Ginger Carlson is the author of the recently released Child of Wonder: Nurturing CreativeÂ & Naturally Curious Children, an educational consultant, and a mother of one enthusiastic boy named Zeal. This is the part two of her interview. Part one is here.
Note: Readers will have a chance to win a Child of Wonder t-shirt at the end of the interview.
JEAN: I really like the chapter in Child of Wonder on exploration centers. It's made me rethink the different areas of my house. Can you share the reason behind the exploration centers?
GINGER: The reason behind it is that children won't necessarily experiment and be curious about certain objects and properties if they don't ever know they exist or if they are hidden away in cupboards. So, while you don't want to pull everything out of the closets all at once, setting up areas in your house that encourage children to have focused attention with new types of materials allows them to stumble upon them, and then explore when the spirit strikes. Then it also makes sense to set those opportunities up where they might already happen naturally.
For example, if Maia seems energized by music, but it always strikes her to play at the dinner table, then when she is done eating and might be waiting for the adults to finish, you might conclude that the space lends itself well to dinner shows. You could consider bringing your basket of instruments to a special corner near the dinner table and let her set up a little stage. It might also encourage her to make tickets or programs for her event. Then you get to finish your dinner, and she gets to express herself in a positive way.
That chapter is also about evaluating your home and maximizing the space for all those important things you want to encourage, like meeting spaces, quiet areas, and active learning areas that might include an exploration of float and sink properties, exploring with textures, or just playing with the properties of tape or rubber bands.
JEAN: Thank you for your creative solution to our dinner-time banging! :) Can you talk a little bit about dressing up and role-play and what young children learn from doing this?
GINGER: Sure. Einstein said the only way to learn is by having models and copying those models. He didn't think it was the best way to learn, he thought it to be the ONLY way to learn. When a child puts on a scarf or a hat or other costume prop they are copying their models - parents, teachers, and community members. From there, they can then innovate on what they know and will end up accessing their own creativity. It's a beautiful thing to witness when they are instantly transported to another place and time and they gain understanding of their world, and are able to process life and all they take in every day, and solve problems more effectively.
I'm an advocate of understanding our children's unique ways of learning, so I think it is also important for us to realize that every child has their own way they approach things and not all children are destined for the stage. Still, dress up and role-playing are essential in the life and development of all young children.
JEAN: Encouraging curiosity and creativity can take "extra" work on the part of the parent. Sometimes I just want to say no to painting, or whatever, partly because I don't want to deal with the inevitable mess or sometimes I get upset about the soaked clothes and the 3 foot wet zone all around her when she's been "washing the dishes." Do you have any moments like those? How do you go beyond your own desires and frustrations and continue to foster your child's creativity and curiosity even when you sometimes don't feel like it or just don't have the energy to set up another "exploration center" or suggest another creative activity?
GINGER: Yes, I hear that a lot from parents and preschool teachers who feel the same way, especially about messes. It's a tough balance to strike when you are trying to run a household, get laundry done, do your own work, and also encourage kids who think, wonder, and love to learn.
I do believe that in the long run, when parents do encourage that kind of play, it means that they will end up having extra time themselves, because at some point, kids begin to get into their own projects, and they become super independent with their learning and personal expression. That is especially the case when we, as parents and our children's first teachers, can refrain from over-organizing them.
I very rarely have a problem with messes getting started. Sometimes though, I realize that I don't want it in the house, so I might suggest another venue. Oh you want to play with water. How about the bathtub? What about outside? That usually helps guide the activity into something that works for everyone.
And if the ultimate goal is to rear children who become self-reliant, confident adults, who connect deeply with their world, then helping them find alternate opportunities for them to create in ways that also take into consideration the needs of the people around them is a worthwhile undertaking.
But in order to head those frustration off at the pass, I also try to make sure I take care of myself and my own needs so that I can be fully present with my child when he wants to engage with me. I have a variety of interests I nurture outside of my life at home. I have a regular dedicated yoga practice and I belong to two book groups and a writer's group. When we model a creative life, the children in our lives will surely follow suit.
JEAN: I love your chapter on Yes Days! Can you tell us about this concept?
GINGER: This chapter has been one that really seems to touch something special and resonate in people. The concept can be traced back to my early days teaching.Â Because the classroom experience can often be so focused on management and discipline, lots of children are reprimanded constantly. And because it takes seven positive comments to balance out the effect of one negative comment, I made a pact with myself to say "yes" more often in my classroom.
Naturally, years later when Zeal was born, that early decision spilled over to how I approached interactions with him. When his language was developing, I saw many children his age saying "no" a lot, and I didn't really want that to be a word in his vocabulary, at least not yet. So we made a family decision to say yes more often, to each other, to opportunity, to learning, to life. And we started calling those special days as described in that chapter our "Yes Days". I wrote about it in several magazine articles, and then as an essay in Adventures in Gentle Disciple by Hilary Flower. It was a natural choice to rewrite it and include it as its own chapter in Child of Wonder.
JEAN: How does the parent's role (in encouraging creativity) change as children age?
GINGER: Great question! It almost deserves its own book, so please forgive my long response. The answer is that our parental role in encouraging creativity does and does NOT change as children grow and age. It's all about balance. When children are babies, we need to find the balance between holding them close and tight enough that they feel secure, and holding them loose enough so they have space to kick, stretch, squirm, and learn about the world the way babies do. As they grow into toddlers, they move into more of an active exploration stage.
The balance here comes from a parent still creating that place between a feeling of security and being able to explore. By providing the exploration tools (language, natural objects, new foods, common everyday and household objects, creation materials such as the types of art supplies you describe here every day, etc.), and giving enough unstructured time with those tools for the child to learn and understand their intended and unintended functions, creativity emerges. As a parent of a toddler, especially with language developing, there is great opportunity to set the tone for a child to develop thinking skills through the way we approach their everyday interactions and explorations by the questions we ask and how we answer theirs, which is what the chapter The Art of Questioning is all about.
Then, children grow into a more concrete stage, the time when parents often see kids more easily stifled with their creative expression. Here, it is a crucial time for parents to regularly employ those strategies (described in the Art of Questioning chapter) and continue to provide a wide variety of materials that spark imagination, but also help guide children in the more developed, funneled, and sustained creative expression. All the while, we still need to find the balance with that holding space that makes them feel secure but able to explore their world, now in a more mature way. Children are absolutely creative beings. As WE grow as their parents, our conscious nurturing of that insatiable curiosity will be the key to help them hold onto their creative nature as they discover their own selves in the world.
JEAN: Wow! Thank you for that wonderful response. Almost finished here... Can you tell us a bit about your blogs? I'm especially intrigued by Thinking Outside the Recipe.
GINGER: I've just started blogging, so it's kind of unfolding before your eyes. It's actually something that very much pushes me to my own limits and makes me step outside my own comfort zone; I've never been much of a journaler. I use the blog as a spontaneous writing tool, so I do very little editing, and almost no planning, before posting. In the course of a few months, I have gone from writing for no blogs, to now writing for these three blogs: 1) The Wondershop, which is based on the regular column I write for regional parenting magazines about building creative kids. I also post information there about Child of Wonder, my speaking schedule, and post snippets from my monthly e-newsletter, called Wonderwise (http://gingercarlson.com/newsletter.html).
2) The Thinking Outside the Recipe blog is a lot of fun. And it is something I really involve Zeal in, which makes it extra special for me. I'm working right now on the next book in the Wonder Collection series, and it is (surprise, surprise) about experimental cooking with families. So some of what you see there, will eventually be a part of that book. I also write a regular column for Vegfamily of the same name so I will often post my articles or links to them on VegFamily. 3) And within the next few weeks, I will begin posting under the title Grasping Wonder with Slippery Fingers as a blog "correspondent" for Eric Maisel's Joy of Living Creatively blog. There, I'll be covering creativity and families and will write a weekly piece.
JEAN: Thanks Ginger! I've really enjoyed our interview and feel that I've learned so much, both from your book and from talking to you.
GINGER: Again, Jean, thank you so much for hosting me at the Artful Parent. It has been a pleasure to be able to enter this amazing community of creative thinkers. To learn more about Ginger and her book, you can visit her website or her blogs: Thinking Outside the Recipe and Wondershop. Her book Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative & Naturally Curious Children is available on Amazon (or any number of other places).
Readers who leave a comment on this interview by Friday, May 2nd, midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for a yellow Child of Wonder t-shirt.