"Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, MOM! Look at my skyscraper." I’m not an early childhood expert, elementary teacher, or super nanny. I can’t point to grown children as proof that I am a brilliant baby raiser. I’m in the early to middle stretch of the parenting journey, and I’m just learning as I go. BUT, I am more confident with my knowledge as an architectural designer and artist. I have taught 21 year-old big kids how to design sweet buildings, all the while answering their questions about success in grad school and early career opportunities as we made our way through a semester of architecture studio together. Since that’s what I know, that’s part of what I teach my kids. I like to smoosh together architecture studio and play time. It’s fun, and gives kids skills they can use in the future.
What makes for the most successful architecture students? The ability to generate a solid idea. Then, successful students have the persistence to test the idea and stick with it until it works. Or, realize the idea doesn't work, toss it, and try a new idea. It’s this process of coming up with and trying ideas that can be taught throughout a lifetime and will help kids succeed in architecture - or any field they might choose. Creative problem solving is a very valuable tool to have in your career toolbox. Playtime for kids is a chance to jump into the idea making process, enjoy it, get comfortable with it, and have a ton of fun. As the mamas, all we have to do is keep our eyes open for ways this can happen and encourage it.
Following are just eight simple ideas to help you get started.
1. Set your kids loose with random craft supplies and no instructions. I often open up a tote of supplies, hand them some glue, and go get my own work done while they experiment. I'm not saying step-by-step crafts and instructions in art technique aren't important, it's just that I see my kids getting tons of great structured activities in school and Sunday school. I just also want them to be able to say, "I'm making a puppet, and I will need these four materials to do the job."
2. Yes, that makes a mess. Sometimes, you might need to allow for a mess. The creative process can be a little messy, but along with it you can set some messiness guidelines and the kids can help clean up. They can help toss the supplies back in the tote and wipe down the table. If they tore apart the room to create a fort, let them enjoy it for an afternoon and then help put everything back together. If they have to help clean up, they’ll probably learn a little self-regulation along the way.
3. Let them get bored. While researching women’s lives throughout history, I’ve noticed that historically, women have had tons of work to get done and the kids played nearby or had their own responsibilities at the same time. While this really happened out of the need to survive in years gone by, and not always in the healthiest of situations, we now have the luxury of creating a healthy environment for independence and balancing it in a way that works best for our kids. The idea of mom as a baby entertainer is a relatively new concept. It’s good for your kids to see you also working at something of your own, whatever that might be. It’s good for them to find things to do. Yes, spend quality time together, but also let them come up with their own ideas sometimes. Right when my kids are driving me bonkers because they are bored, they are often about ten minutes away from coming up with a fun new game.
4. Creative toys are great to have, as you might have guessed. We love any building toys in our house, such as Legos, Duplos, Magna-Tiles, classic wooden blocks, SnapCircuits, K’Nex, etc. In addition, other creative toys such as costumes and fort kits are also awesome.
5. Collect recyclables, found materials, and repurposed items for use as toys. In other words, play with sticks, rocks, and boxes. My son has a small folding table covered in recyclables and old electronics glued together. He calls this his laboratory and it has been his pride and joy for years. Lately, he’s been creating spy gear out of cereal boxes and paper towel rolls. Such basic building blocks offer limitless possibilities. Being able to look at a simple box and see tons of opportunity is a solid step toward being an idea person.
6. Get them out into the world. The more kids have a chance to get out and see how the world works, the more material they’ll have to draw on for ideas. It can be as simple as going to the library, or a museum, going for a hike, going camping, taking them into the city to explore.
7. Read a ton. Just like with number 6, the more kids read and learn, the more ideas they have in their memory bank to draw on. Good ideas are often not something completely brand new, but rather, being able to adapt the right solution to the problem based on something they’ve already seen. No need to reinvent the wheel, just apply good solutions that have proven successful before.
8. Give kids opportunities to solve problems. Let them help find a way to organize their own rooms, decorate their rooms, come up with their own compromises in sibling conflicts, find their own process for getting a chore done, or manage their time. Of course, many or most times we might need to give guidance or give them answers based on their age, but if there’s a good opportunity for them to problem solve, let them.
God has given each child unique talents and abilities. This is true. At the same time, he has given us the gift of learning. Knowledge and skills can be developed and learned. Get out there and have some fun with creative thinking. Encourage your kids to explore all the potential ways they might match their interests and skills with a future career as an architect - or teacher, doctor, pastor, professor, social worker, engineer, cook, contractor, librarian, administrator, mother...