The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

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I do not feel like I am a creative person, at least when it comes to creating “something” from bare materials. Although as a teenager I learned how to embroider and I even had been known to sew myself a skirt, today I find myself impatient with the slow pace of those tasks. I took a pottery class and a drawing class at some point during high school, but those two artistic talents also try my patience so much that the pitiful end result is rather discouraging. Further, I have horrible handwriting, so my posters and cards are normally made from prints-outs from the computer. When I moved to Australia, I gave up on scrapbooking because Internet albums are much prettier and I’m online a lot so I can see them anytime.

Let’s face it: I’m a blogger and want-to-be photographer who rarely takes photographs (but I like tweaking them in Photoshop: instant results). I like to use computers creatively, but I do not create things completely from scratch.  I know that practice makes perfect. But I don’t have patience to practice.

And yet, I have a two-year-old. He loves to “help” me cook, so I’ve turned to Play-Doh during those times when he’s really just in the way. Then I wanted him to make his grandparents a Christmas present, so we’ve been playing with markers and wooden ornaments for weeks. And he loves it.

So, thanks to my son’s budding creativity, I decided to pick up The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule, which Lisa and Eva reviewed recently. In some respects, I found Soule’s book to be a life-shifting book for me as a mother.

No, I’m not suddenly going to be become a proponent of “unschooling” as Soule is. Soule’s philosophies are a bit extreme for me. But Soule’s book was, for me, a creative recharge that I needed. She shares my opinion that kids don’t need big plastic toys with batteries to have a happy Christmas childhood. She helped me see what I could do with my son instead.

Interspersed with gorgeous photos of her children and their creative projects and pursuits, Soule discusses what creative things mothers can do with small children. She focuses on the materials, including how to be resourceful. She explores the ways in which art can be play, how art encourages imagination, and the ways that children can create gifts we can be proud of. She explores how the arts can be the center point of mothering, and she talks about how creative output can connect a family together.

As I look back now, I can’t recall what specific thing in this short (215-page) book spurred me into action. Was it the idea of creating a “station” for a child to call his own creative corner?  Was it the sample projects she shared, with patterns? Or was it the pictures of rather beautiful art created by her very young children? At any rate, I feel motivated to stop delegating my son’s care to toys and movies. It’s time I help him create in whatever ways I can.

When I see him discover Play-Doh or crayons, his eyes light up in delight and I know that for him the end result isn’t what matters. For him, it’s the joy of creating, of putting a marker on the paper and seeing a line appear. I don’t even have to purchase a coloring book for that light to come into his eyes: I need to hand him a crayon and a paper.

For Christmas, I was aiming for low-key, since I don’t think Christmas should be primarily about gifts. Now I’m feeling rather embarrassed by the idea, but I was going to give my son a second-hand plastic castle a friend gave me. It’s in good shape, and I think he’d really enjoy playing with it. It has all sorts of reactions: touch this and the stairs unfold, etc. But it was huge and ugly, so I took it to Goodwill this week.

Instead, I’m setting up a bulletin board near his desk in the playroom to become a new “creative corner.” I bought watercolors, and we have markers, crayons, Play-Doh, etc. I’m also making a felt “weather board” for his bedroom, so every morning when we look outside, we can choose the sun or the snowflakes or the rain or the clouds. I feel like I’ve suddenly gone insane with creative ideas for my little son. (I’ll post pictures of my creations if all turns out all right.)

For the record, my son does not have a lot of plastic toys. But he has some, and if I took away his choo-choo train and cars, he’d certainly let me know he is upset. Besides, he uses them in a creative way:

If you can’t tell, that’s one of the Wise Men (from the Little People Nativity) driving in the train. They choo-choo up to the stable, the people get on, and then my son waves “Bye! Bye” to Mary and Jesus before the train leaves again. (P.S. I hope you don’t find that offensive or irreverent. I personally think the Little People Nativity is great because I don’t want my son touching any of my other nativities, and I have about a dozen non-touchables. The Little People Nativity is his to play with for December as consolation. Besides, he apparently understands that Jesus stays and the Wise Men come to visit. He’s learning the story!)

Are you creating gifts this Christmas?

I noticed that Chris at book-a-rama has a list of homemade ideas for you if you’re feeling creative!

Reviewed on December 10, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile now. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Ever since my girl was a toddler, I made sure she had craft supplies. It doesn’t have to be much- I love the dollar stores for things like pom-poms (not a fan of glitter though!). The weather board sounds really cool.

    Crafting is still a big part of her playtime even though she has a lot of other stuff. Drawing is her latest hobby. The only problem is we go through shameful amounts of paper.

  • Okay. I’m going to try to word this comment carefully, so that it doesn’t come off as offensive. I was reading what you put up top – about how you don’t consider yourself creative because you don’t create things from bare materials. I personally have a hard time considering lots of crafting-type things “creative.” They CAN be. A person can be very creative about what they scrapbook or sew or make. But oftentimes, people follow a pattern and make what was given them, and I don’t find that creative at all. For example, two years ago before thanksgiving, my aunt bought a bunch of kits to make a beaded craft to look like Indian corn as a decoration. They turned out really nice, but I’ve had some people say “oh look, that’s so creative.” Sure, maybe for the person who thought up the craft, but for me? For my aunt and the other people making them? No. There was absolutely no imagination involved. There was just following directions. There was no more creativity there than there is setting up a DVD player or changing the oil in your car.

    To me, creativity is about imagination. If you’re putting your imagination into whatever you’re doing, then you’re being creative. Your son’s train-and-nativity hashup – very creative. I like it. It shows imagination.

    Like I said, I don’t want to come off offensive in this comment. I admire people who can follow patterns and make beautiful things from it. They are very skilled, and a skill is nothing to laugh at. It IS different from being very creative, though. Creative is if they make the pattern up themselves and figure out how to work through it. When I do crafty stuff with my kids (which isn’t often enough, because I’m a terribly un-crafty person), I always try to make the distinction between following directions and using imagination.

  • Chris, that is so much fun! It sounds like you’ve been really good at encouraging it. Good thing reams of paper aren’t that expensive, huh?!

    Amanda, I think you captured why I cook but don’t call myself a cook. I can follow recipes and it tastes pretty good, but I can’t open the fridge and make something from what’s there like my husband can. I’m working on that though.

    I think you have great points! I think that’s why I liked the reminder that I don’t need coloring books or even patterns to make things with my son. I think she did a pretty good job of pointing out ways to nurture the imagination side of creating crafts. You are right about it being better not to have to follow a pattern, I think. And I’ll try to keep your points in mind as I try to nurture our creativity — it’s about imagination as well as skill!

  • This sounds like a lovely book. I’m not very creative at all, but I’m trying to do crafty thikng with my two boys (2 and 4). At the moment we are making all our Christmas cards and they are loving it.

    I also enjoy cooking with them, as then we have lots of nice things to eat.

    I think it would be nice to have a book like this to provide me with some more inspiration. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • This sounds like an amazing book! The creative process is really central to both my partner’s life and my own (I’m a knitwear designer; he’s a web designer) and when/if we have kids I know that’s something we’ll want to pass on…or at least give the child the opportunity to adopt for his or herself. It sounds like Soule has some great suggestions about how to do that. I wish *I* had a creativity corner! 🙂

    Re: Amanda’s point about following patterns, I kind of agree but I would also point a few things out. One thing I’m realized since starting to design knitting patterns is that many people FEAR creativity so much that even making something exactly as a pattern dictates is a big risk for them. People have emailed me asking permission to substitute a different color of the same yarn for the one I used in the sample. I write back and try to impress on them that they have total freedom – they can substitute any yarn they want, or change the neck and hemline, or just use my colorwork chart to make a pillow instead of a sweater. But people who are just starting on the creative journey need a lot of hand-holding and encouragement. For them, those craft kits might be a helpful first step, so I don’t think they (the kits) should be discounted completely. And if you’re following a sewing pattern or knitting pattern, there’s still tons of room for creativity there in terms of modifications to the pattern, yarn/fabric choice, the addition of pockets/linings/French seams/piping/applique/etc. Even the choice of one pattern over another involves imagination – I often choose based on the stories that different garments conjure up in my head.

    Anyway, sorry for taking your blog comment conversation off-topic, Rebecca! I bet you & your son will have a lovely Christmas.

  • Rebecca, about it being “better not to have to follow a pattern”, remember that this is a skill issue as much as a creativity issue, and that following patterns (such as recipes when cooking) is a good way to increase skill.

    I just think we all need a balance between using patterns to learn new things and using our creativity in how we apply that knowledge. Coloring books is great for learing to color within the lines, which is a good motor skill to practise from time to time. 🙂

  • I really enjoyed the book, and I LOVE her blog, but I find I haven’t done much in the way of execution on the ideas. I WANT to be more creative with the boys, but I find that it takes a lot of time. We did make the fairy house this summer and it was a lot of fun. I asked for an easel for the boys for Christmas, so hopefully we’ll get more art in soon.

    And a note about plastic toys- I don’t have a problem at all with plastic toys. I have a problem with CHEAP toys. I find the Playmobil sets to be the best toys out there. My son plays for HOURS with his “guys”- mixing in both the Playmobil guys and any other figure he finds. I think they are just as valuable as the wooden version of the same thing- pirates, knights, guys. I do hate the $1 version, they cheap crap from dollar stores and the bins at big stores. But I don’t think plastic in general hampers creativity.

  • I didn’t mean to say that not following a pattern was better in any way. I hope that’s not what I implied – I wrote that right after I first woke up this morning. All I meant to do is differentiate between skill and creativity. Both are wonderful things to have, but one does not necessarily imply the other (either way). Someone can be creative but have no skill at all in what they’re creating, and someone can create something beautiful by following a pattern exactly – which is skill. That’s the distinction I was making. I didn’t mean to imply that one is necessarily better than the other.

    I agree with what Emily said about how kits can be a great jumping off point – to skill or to creativity or to both – and there is tons of room for creativity within a certain craft, even when following a pattern. Again, I hope I didn’t imply otherwise. 🙂

  • I always liked to make stuff as a kid but that patience didn’t carry over. I tried scrapbooking and never made more than one page lol. I wish I had learned some kind of craft like knitting or something to give away at Christmas!

  • Wow, good luck! I don’t have kids, but if/when I do, I would really like to raise them this way. Your creative corner idea sounds fun!

    Here is another book that you might like (it is less specifically about family, but still really great); it’s called 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity. I had a similar eye-opening experience when I read this book. It inspired me to be creative even though I thought that I usually wasn’t.

  • Isn’t the book just so inspirational? My niece is visiting right now, and I’m her full-time care giver for the next couple of weeks, and between ideas from this book and a book called Unplugged Play, we’ve been having a blast! 😀 One of the things I loved about the book is how much Soule values aesthetics…I think sometimes in our culture we’re taught that to focus on the beauty of something is superficial. But really, there’s something magical about high-quality stuff, even if it’s not expensive, that just can’t be replaced.

  • I love your idea about down sizing Christmas and creating a craft corner for your son, don’t be embarrassed because it’s soemthing tons of people think about but then don’t follow through with because they feel people will jduge them tight. And the felt weatherboard sounds lovely, for next year you might also consider getting a felt advent calendar, which come with little pockets and felt things to pull out. Lots of crafters make them and you can support creativity, even if you’re not making it yourself 🙂

  • Jackie, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Emily, I did not know that about you! How fun to be so creative all the time! And I understand about the patterns, as that is how I feel about cooking. I think we need a skill before we can branch out on our own! Crazy, though, that people would contact you to make sure changing the COLOR is OK, though. that’s funny.

    Kathy, yes, we are!!

    Paula, good point, I think I should take back what I said. And yes, once my son knows how to color in the lines (right now he scribbles), maybe I’ll make him a coloring book 🙂

    Lisa, Good point about the CHEAP toys. I admit most of the plastic toys I get are second hand — and I just don’t want any more of them! We like Little People, though. I think those are pretty well put together, most of the time.

    I’m not crazy about the blog, but then I tend to dislike Mommy blogs in general.

    Amanda, I think that’s what I said, sorry to put the wrong words in your mouth. I normally wait a while before responding, but I’d responded right away to that…

    I’m so uncrafty, I think I need patterns for most things! But this week I’m learning that even that can be fun because as you say, maybe I’m developing a skill.

    Ladytink, same with me and the scrapbooking. It gets old for me.

    Maire, thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have to remember that one.

    Eva, oooo Unplugged Play sounds wonderful. I found a couple of “toddler games” books at the library but they are very generic and rather disappointing. Always looking for more ideas! Have fun with your niece!

    Jodie, I had a felt Christmas advent calendar when I was growing up! It had a Christmas tree and each pocket had an ornament to put on it. I was looking to buy one but can’t find one so pretty. I guess I”ll have to be ambitious and try to MAKE one. Now, that scares me….

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