Reflections on Creativity

The Wolf and the Owl  by Asher Cadwell

The Wolf and the Owl by Asher Cadwell

I was lucky enough to spend last week with my grandchildren.  They are still in school so I drove them to and fro and generally helped out.  On Friday evening, we sat out on a neighbors' deck on a perfect June night with children spanning ages from 3 to 13 playing so happily.  The older girls choreographed an impromptu play with sound effects, sticks, and dance moves.  My grandchildren, Delilah and Asher, were the audience as were 3 sets of parents.  So spontaneous and refreshing! 

In Boston, we have a small condo in a duplex just a stone's throw from where my son, his wife and our grandchildren live.  It is so easy to walk back and forth and enjoy both back yards, kitchens and living spaces.  On Saturday, Delilah and Asher could come over to play and they did.  We made waffles bright and early.  After breakfast, Asher, age 6, and Delilah, age 3, wanted to put on little plays and puppet shows with props and wooden and felt toys that I keep in Boston.  So inventive and fun, and inspired, with sound effects, snippets quoted from nursery rhymes, like.."the dish ran away with the spoon!" and using unlikely props as a stage. They took turns performing and I filmed them on my phone.  We had some little digital "shorts" to share with the family and that was fun. Then, Delilah and Asher broke out a rousing rendition of "We all live in a yellow submarine."All of this, I am certain, was inspired by the plays of their neighbors from the night before. 

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After the preforming and musical arts spontaneously improvised and composed by the young team, I brought out all the art materials that I had assembled...water color and gouache paints in tubes, a variety of good quality brushes in different sizes, colored pencils, oil crayons, sharpeners and erasers, pens and paper and small square canvases.  I love to do this with them!  As an art teacher by trade, it is a supreme joy to bring out all these luscious materials for my grandchildren, to encourage them and to observe them fall in love with them.  (I became reacquainted with gouache and fascinated by offering it to young children when I visited the Campus Children's School at the University of Vermont last winter.) 

Campus Children's School Toddler Room

Campus Children's School Toddler Room

Asher chose a small canvas as he had used one before with success at our Vermont house. He announced that he wanted to paint a dragon.  (His little league baseball team is named Dragons.) He asked me how to do that and we looked for images of dragons on my phone. (Such a handy resource these days!)  Asher found, on his own, a simple step by step dragon that he liked and proceeded to draw his own version with a pen on the canvas in short order.  Then, he mixed blue and white paint to make the sky.  "This looks just like sky color!" he said with enthusiasm.  Then, he used a different blue color oil crayon to complete the sky with the pen rendered flying dragon in the middle.  He was so very pleased.  It all unfolded so naturally and with ease. 

Dragon  by Asher Cadwell

Dragon by Asher Cadwell

His sister was captivated by the colors of the gouache that she chose herself.  I showed her how to rinse the brush throughly in the little pot of clean water, and to dab it on the paper towel when changing colors.  She caught on right away and did this successfully from the beginning.  I don't think she had painted with gouache or in this way before. Many layers of paint on a deep purple square of pleasing card stock.  And then, with a pen she wrote, with strokes of the pen as she spoke outloud, "D for Delilah...This is for Mommy." Spoken slowly in rhythm and synchronized with the marks that she was making.  

For Mommy  by Delilah Cadwell

For Mommy by Delilah Cadwell

What was creative about the morning that we spent together? What made the context hospitable and welcoming to the creative spirit in Asher and Delilah? We could speculate that the uninterrupted time helped; the availability of the open-ended and beautiful toys and materials that they have played with for some years now; being able to be outside on a blue sky, cloudless June day under the shade of the big maple tree; the presence of an adult in their lives who loves and knows the arts and who also loves them...their mood, luck, and I would say, freedom.  

No one was telling them what to do.  Yet materials and time and attention were given to them. They had an audience when necessary, they had a camera person when they wanted that.  They had an organized facilitator with an array of enticing materials. They had a coach to support their processes. They each had ideas that could manifest because of all this.  

Ken Robinson defines creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Creativity involves putting your imagination to work: you do things.  Creativity is a process, a way of thinking and acting rather than an inborn trait, creativity is something we can all learn to apply in our lives. He goes on to say that teachers can provide opportunities, encourage, mentor, and inspire creativity to thrive in their students. 

This particular morning is among the most gratifying that I can remember.  We were each doing the things we love, we were all free, we were all creating, we were all outside, we were all engaged and absorbed, we were all having so much fun both together and independently.  I was able to continue to give to grandchildren the legacy of beauty and creativity and joy that has been given to me.   We were all boosted by a morning of confidence, creativity and making things of value.  May we all have mornings like these during these most glorious summer days.