny Walker has written a lovely post about the joy of teaching a class of primary children to write sonnets, called ‘Freedom Through Constraint’.

Creative Outlets Aren’t Enemies

There are lots of different ways to be creative, e.g. art, music, writing, building, inventing.

But, you don’t have to stick to just one! It’s very limiting to consider yourself an artist who’s no good with words, or an inventor with no sense of rhythm.

Some of the greatest creations cross over several disciplines. So encourage your child to explore them all! And, when they find one they love, keep encouraging them to include others from time to time.

When I read Youngling a story about the ‘Lion Man’ figure (from ‘Vincent’s Starry Night’), he responded by making his own version of the sculpture on Minecraft. Combining subjects is an easy way to encourage creative thinking.

How Creative Are You?

It takes some creativity to think of a way to test creativity! But, there are some popular tests used by psychologists studying creativity, such as the ‘Alternative Uses Task‘. Participants are shown, or just told about, an object, and asked to think of any many possible uses for it as they can. We play a similar game with shapes in the Frogotter Activity Box.

Home Education

My Biggest Home Education Mistakes

We’ve been home educating for a while now, but we still seem to be learning all the time. Here are the biggest mistakes we’ve made – so far!

Too Much Flash

When we first started home educating our oldest two children, we really wanted to ensure they enjoyed home education. So every lesson was an adventure! We entered competitions; we cooked feasts; we embarked on big craft projects; we played games. We didn’t want any lesson to be boring.

And, the boys hated it! They became very resistant to all these games and new activities. They struggled to remember anything we were trying to teach them. One day, when struggling to get the boys to take an interest in a lego-themed storytelling activity, frustration reached its peak. We were putting hours of work into planning these elaborate activities and the children just didn’t care!

So, we bought a couple of basic workbooks, we got a big jar of counters to help with maths, and we started cooking the same cake recipe every week. The change was remarkable. We were happier because prep was so much easier. The boys were happier because – without all the flashy distractions – they could actually follow lessons much more clearly and learn much more effectively. They even learnt how to bake that one cake recipe!

Far from boring them, routine and repetition made my children feel secure and made their world easier to understand.

Lesson learnt: sometimes simple is best.

Putting Home Educated Children into Year Groups

With four children of different ages, we know that not all of them are at the same level.

However, age is not the best guide to choosing an activity. We have bought loads of workbooks with ages printed on the front. Sometimes (particularly with English – which is a struggle for two of our children) books aimed at the correct age are far too hard.

The obvious solution was to buy the next age down. It was probably better suited to our children’s ability level. However, they hated the idea of being asked to do work ‘for younger children’ and we’re upset.

The best answer has been to find books with vague – or, even better, no – age rating! Naturally, there is no age-rating on the Frogotter Box!

Lesson learnt: children can be sensitive about the ‘right age’ for their school work.

Doing Everything Apart

One of the great joys of home education is tailoring the education to the individual child. So, obviously, we assumed that each child should have a separate plan: their own box of work, their own desk, their own timetable, individual time with a parent to talk about their lessons.

The children became absolutely fascinated with each others’ work! Every time we tried to help one child, they others would appear, looking over shoulders, offering comments, even (in the case of the toddler) snatching the books and running away with them!

We need a balance. Some activities have to be done alone – the toddler really can’t understand the teen’s algebra! But, it’s really fun to do some things together. And, when we can, it’s great to encourage the children to show off their work to one another. We’ve had a lot of fun doing experiments together, reading books together, watching plays together and playing games together.

Lesson learnt: Learning alongside someone else can be lots more fun than studying solo.

Over Scheduling

This is a mistake we’ve made more than once! There are so many fun groups to join and so many wonderful trips to go on. It’s all too easy to keep saying ‘yes’.

Parkour? Yes! Swimming? Yes! Climbing? Yes! Co-op? Yes, please! Nature Walk? Yes! Natural History Museum? Yes!

The problem is, that we end up with grouchy, tired children, and a house that manages to be an absolute tip even though we never seem to be in it!

When trips are too frequent, they stop feeling like a treat. Having dragged frazzled, moody children around a soft play park and lunch out, I felt frustrated that I’d wasted money and nobody had enjoyed themselves. It turns out that treats are only special if they’re rare! It’s not a treat if it happens all the time.

Now we make sure that – however brilliant the offers are – we have one ‘catch-up day’ a week. A day at home to finish projects and get a bit of housework done. We enjoy our trips far more now that we have enthusiasm for them. We simply can’t go everywhere or see everything. But, realising that helps us to value the things that we do even more.

Lesson learnt: There’s a no end of fun things to do, but there is an end to our supply of energy.