Creativity vs practicality – we don’t have to choose
Baby girls and boys all across the world are born possessing creative little imaginations. Children don’t have to try to embrace anything, access anything, or concentrate on anything to be creative. Unlike an adult, their creativity just IS; they are born with it, as we say. Their process of play is simple, yet individual like the stars, and their imaginations are infinite like the universe. A child’s stories involve complicated narratives, stories with no beginning and no end. Children know intrinsically there are magical places to explore, tales to weave and characters so full of life each child feels they are real. They live in the world of possibility and make-believe. How truly wonderful!
It may not seem practical to the tired mind of many adults, but a child’s mind craves creativity and their imagination is anything but practical. The healthy growth of every child depends on nurturing all parts – mind, body and soul. Cultivating an artistic life starts at birth!
Parenting 101 – imagination preservation
I want to share an early experience in my life (as I remember it anyway) that illustrates the importance of nurturing our creativity and our children’s creativity from birth. Even in the simplest form, our parental, community and school support must protect and nurture creative learning and active imaginations across the school curriculum and in our homes. In this time of social distancing and online learning, it is even more important to encourage our children (and adults too) to create.
Not surprising at all, according to an article in Parents magazine online, by Paula Bernstein, art and creativity are paramount in every child’s early development. She highlights ways to inspire creativity in your children, and step by step processes to get it done! I think now, more than ever, while we are finding ourselves teaching from home, her suggestions are a fantastic place to start.
I want to say right here and now how grateful I am that my parents encouraged our creativity through play, music, visual art, acting, dance, outdoor adventures, and I could go on and on. I felt free to have my own thoughts and to question the world around me. But after years of teaching art, creating art, and working with people wanting to access their own creative problem solving abilities, we could do a better job of cultivating a more artistic life for all humans! I am finding myself a bit on my soapbox lately, trying to manifest support for buoying the arts in this time of uncertainty and fear.
It seems some adults have made it their side hustle to stifle the early imagination in children so they don’t challenge the status quo going forward. We ask children to be calm, quiet, cooperative little humans with peace and quiet being the desired goal. Too much imagination running rampant might make the world too chaotic, too creative, and too much fun? We can’t have that. Something might get invented or discovered. And although in theory, we value discovery in the form of scientific research or engineering, we don’t always connect childhood imagination with these creative feats of adults.
Ballet and Art
Now about those purple bears. Dance class circa 1966 and a young Cindy ( I chose my own spelling and changed it to Cindi about the 6th grade) liked all forms of dancing, but especially ballet. I am not sure if I asked to be taken to dance classes, if a friend was going, so I wanted to go too, or if my mom just thought it would be good for me, but I loved it. The tiny pink ballet slippers, the black leotard and pink tights were a uniform I was willing to don without a fight like some other clothes. It was like dress-up play, and I reveled in it.
For four years olds, dance class was more like a dance party. But I am sure the process felt more like torture to most of the parents. It required great patience on the part of all adults involved to prepare and process the act of dancing at a studio. You have heard of herding kittens? Enough said. As a mom whose own daughter eventually took ballet lessons as a small child, I can tell you those dance instructors do not get paid enough.
Chaos ensues easily in any class of young children. Noisy, swirling beings with little or no coordination, fly across the room like satellites in a dance class. Bumping and twirling, unaware of the existence of anyone outside their own shear joy of the dance. Therefore, halfway through the class, we would break for a drink and to do this week’s coloring page. And probably to save the sanity of the teacher.
A Family of Bears
Being the budding artist, even then, I wasn’t sure which I loved more, the ballet or the art time. It wasn’t as much fun as finger painting, but time to color was valuable none the less. Double the fun was all I could think. Ballet and Art. The best day ever! I grabbed my Three Little Bears coloring page and box of colors from the teacher and went to work. The dance instructor strolled gracefully between us as we lay on the floor in little groups, coloring our bears. Mama Bear. Papa Bear. Baby bear. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In my case, all the characters were in play that day.
I saw my bears as a family. Purple in color, sitting around a blue table with bowls of pink porridge, hungrily enjoying their breakfast. I am sure I was concentrating on staying in the lines when the dance teacher stopped abruptly. “Cindy – bears are brown.” she said sternly as she handed me the ugly brown crayon. She was beautiful in my eyes, lithe, young and ethereal. She knew everything there was to know about being. Being. Period. I was in awe. My dance teacher could have been the star of one of my own internal stories. Probably a fairy. Yes. Giselle ( a ballet from the 19th C) in the world of Susans and Marys and Donnas and Debbies. Someone I would have wanted to be. At least until that moment. The fairy dance was over.
“No. I said. My bears are purple. See? I like them purple. They are purple bears.” I insisted, giving her a frown and showing my pouty face.
The pretty dance teacher stopped short and gave me a look of displeasure, then moved on. It wasn’t worth the fight, or was she simply giving in? I will never know. Because my mom had watched the entire scene play out through the two-way mirror of the waiting room. Unlike today, where the moms might be glued to the screens of their mobile devices, my mom was watching me twirl and point and color my bears purple. She had seen it all. And she wasn’t having it.
Now my mom was not a confrontational person. But if I wanted purple bears in my story, I was having them. She was the protector of imaginations and the supporter of stories. I didn’t know any of this at the time. My mom was to become an English teacher and writer. My grandmother was a writer and artist. And I too would become a writer and artist. All women supporting their daughters as we learned to love and protect our creative hearts and minds.
Be the light
I don’t remember ever going back to that class. My mom may have pulled me from the class going forward, switched teachers or dance studios, or simply took a break and enrolled me elsewhere. She doesn’t remember and neither do I. I did continue dance class, ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance. I painted my bears, and everything else whatever color I chose to dream. I invented and wrote whatever story I wanted to tell. And in my mind, to this day, bears will always be some shade of deep lavender.
We all need supporters for our stories. Boxes and boxes of colored crayons, pencils and even now online art apps. People to be the light for us when the dark clouds come and the rain pours. We need love and light and stories that bring us hope and clarity in our times of despair but also in our times of creative bliss.
And most of all, we need to support open hearts, the opportunity to be creative, and the willingness to embrace our own imaginations and the imaginations of others.
Power to the purple bear!