A year's worth of recipes and play ideas! NurtureStore's free "Let's Play Dough" ebook. (Photo by Cathy James)
The online world is full of creative and inspirational resources. That is how I met Cathy James several years ago. She had written about a creative project on her blog, NurtureStore, which I stumbled upon just as I was writing up a tutorial for a creativity class I was hosting. Her inspiration fed my tutorial and in exchange, I send her some ideas for a watercolor project. This exchange showed me how friendly and wonderful this online creative world was, and I have been keeping an eye out on Cathy’s creativity tutorials and ideas ever since.
As I mentioned in the previous Creativity Spotlight, the road to creativity needs buckets of inspiration – to work as motivation and seeds of the possible future. The road to creativity also isn’t just one road – each creative will design their road so it is necessary to see just the different paths people have taken that eventually converged into the road to creativity.
I am happy to introduce Cathy James in this Creativity Spotlight. Cathy’s main focus is on how to encourage and foster exploration and creation in young children. Yet I think that as you read along, all of Cathy’s tips and answers make perfect sense as to how to keep exploration and creation alive regardless of age.
An introduction to Cathy James:
I’m Cathy James and I work with young children in a preschool crèche. I’m passionate about giving children a great start in life and write the blog NurtureStore, a site which is full of the play and creative learning activities, crafts and experiments we enjoy.
Egg decorating craft project @ NurtureStore. Rich colors and a wonderful example of making a tradition unique and fresh. (Photo by Cathy James)
How do you get children started on a journey of creativity?
Cathy: Children are sensory creatures from birth and they explore their surroundings through sound, touch and taste. They don’t have pre-conceived ideas about the world or understand any rules, so they are natural explorers and experimenters. As parents, educators and carers I think our role is to facilitate this creative exploration in any way we can.
We can carefully choose the toys and resources we offer our children. Treasure baskets full of everyday materials with lots of interesting textures make a wonderful first toy for babies. We can provide natural materials such as shells and fir cones alongside traditional toys such as wooden blocks and simple dolls and animals, which are open to being played with any way the children chose. And we can offer paints, glue and craft materials for children to try.
We can design play spaces with children in mind. Very simple changes can transform environments into enabling spaces: open shelving so children can access resources independently without limitation on their play and creation stations stocked with interesting pens, paper and pencils. Even something as simple as placing sticky tape in a dispenser so the children are able to handle it themselves for their junk modeling frees them to be creative without requiring adult help.
And we can adopt a ‘yes’ state of mind, being open to their suggestions and helping them pursue the ideas and experiments they want to explore.
Pia: As I read this, I instantly recognize that my senses (all of them!) are still a main part of my creativity. There are certain moods that I associate with rain, for example, that I try to capture in my drawings. The colors and tastes of food sometimes make me stop and just start taking pictures (and leave the food untouched until it’s cold!). And even though canvas and paper might be one-dimensional, it is nature that inspires many artists to add, in collages for example, textural forms.
A perfect example of how our surroundings play a part in our creativity: Story Stones Project @ NurtureStore (photo by Cathy James)
How do you keep children interested and focused?
Cathy: Observe your child and follow their lead, and remember that being creative isn’t just about doing crafts but includes imaginative play, storytelling, dance and song too. So, if your child isn’t interested in drawing, let them focus their creativity elsewhere.
Of course, children don’t know all the possibilities that are out there, so I like to tempt them with a regular supply of different materials and techniques to try: marble painting, reverse printing and egg decorating are some recent experiments we’ve enjoyed.
We go out and about to get inspiration, to forests, to galleries and to the beach, both to collect new materials and spark ideas for what we might like to create at home. And I let my children see me working on projects too, so they know creativity stays with you whatever age you are.
Pia: Yes! Although it might seem like it has nothing to do with my artistic creative endeavour, sometimes working in the garden or just getting out and about are great resources that keep me focused in creativity. Hopping around blogs, seeing other people create and solve problems in their own unique methods is a primary source of inspiration. By seeing someone else succeed in creating, the seed to continue creating, to continue exploring, takes hold and allows the artist, the musician, the writer, the adult, to let creativity back into their mind and heart. And seeing children create and explore something for the first time, that is the greatest creative resource there is! Their enthusiasm is contagious and it is a powerful reminder of all the fun that creation holds.
Why should children spend time on creative pursuits?
Cathy: Creative, hands-on play is how children learn best. Whether you’re hoping to develop academic skills or artistic ones creative pursuits have so much to offer. I also find they have a therapeutic effect on children as they offer engaging activities where there is no right or wrong way to play, so children of all ages can play together and relax and enjoy.
Children benefit by exploring lots of other aspects of learning as they create too: the science of colour mixing and exploring properties of materials as they craft, the math of working with size and dimensions as they junk model and the literacy and language development of storytelling and song. They also learn about their own character, developing inner motivation, focus, a joy of creating and the ability to bounce back from mistakes.
Pia: This question can just as easily be rephrased as to why should adults spend time on creative pursuits? As much as the adult world makes it seem silly, or a waste of time, for an adult to frillilly create something, all creative endeavors teach. Creativity, and the allowance to pursue it, enforces problem solving skills, assists in overcoming fears and inhibitions, allows for a free space where the creator does not make mistakes, tries, and succeeds, even if it is the success of not trying something again.
Junk model snake project @ NurtureStore. I love how Cathy has used this project to give equal blogging time to both her daughters, by showing two very different beautiful projects on the same theme – no hindering of creativity here! (Photo by Cathy James)
How can adults help or hinder children’s creative journeys?
Cathy: One thing I know for sure is that creativity is rarely tidy! If you’re averse to mess you’re immediately putting the brakes on your child’s journey, so let them build a den or make sand pies. Give them the freedom to play how they want to, rather than having strict rules about what toys belong where. Jigsaw pieces in the sand pit can easily be tidied away at the end of the day, after your child has had a wonderful imaginative adventure pretending they were mermaids living under the sea. Similarly, who says you can’t squish all the playdough colours together to see what happens?
Children’s creative time can become crowed out by academic work and clubs and screen time, so I like to make plenty of room in our schedule for simple play and crafting. Be a role model yourself, joining in with painting and drawing, or sharing projects of your own.
Telling your child ‘I’m no good at drawing’ introduces an idea that the value in creativity lies elsewhere, rather than in the pure enjoyment of doing. Value the process of your children’s art, rather than just the end product, and display their designs proudly, whatever the final outcome.
Pia: This is exactly true for adults too. I’m thinking of creatives that I have met that use the kitchen table as their studio. I know it’s hard to make a mess (and leave it there while creativity works itself out) in such a scenario, but there should be a conscious agreement with yourself to find a space and time to be messy, to be creative, to be able to let go and follow that creativity string all the way to the end. It doesn’t have to cost anything, it doesn’t have to be a weekend getaway, although “playing” with others can be inspiring, but even if it is a Sunday when hubby is out golfing, just let creativity rip and let your support system know that this is your time.
Thank you, Cathy, for sharing this information with us!
For more information about Cathy James and if you’re interested in creative ideas you can try with your children, stop by NurtureStore for a browse. You can also join the NurtureStore Facebook community and follow Cathy James on twitter, where she shares lots of additional resources and support.
PS: What lays hidden within your spirit that is just waiting for you to fill with passion? What has sparked new interests every day, new lessons, new beginnings, and an eternal sense of adventure?