When I was a young girl, my family did not have a lot of money and I remember how proud they were when they were able to buy a new bedroom suite for my sister and me. I didn’t say anything, but in truth, I hated the furniture—there were lots and lots of drawers with very little room between all the drawers and the bed. If I had been consulted, I would have asked for the following (besides the bed): a work table, tall open shelves, and a backyard with a tree. Those would have supported my young creative mind. (Of course, other children will have other preferences!) My parents meant well—and, as a parent and grandparent myself, I know we sometimes miss the mark with our children.
Many years ago, Susan Marcus (then Russell) and I wrote a book entitled, Everychild’s Everyday, published by Doubleday. Our aim was to help parents become more child-centered by observing their child’s favorite activities and areas of interest—particularly when they were engaged in creative activities. Then we provided many suggestions for creating environments and other resources in the home that supported their child’s unique creative mind.
Nowadays there are movements, such as “The Third Teacher,” that extend that idea to the community level and beyond: Investigate the needs and special characteristics of a place and help them design an environment that supports their goals and dreams.
For 15 years I worked with a USAID-funded program, SEED, in San Antonio. Teachers from rural areas in Latin America came to our country to study for a year and then returned to be change agents in their communities and countries. Many of them did not have potable water, electricity, books or paper at their schools. We put our energies into helping support their creativity and giving them opportunities to experiment with environments they might replicate at home. One idea was to help them see how the sometimes amazing natural environments in their countries could be classrooms where they could teach, not just science, but creative writing and other subjects as well. The social and cultural aspects they grew up with were also places where learning could be extended into social studies, social-emotional development, literature and other subjects. With them we found creative ways to use simple and recycled materials to make spaces and manipulatives for learning.
The best activities we did were to help them transform both the classroom they were in with me and additional temporary buildings to reinforce learning and create libraries and interactive spaces. We even hooked up Skype between one room and another so that they could practice sharing best environment ideas between countries.
Through social media, I keep in touch with many of the over 400 teachers with whom I worked and am gratified to see them continuing to use their creativity to create places where children and ideas can thrive.
In the USA, many of us have access to various forms of technology which are also potentially useful in creating a context for creativity. I hope you as parents and teachers will seek out ways you can create new environments—high tech, high touch, etc.,–to inspire individuals and communities of learners.