Raising Kids that Craft (or not)

I have crafty artistic kids. It's what we do. It's who we are.

This time of year especially. For weeks leading up to Brienne's birthday Céline sequestered herself away in our bedroom - one of the few rooms in our home with a door - to sew.

And now with the Christmas gift giving season upon us there will be a lot more secret sewing and crafting going on.

Recently, when we went to our friend's farm for the weekend the kids took a small bin of supplies and their favorite new craft book (mailed to us from the Netherlands by a blog reader - thank you). Along the way, we bought felt at the fabric store, and the kids arrived ready to get on their crafting groove.

The kids were worried they wouldn't be able to speak to their French-speaking friends but we knew crafting could be the common language.

Ever since that visit Céline has been e-mailing back and forth with her friends en Français et en Anglais photos of the craft projects they are doing.

People have asked me how to encourage their own children to be creative and I have shared those ideas already here on my blog: have good supplies, be willing to make the time for it, be ok with the mess it will create (teaching your kids to clean up their mess will help with this).

(It's interesting to note that even though I don't do as many crafty things, especially sewing and paper memory keeping, as I used to when my children were younger, our kids continue to craft on their own initiative.)

I wrote a little book about how you can nurture creativity in your own life, and honestly, the same advice I give to moms' applies to kids and people in general. The advantage kids have is that when they start creating from the time they are little they don't have the same hang-ups adults do - fear of failure and perfectionism being two biggies.

Encouraging creativity is near and dear to my heart and it's something that comes up in most of my coaching and online teaching. I think it's one of my core life messages right now.

Based on your suggestions during the teleconference, I've even started doing my own art again - which is my life's passion, but I thought I had to put it on hold until my kids were older. Instead, now we're doing it together. Yes, our house is much more peaceful and I'm even getting my own "battery recharged".

As an educator, I believe creativity is an important part of learning. As a human being and a mother, I believe creativity is simply a part of joyful and wholehearted living (see Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection for more on this).

I was asked the following question in a recent interview:

There is always a lot of discussion about the need for creativity in our lives, but not as much on the subject of why. What do you believe mothers gain, both as individuals and as parents, from fostering their own creative spirit.

Here's my answer:

Joy. When you tap into that creative activity (or activities) that both challenge you and help you express yourself you have access to a sweet spring of joy.

Not all moments are joy of course (writing ebooks is NOT all joy). But the main reason I both nurture creativity and tune into the creativity in my days, e.g. arranging pottery just so on the table and taking a picture to share on my blog, is for the pure joy of it. The joy of beauty. The joy of being alive and having a gift to share.

My children also get immense pleasure from their creativity. The actual making of things brings them joy. Showing and giving their art to family and friends. Playing with their handmade toys. They do it because it brings them joy.

I believe we were created for joy and pleasure. For relationship and beauty. Nurturing creativity puts us back in touch with this.

What if your kids don't craft or fill-in-the-blank?

There are so many things that can bring creativity, joy, pleasure and beauty into our lives.

Music is one of those things. Did you know that none of our children play a musical instrument?

Some people might think this is a shame but our children haven't expressed an interest to learn an instrument and we decided this wasn't going to be one of the requirements of their home education.

Did you also know that learning never stops and people can learn new things all the time?

What this means is that if our kids one day want to learn how to play a musical instrument they can! If they want to learn to speak Japanese they can! I don't have to teach them all these things when they are knee high, nor do I have to hire someone to do so.

I don't have to carry the burden of exposing our children to every good thing before they are eighteen, training their young minds to speak three languages and play two instruments. They have their whole lives.

It may be sacrilege to say this but you don't have to give your children the perfectly well balanced and well rounded upbringing. In fact, trying to do so would be impossible because none of us are perfect.

You can build your family life and home learning environment on your family values, your children's interests and natural talents, your interests and talents, and your overall goals for your children's education. Yes. You. Can.

When your children leave your home they will build on this foundation, carrying forward some of the values and teaching you instilled and then add entirely new pieces according to their own desires and life mission. And won't that be fun. For them and for us.

Damien and I have already talked about the twists and turns our family life will take when our children come of age and choose their own path. We're excited about it! We're going to learn so much.

I think the reason parents, especially homeschooling parents, feel we have to teach it all when our kids are young is because we must carry a belief deep-down (so deep it's hard to acknowledge) that learning stops when kids reach a certain age. Or if not learning, the ability to study something you're interested in and pursue your dreams.

That freedom stops when you are an adult and if you haven't learned how to sew or haven't wrapped your brain around Newton's Laws by the time your eighteen, well that's just too bad. It's all over. Because now real life starts, and don't you know "in real life you don't get to determine your own course of action, you have responsibilities". And if you want to learn Latin, well too bad. If your homeschool mom didn't teach it to you when you were twelve, it's all over for you.

Do you hear what I'm saying?

We create because it brings us joy. We make useful things, and some not so useful things, and we learn important skills. We make time for creativity in our homeschool curriculum because it is one of our family's core values.

Does this mean you have to craft with your kids? Not at all. Maybe you bake with them instead, or play musical instruments together, take dance classes, or spin wool from your own sheep. Maybe you speak Japanese in the morning and conjugate Latin verbs in the afternoon.

If this is what you love, what brings your family joy, and is inline with your family values - then do it! And do it with gusto. Do it well, do it often. Do it to the glory of your creator.

And teach your kids this with your example - we never stop learning. The door is always open. We never graduate, though we may pass some exams along the way to show certain proficiencies (trust me, I want that surgeon to have passed their medical school exams).

Our children's childhood, foundational as it may be, it not "it" in terms of their learning window of opportunity.

Release yourself from that burden. Release them.

And then go make something. Just for the fun of it.

A brief update, five years later on Instragram, of what this looks like in the teen years to nurture our kids' artistic and creative inclinations.

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  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Nov. 30, 2012, 1:46 p.m.

    YES! yesyesyesyesyes! :) Sorry, I just couldn't help it. And there are some things that people insist on teaching children and teenagers that they can live without, and even live really well! Honestly, if your child never memorizes the periodic table of the elements (just an example) life will go on and most likely nobody will ever hold it against them! Frankly, if you're an adult who demonstrates their deep knowledge of this table (not that there's anything wrong with knowing about that ) without possessing a corresponding career in chemistry, people are likely to back away slowly, with a very puzzled expression on their faces. And have you ever had to listen to music played by a child who doesn't want to play it? Not an enjoyable experience...

    We're having our own little group art/craft session this morning, and I'm looking forward to it :)


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 30, 2012, 1:50 p.m.

      I love your yes! and I think we need to live more our life saying yes. Yes to joy. Yes to freedom. Yes to learning. Yes to love. YES!!!


  • shelli : mamaofletters

    shelli : mamaofletters on Nov. 30, 2012, 1:58 p.m.

    Renee, have you read Lori Pickert's book or blog on Project-based Homeschooling? Many of the ideas that you share here remind me of PBH. I, too, have been striving to supply my kids with a lot of materials, space and time to create. It's been quite fun! The boys especially love the modeling clay I bought them!


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 30, 2012, 2:01 p.m.

      I'm reading it right now. You should see it listed on my sidebar under currently reading. Her book is inspiring me once again to make definite time for projects. I've always had crafty time for my kids but her project based learning philosophy is a bit more "structured" than that in terms of creating regular time and space and being present, as the adult to assist where needed.  We've started Friday morning project time using some of her recommendations. Instead of "school" stuff we focus on self-directed learning projects and I'm available as needed. Of course, the kids have a lot of their own time for projects, pretty much every afternoon. But having a designated time helps me make time for their projects.


  • sarah

    sarah on Nov. 30, 2012, 3:43 p.m.

    My girls craft all the time but there is NOTHING that makes my girls happier than sitting down at the dining table to craft with me. As soon as I pull out a little project, they are settled at the table eager to join in. This has been the case since they were toddlers and now they are teens. It's a tradition that "gathers" us as a family.


  • Jess

    Jess on Nov. 30, 2012, 6:45 p.m.

    So important to remember that the 'learning window' doesn't close at 18! Life is full of opportunity, for us and for our children. We craft/create often, but I find that at times my joy for it wains due to the mess of it all. I need to keep at it though and remind myself that tables with glue stick residue and paper bits on the floor have little to do with me (and my worries about a clean house) and a lot to do with who my children are becoming. An extra five minutes sweeping the dining room or the straightening up of an art area are small matters in comparison to the joy, growth, and confidence my kids have gained making 'the mess' :D


  • Kate

    Kate on Dec. 1, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

    It may be sacrilege to say this but you don't have to give your children the perfectly well balanced and well rounded upbringing. In fact, trying to do so would be impossible because none of us are perfect.

    Amen to that. No wonder I'm so stressed and tired, believing that it's all my responsibility to ensure the children have access to anything that they show an interest in. I certainly wasn't brought up that way and I have no regrets or issues with it. I've still found ways to learn what ever I have wanted as adult and honestly I think the things I haven't learned are because I don't really want too.

    cheers Kate


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Dec. 1, 2012, 3:23 a.m.

    This is soooo important and homeschooling families need to hear this over and over and over again: you don't have to give your children the perfectly well balanced and well rounded upbringing!

    Thanks for another great piece Renee!


  • Spring

    Spring on Dec. 1, 2012, 2:09 p.m.

    I felt like I had dropped the "crafty" ball as they kids got older. But I recently realized again the benefit of even just letting them "make messes" when they scratch my own creative itch. My girls spent the last couple years tracing pictures they liked out of books, and making them into paper dolls. The amount of little scraps of paper caught in the rug on a constant basis drove me nuts some days. But I just asked them to help clean up (again) and let them keep going. Now, suddenly, they are drawing amazing characters free hand, complete with lifelike shading. Drawing isn't something I really enjoy, but just keeping some supplies on hand, and the freedom to make a mess (without grumbling about it) has allowed them to pursue their own thing, and excel at it!

    My kids all pursue music- the girls studying piano more formally with me. But now also my son, who did not want to study piano with me, has begun to learn from videos how to play a variety of things. And begun recording and arranging his music. All without input or help from me. They are all excelling in their own musical way.

    I didn't have to "get it right." I just had to give them freedom. Phew- I can do that! :)


  • Susan

    Susan on Dec. 1, 2012, 8:36 p.m.

    We just got done hanging ornaments that my husband and inlaws crafted when he was a child in Chester N.J.


  • Sarah

    Sarah on Dec. 1, 2012, 9:43 p.m.

    Oh I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. As a high school student, I feel I have little time to pursue all of the many many things I love and have an interest in. Certainly, I do a bad job making time for those things. It is wonderful to be reminded that as I go forward in life my time for learning and for doing the things I love (and perhaps don't have time to do...) will not stop. I really need this reminder, as I constantly overbook myself because there are so many things I am passionate about. A good example is that I wanted to sign up to be a counselor to women who have been raped. It was an amazing opportunity to learn a lot and help others but it had a 10 hr/week training!! ...and I have 4+ hrs of homework/day, train for long distance running 2 hrs/day, am in school 7 hrs, run a volunteering club, have miles long reading lists (which I never get to), am doing an independent study on AD/HD and education, lead bimonthly backpacking trips with students from my school... and favorite pastime is water coloring, collage, and writing handwritten letters.... and I wonder how I have no time to do these things. Anyways, that was a long way of saying that I am grateful for this post. This post (and all of your blog, really) reminds me of the Alan Keightley quote: "Once in a while, it really hits people that they don't have to experience the world in the way they have been told to." We are told that we should be "fully formed" people by the time we graduate from university... but perhaps I should interpret fully formed as simply meaning generous, kind, confident and curious.... and able to grow!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 1, 2012, 9:54 p.m.

      Thank you. I love this: "but perhaps I should interpret fully formed as simply meaning generous, kind, confident and curious.... and able to grow." (those are some of our graduation goals for our kids). I haven't figured out my ilfe yet Sarah, I can't imagine why an 18 year old or 22 year old should have that privilege (smile). 


  • Laura

    Laura on Dec. 2, 2012, 12:23 a.m.

    As always, an encouraging and thought-provoking post. Thanks, Renee! I hope you have a fabulous birthday!


  • beth west

    beth west on Dec. 2, 2012, 2:30 p.m.

    Learning really does happen at any age. I've been studying painting with a master painter in mid-coast Maine for 2 years. I'm in my mid-forties and determined to become a master painter myself. I love the challenge. Much more amazing are the majority of my classmates. They probably average 63 years of age. We have several people in their 70's. They study hard. They are full of energy and they do a great job. They have proven to me that learning doesn't ever need to stop!


  • Lynn

    Lynn on Dec. 4, 2012, 3:39 a.m.

    Thanks you for this post. It is just what I needed to hear. Lately I've been feeling the need to loosen our schooling schedule and put in time for Christmas crafting. Maybe it needs to stay loosened! Thanks for the reminder that it's not all up to me, I know that in my head but maybe not in my heart. And it's so true that learning never stops, it hasn't for me!


  • Jill

    Jill on Dec. 4, 2012, 10:54 a.m.

    Thanks so much for this post! I'd like to add, along the vein of lifelong learning, that we are in a great position to model this for our children. All the things you do NOW, that you never thought you would do, all the things that you are learning NOW as an adult...that makes a huge impression on our children.

    After suffering so much frustration at my talented daughter's reluctance to practice violin, I decided to channel my frustration into getting my own violin and taking my own lessons. What a wonderful thing it has been! I love playing the violin! Has it changed my daughter's practice habit? No...but I believe she is learning something important about being a life-long learner by watching me struggle through twinkle, twinkle, little star...and then move on to beautiful Appalachian fiddle songs.

    You are always inspiring!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 4, 2012, 2:49 p.m.

      Jill, you said:  "I decided to channel my frustration into getting my own violin and taking my own lessons". This is so, so true. And the older my kids get the more I find this true for myself. The only person I can really "control" is me. Instead of "doing" education to my children and I can get an the education I want. 


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