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Time for an Altered State of Play/Work!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Recently, I watched a short video from Stuart Brown on the importance of play, not just for children, but also for adults. It made me start thinking about how we get so hung up on the tensions of work and play, and how they might benefit from becoming more integrated in our lives. As Stuart Brown attests, playing is good for us — good for our minds, our bodies, our spirits and our relationships and communities. So how can we become more play-full in our work in these difficult times?

It’s easy to get depressed as the economy continues its slide, times get tough around our families and communities, as well as our schools. Everyone is asked to more with less, and while we could all say that we have some ‘clutter’ in our lives that we need to rid ourselves of, there are also those who live close to the line where necessity is indeed, the mother of invention, as we all devise new ways of coming to grips with new realities.

As Edutopia reports, our schools, notoriously underfunded for the most part, face especially tough times as funds for materials continue to dwindle and more and more teachers are forced to buy supplies for our children out of their own meagre pockets. Teachers have always been more than willing to spend their own cash to help out families who can’t afford supplies but recently K-12 teachers have reported spending more than $1000 a year just for classroom supplies! In the face of this crisis, teachers are getting creative, playing with the nature of their work as in selling advertising space at the bottom of quizzes and exams, using organizations such as Freecycle where people give away lots of things they no longer need (but you might – you need to be quick though!), still others set up a listserv in their community posting requests for donations of supplies they need. Then there are those who organize school supply fundraisers and still others (like the Construction Management program at my own university) have organizations adopt classrooms! Not only is creativity alive in these endeavors but the playful perspective taken by these teachers is leading to some serious sustainability practice!

Teachers aren’t the only ones getting creative around education resources. In a recent report from the UK, more than 500 11-19 year olds completed and presented their Manifesto for a Creative Britain to the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham. These young people reflected on what they feel they need in order to learn, think and act creatively. They imagined how schools might be different, what people in the creative industries could do to help and how they could develop the best environment possible for creative decisions and forming ideas. Students worked and talked together using online discussions, face to face conversations, group debates and video interviews to canvas their peers. Can you imagine what would happen if you engaged in such a project in your community?

These are indeed serious times for serious work and yet, simultaneously, what we may need is some serious play, by both adults and children to become more creative in our daily lives. I never cease to be amazed by the wonderful imagination of my children and the ways in which they question the world in which they live through their play. Perhaps Stuart Brown is onto something in releasing adults to play!

With thanks to laurel fan, dalydose and kelseyohhgee for their images!

Developing the creative spirit in all of us!

For the Love of Whimsy & Play

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

It’s so easy to become overly serious about stimulating children’s creativity and we sometimes forget that it has to be playful and fun if anything is ever to come of it.

So this Valentine’s Day put a love of whimsy and play in service of creativity and imagination. The pervasive sense of whimsy and wit is one of my favorite parts of the Creativity Express program. I still giggle like a small child at the antics of Furnace and Pickle and rejoice at all the messes they get into.

And messes are part of creativity. Do you remember what it felt like to finger paint? Can you recall that delightful squishy-ness of the paint between your fingers? Finger painting is a staple of early children arts experiences. Why, I wonder, do we ever stop?

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo reminds us of how innately creative children are. For example, what young child has not enjoyed the box a toy comes in, often more than the toy itself?

abelle-avery-boxes-square-dec-081

I remember playing in big refrigerator or TV boxes for days and I frequently provided them for my children. They transformed those boxes into many wonderful environments before the cardboard finally collapsed. It seems, in the photos here, that my grandchildren have the same play-inside-and-outside-the-box gene. So instead of chocolate candy, this Valentine’s Day bring home a big interesting box, throw in some big colorful markers, and watch the fun begin.

Steve Gillman cautions adults to not crowd our children in their creative play. Although it usually stems from the best of intentions, we adults can frequently stifle creativity in children by watching too closely, offering unwanted advice, and trying to control the course of the play. Gillman also notes that while all children are naturally creative, adults quickly teach them to judge their creative efforts too harshly.

This doesn’t mean adults should not engage in creative play with children but we do need to be observant and know when to jump in and when to hang back. Perhaps these are a few reasons why, as we grow older, become less connected to the natural creative instinct and more concerned about what others might think of our efforts. After all, artists are just people who still remember how to play.

So if you need some scientific evidence for the value of play and whimsy, check out the research and doctors’ advice suggesting children and adults play more together. Apparently play reduces stress,increases intelligence, and enhances family bonding. Iit’s just a whole lot of fun as well!

So bring out the artist within and make Valentine’s Day a Creative Play Day!

Thanks for the playful photos ~C4Chaos, Annabelle & Avery, and  carf.

Sustaining a Creative Spirit

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

“Art has been the means of keeping alive the sense of purposes that outrun evidence and of meanings that transcend indurated habit.” John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934).

An artistic or arts based education is well known to have wide reaching impacts on the development of character not to mention physical coordination and mental agility. While it can also be very challenging to integrate such a perspective and commitment in the classroom, the importance of developing a creative spirit and intelligence enables us, as Dewey says to sustain our purpose and meaning when evidence evades us. So how can we keep this spirit alive?

Sometimes it is about building creativity into the very environment and everyday life you inhabit through art on the walls, sculptures, photos, fabrics, and creative tools close at hand so when someone asks to work creatively, there is something for them to work with, be it crayons, clay, paint, feathers, dirt etc. Other times it is about visiting with artists in their studios, taking art lessons with others, going on art walks or visiting museums where you can be exposed to works of art and can engage in some yourself. There are also times to explore the arts alongside other lessons; for example, my students in intercultural communication may focus on a culture and the kinds of art or creative expression that culture uses to communicate its values. In Kenya, for example, the beads women make and wear communicate social status, age, community etc.

But nourishing the creative spirit doesn’t always have to focus on work. Studies now show that recess or play times for children in and out of school prove valuable as this is their time to experiment with creativity and imagination in social interaction with others. Then there are the ‘toys’ or any objects with which we play — and the simpler they are, the more creativity is used in constructing them in multiple forms! Building blocks made of old pieces of off cast wood (even better if the kids have painted them or worked the wood and oiled them up); felt toys sewn by small hands or even handmade felt where kids can see just how wool, soap and hot water do their magic then craft their own special something for someone; or how about creating your own musical instruments, with pots, pans, strings, cardboard and don’t forget the plastic comb wrapped in paper? Chances are good that if you cast your mind back to your own childhood, you will find some very imaginative ways to keep your own creative spirit alive. If you run out of ideas, check out the Invention Playhouse. It’s a true treasure trove for curious and creative minds!

So go ahead, take some time out to create a creative environment to sustain your creative spirit and play…….!

With thanks as always to our artists — Today is a good day, and spinnerin

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