A Journal Entry from My Education Class

Some Thoughts on “The Toolshed Muse: Creative Minds in Process” from Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane Healy, PhD.

The last chapter of Jane Healy’s book, Your Child’s Growing Mind, was thought-provoking and informative. I especially enjoyed the section on “Creative Parents”, wherein she lists some things that parents do to foster creativity in their children. As I have mentioned in a previous journal entry, I have, off-and-on, homeschooled my children. When the children were younger, I sometimes worried that we were not covering enough “academics”. After reading this book and especially this chapter I feel “validated” that I did many things right, after all. Here are some of the “tips” offered by Jane Healy, and applicable examples from our homeschooling experience:

“Provide discipline and structure to give children security to explore.”

Both my husband and I sought to train the children, lovingly, to do what was right and especially tried to teach them how to love one another. Some examples of the structured environment I tried to provide are:
• The children had healthy meals and snacks on a timely basis.
• We (the children and I) would first do morning chores together to care for animals and get the house neat, before attempting any “school” work.
• We had a framework of “routine” activities each day; the children knew what to expect.

“Set realistic standards and encourage pride in achievement.”

I very much tried to stay away from comparing the children with one another. My husband and I, and the children, recognized areas of great talent and creativity in each child, and would seek to encourage that child in his or her individual endeavors. The children seemed to understand from an early age that it was not necessary to match up to brother or sister, but only to be oneself, and to develop one’s own talents. Of course several children could have the same talent. We have found that they encourage one another to excel. For example, our younger children are looking forward to following in the footsteps of older brothers and sisters who excelled in the “Running Start” program.

“Show active interest in a child’s thoughts and creative efforts.”

One way that we as a homeschooling family have done this is to follow, to some extent, “interest-based” education. For example, when one of my daughters was quite young, she had some gerbils for pets. She wondered how many coat colors she could come up with in breeding them. For a while we had maybe ten gerbil habitats set up, with families of black, white, brown, and various spotted coat gerbils. After her curiosity was satisfied, we bartered the gerbils to a pet store in exchange for supplies, which was educational, too. She took excellent care of those gerbils, by the way. One of my sons became very interested in WWII, so I read books that he found interesting, and we discussed them together. Currently, that son, now an adult, continues to be well-informed about history and current events, and ponders the reasons behind the things that happen.

“Encourage a child’s interest in hobbies.”

We are quite well-stocked with supplies for scrap booking, window cling art, knitting, art supplies, etc. and provide lessons in such things as swimming, rock wall climbing, roller skating, violin playing, making pottery, or whatever else may be of interest to one or more of the children.

“Give children early responsibility for making choices and taking appropriate responsibility for their own decisions.”

The children help to write up the family job charts. We seek to consider each person’s schedule and desires, and agree together on any changes. The children help to choose whatever formal curriculum we purchase, and when that schoolwork will be done, i.e., over the course of a full year, or in nine months.

“Permit children to have solitude and develop imaginative thinking by daydreaming.”

Our youngest son enjoys walking around the yard, swinging plastic bats as if they were batons or swords, all the while talking to himself and making up “game-games”, or role-playing games, which are later enacted with the help of his sisters. If I notice a child drawing, writing, or scrap booking, I try to leave them in peace to pursue that interest. (As an aside, the children do have daily chores. I do not leave them without responsibility, but try not to remind them of chores when they are engrossed in a creative endeavor.)

“Encourage imaginative play.”

At our home, we have:
• “Game-games”, which are role-playing games, made up on an improvised basis by the children.
• Plays and puppet shows made up by the children.
• Those inclined to drawing and painting sometimes do portraits of one another as fairies, hobbits, or anime characters.
• We enjoy such games as “Apples to Apples” which involve creative verbal thought.
• Those children interested in Pokemon make up their own creatures, with their arsenal of powers, and then have their Pokemon compete with one another.
• The children write their own books and illustrate them.

“Allow honest expression of emotion.”

We do try to be honest yet at the same time respectful of one another in our home. If the children hurt one another’s feelings, we encourage them to talk honestly with one another about it, and to truly forgive one another when someone says, “I’m sorry.” We try to teach the children to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and to weep with those who are weeping, which is a Biblical principle.

“Encourage children to feel intuitively as well as to think logically.”

We enjoy trying to figure out what a poet is really saying in his poem. Some logic puzzles that we do also seem to require intuitive thought. My sons who write computer code assure me that, although one needs to know “the rules” in order to write programs, one also has “Ah ha!” moments of intuitively knowing what to do next when writing code.

“Expose children to special artistic and intellectual pursuits: you might visit practicing artists in studios; find out how pianos are made; go backstage after a dance performance; obtain prints of interesting or important artistic works and enjoy them at home; or create homegrown musical, dance, or dramatic performances.”

• We do enjoy the Bellingham studio tours, and have met some outstanding artists and artisans that way. We once admired the work of a watercolor artist at the NW WA fair, and ended up hiring him to give painting lessons to those children interested in painting.
• We sometimes go to the Pickford Theater and view non-main stream movies or to Western Washington University to view plays. Even if we only go to see a “regular” movie, we enjoy thinking about and discussing it later.
• We go to the Highland Games, and the son who expressed an interest in doing so is learning to play the bagpipes.
• We go to hear different styles of “live” music as we have opportunity.
• The children love making music at home (violin, viola, cello, guitar) joined by my husband who seems able to play anything “by ear”. Guests to our home are often treated to a “concert”.
• We have checked out just about every “How To” drawing or painting video from the Bellingham Library. Some of the children have diligently practiced the techniques presented in these videos. We have checked out books by artists as well, in order that principles and techniques of colored pencil, watercolor, acrylic and oil painting might be learned and practiced.

I would like to conclude this journal entry with one of my favorite quotes from the chapter:

“If talent is specialized, should we expect a child to be good at everything? A potential artist, mechanic, dancer, or athlete may falter in school subjects. Can parents and teachers of such youngsters restructure their own value systems to accommodate nonacademic skills? Can they model open-ended approaches to problems? Can we all believe that time and energy devoted to creative skills are important?”

I know that this is a caution against the short-sightedness which only recognizes academic achievement, and which undervalues creativity. However, I also take this as a caution to parents who, in their eagerness to develop their child’s talents, overwhelm their child with enriching activities and lessons. As the author points out, children need “down time”. There should be time in the child’s day for him to walk around outdoors, for example, with nothing in particular to do. Also, it is good for the parent who desires to foster creativity in his or her children to remember that, as wonderfully talented as his child may be, he or she is still a finite being, and will not be good at everything. The child should be loved and appreciated as the unique individual he is. Strengths should be developed, interests and talents should be encouraged, and weaknesses should be recognized and remediated as necessary.

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