A few years ago, when the economy turned sour, I noticed more people began supporting the idea of trade skills. Maybe going to college directly after high school, or even at all, wasn’t as important as believed, and especially in a tight economy, maybe being a plumber had more value than an interior decorator. As the reflection – it wasn’t really a debate – happened, slowly creativity for all was building momentum as a movement. First, it’s that kids are allowed a creative output, a place to build or create with different materials, time for imagination, and room to make their own decisions. But, second, I’ve found that as I listen to talks or read books and articles about the importance of creative outlets, I find myself reflecting on my own life as much as my kids. Creativity is important to everyone.
Last weekend’s Maker Faire was a great example of creativity for all. Adults far outnumbered the kids, adults dressed up, drove cupcake cars, and spent time stoking curiosity and trying new things. The highlight of the day we attended was learning to solder with my daughter. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, the directions were weak and the help was busy, so we had to rely on ourselves, trying different methods until we found what worked, and eventually we each successfully made lights on a robot pin blink. It was really fun for both of us.
Later in the day, I sat in for a brief talk by Steve Davee, of Opal School and CoLab in Oregon, on the tenants of tinkering. I heard Steve talk about his school and camp in Oregon during last year’s Maker Faire, and it reminded me so much of Galileo Learning, and of my kids’ school. Both Galileo Learning and the school, which is progressive, allow kids to try things out, encourage them to think differently, ask questions, be curious, and take some risks in the process. These were all apart of Steve’s tenants, which included:
- Do not kill a thought. Don’t tell a kid something isn’t going to work, let them discover for themselves, and sometimes, the kid is right and it does work.
- Back off and observe. Let failure happen. Adults need to show restraint, ask questions that are meaningful and provoke deeper thought (Galileo does a kick ass job of this). Steve uses a camera to document work the kids are doing, which keeps him a little removed from the action, but also the images help with reflection.
- Maximize available space. He put a tent up in his backyard as a makeshift creative space for kids as a camp, yet his message wasn’t that you need to buy a tent for creativity to come, but a reminder to use available spaces. Some places – like a backyard in Oregon – may not jump out as great places for creative work, but they are. Another point that I loved was “quality materials allow for quality work.” He showed a picture of a math classroom at the Opal School, and it looked like an art room because everything was colorful, and looked like a great place for visual learning.
- Perceived danger can be a great tool. Don’t overlook creative destruction. My kids used to love to build big towers just to knock them down. Steve Davee said his students wanted to break glass, which produced plans on how they would do it, then they set up a station, and used sling shots, which didn’t work as well as throwing rocks. This is where I’m thankful for my kids’ school because I can be a nervous nelly, but my kids have a place where they can push themselves. My kindergartner uses tools during wood shop, and hot glue guns during art, two things that I would have not let him touch without school because I would have underestimated his abilities based his age. My fear would have inhibited my kid’s creativity.
This summer, we will embrace creativity as a family. We’ll be embarking on a major remodel, which has prompted me to try to imagine how I want things to look, to draw out ideas no matter how crude my skills (with the encouragement of my architect), to think about colors and combinations, and I’ll be documenting it all through photography. As there will be nails, wood scraps, and other materials in abundance, I’m going to give my kids a station to work away from the chaos, with access to their own tools, so they can design and build whatever they dream. There will be no step-by-step directions to follow, and fingers will get hurt by wayward hammers, but there will be plenty of ideas, and hopefully, tons of personal growth for all of us.