One of the things that drew me to a Charlotte Mason-style education all those many moons ago was the inclusion of music, art, and handicrafts. I wanted to be sure that education in our household never resembled the checklist style of learning being propagated in other educational venues. To me, educating a child is like weaving a tapestry. A utilitarian tapestry of only dark colors was not my goal.
I wanted several different tones and textures of threads. I wanted a fine (sort-of-classical) academic education, to be sure, but I also wanted to touch the heart and soul, the creative spirits of my children.
Recently, a conversation with a very creative soul led me to think about whether or not this is a creative household. Looking back, the train of thought seems rather ludicrous. My husband is a television producer/director/writer. I write a little myself ;-). My kids all have blogs and love to write and take photographs. Yet, there is a part of me that longs to "touch" creations. And then, I looked around.
This is, by far, my favorite piece of furniture. Michael painted it for me last year for Mother's Day. He's always been creating--paper, pencils, paint, photos. He's a visual guy who loves to both create and to appreciate art.
But then I considered the next child. The one who can take a cardboard box and packing tape and replicate an entire television set. The one who decides that they can't play basketball in the basement until the walls are hung with NCAA banners of his making and the floor is marked to look like a basketball court.
And then to the next child. Ah. Stuck here a bit. He wants a kit and detailed directions. He's afraid to make a mistake. Perfectionism is not a good creativity enhancer. File that away to ponder a bit. Perfectionism will kill creativity. And perfectionism breeds burnout in a big way. We can't be afraid to make mistakes. We need to stretch and to grow, lest we wither and die. We need that creative stretch not just for our children (though they really, really need it), but for ourselves as well.
The fourth child has been begging me to learn to bead jewelry, to learn to sew, to learn to crochet. She loves to make flower fairies, to redecorate her bedroom frequently. Yep, creativity here, for sure. In a minute, dear...
But it was the fifth child who brought me up short. Just before Easter, I went into his room to look for a Sharpie. He hoards them. We're not sure why; we just know that if we need a Sharpie, Stephen always has them. So, he wasn't home and I needed a Sharpie. I opened his desk drawer. There were two packages of Prismacolors still sealed, a brand new package or water colors, and a whole rainbow of Sharpies. Basically, two years' of art supplies were untouche din his drawers. He'd borrowed and scrounged when he wanted to draw.
When he got home, we had a heart to heart. He loves to draw, so I knew it wasn't that he was uninterested. Indeed, he tends to keep things "just so": clothing, food, toys. He doesn't want to mess them up. As he was telling me that he just wanted his supplies to stay nice and new, I thought of all the times I've hesitated to begin a project because I was overwhelmed by the thought of the mess, the loss of control over my environment. I thought of all the times I've said, "in a minute, dear."
Stephen and I read the parable of the talents and we talked about how eager God is to see what we DO with the creative material in our lives. In the past few days, I've noticed one brightly colored picture after another coming from his hands--and his heart.
Shortly after my discussion with Stephen, I sat down with Sewing with St. Anne. Long have I promised to learn to sew with Mary Beth using this book. No more promises. It was time to move. The girls set off to the fabric store. All you fabric junkies might not understand, but this was a trip to feed our souls if only because of its novelty. Mary Beth and Katie had never been to a fabric store before. I took them to G Street Fabrics. Eye candy everywhere. We were drawn to the cotton florals. Half an hour later, we left the store with a stash of fabric and seam binding and thread. We are going to make bibs for Karoline (and probably some kerchiefs and hair scrunchies too--I am sure I overbought). Admittedly, these might be the most expensive bibs ever made, but I think it's cheaper than therapy and how creating will feed our souls! Just working with beautiful materials fends off the burnout.
The boys are eager to watch the bibs take shape and have already thought of some needlework projects of their own. Something about monogramming numbers on cleats and soccer bags...
As I seek to understand how important creativity is, I've been blessed with very creative women who share ideas and philosophies on creativity. Kim and Alice and Rebecca listen to me muse and encourage me with the gentle nudging of kindred spirits who know that the soul yearns for more than academics. They ensure me that nursing mothers don't have to put creativity on hold. I am reminded that one of our friends creates extraordinary rosaries while nursing a baby and another writes novels.
Mary Beth and I have spent hours looking at the art on Kimberlee's rosary site and Alice's Garden of Grace. As Kimberlee has shared her passion for creating with me in conversation, I've become more aware of how important it is to deliberately nurture creativity in a household. Posts like these make me pause and re-evaluate the atmosphere in my home. Am I giving time and attention to ensuring that creative pursuits are supported or am I just benignly allowing them to squirrel away cardboard and packing tape and calling it good? There's a place for cardboard projects,to be sure, but my children also need more from me...
And I need more. We have a house full of good writers, due, in large part to the example my husband and I set. If I never back away from the books and the keyboard, I set a one dimensional example. That's not good for the children. And it's not good for me. My soul, created in the image of the Great Creator, longs find expression in art.
Inspired by her Easter present, which was created by Kimberlee, Mary Beth reminded me again how much she wants to bead. And now I do, too! And I think that Patrick is captivated by the stones and the patterns and the place for precision in the creation of rosaries. So, we went off to buy crimping pliers and a few stones to get us going. With a creative spirit whispering in my ear and giving me a generous shove, Mary Beth and I made a simple St. Therese chaplet. I even managed to do some of it with Karoline on my lap. Admittedly, babies and toddlers can make the experience of creating a tedious one, but if I can be content not to have everything "just so" and not to complete everything according to my time constraints, we can be happily creative here.
Handcrafts, art, and music cannot not just add-ons in this lifestyle, things we get to if there's leftover time. They need to be deliberate pursuits to which time and energy are eagerly donated.
Do we get burned out because we are stuck in a predictable but controlled rut? It's simpler to make the checklist and hit the same routine of read, narrate, drill every day. This is one of the points which bothered me most about the CM Planner. There was no way to record those things that were not in the read-and-narrate or complete-a-page modes. If we are slaves to the checklist mentality, we will begin to burn out because we will drive out all creativity and recreation. (Note how "creativity" and "recreation" are such similar words.)
That is not to say that all creative pursuits are spontaneous. Indeed, you will have to plan for creativity.You will need to find supplies and instruction, mentors and direction. And you will need time. Creativity isn't as easily contained. It needs a bit of breathing room and some time to germinate. It's hard some times to "justify" taking time for "real school" for paints and papers and sewing and songs . Those creative pursuits are just as real. And they are necessary. Denying the time and opportunity to be creative is setting oneself up for burnout. John Paul II reminded us that "With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in the creative power." God is calling! Can you hear him? Put away the morning books and spend the afternoon sharing in His creative power.