How To Consciously Be a Role Model in Creativity, Curiosity, and Crafting for Children
"When you finish the tapestry, it's my turn!"
My 4-year-old son leaned over the table, watching intently as I wove a long, blue strip of fabric through the warp strings on my lap loom. He had repeated those words often—he wanted to try the activity that Mom was clearly enjoying.
True to his word, when I finished the small tapestry two days later, he eagerly helped me set up the warp for his turn. He helped cut scrap fabric into strips to use as the weft. We spent a good hour weaving together the first day as he learned the over-under over-under rhythm.
Months later, he hasn't finished his tapestry yet. But that's okay. The process is what's important. The loom sits on a shelf when he's not weaving, waiting for his interest to be piqued again. Recently, he has shown a renewed interest in finishing it and worked at the loom for over an hour, adding purple rows.
A life of creativity
I want my children to be creative and curious. I want them to know how to make things and work with their hands. I want doing projects to come naturally.
I also want them to be intrinsically motivated to pursue creative projects—which means I can't force it.
(Read my post about motivating children and my reviews of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Children More Control Over Their Lives.)
Learning through imitation
Fortunately, children imitate what adults do. They play what they see. They play to explore, learn, and understand. They play to try out adult activities. This is, incidentally, why so many children play house and cook food in play kitchens. It's also why my children once spent half an hour cleaning tables, counters, and baseboards with rags and soap, all of their own accord. Children love to participate in the adult world.
(Read my review of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.)
We are all inspired by the activities and people around us. We emulate what we want to become—an insight as old as Aristotle, who knew that we need role models to build virtue. An interest in weaving doesn't pop into being on its own; we need exposure to ideas and examples.
These ideas can come from many places: books, media, podcasts, conversations, observations. Many flavors of homeschooling, especially unschooling, incorporate the idea of "strewing", i.e., putting materials, resources, books, and other things potentially of interest where your children will encounter them, in hopes that something may spark their interest. Sudbury schools and many self-directed education approaches take this farther: children are placed in contexts where they are surrounded by other people—peers and adults—who are doing things, and it is assumed that they will engage in those things, too, when they are interested.
Consciously providing role models
Because children learn through imitation, model the behavior you want to see. If you want to spark curiosity, be curious yourself. If you want them to become literate, show them your enjoyment of literacy, such as picking out new books at the library and reading books yourself. If you want children to engage in projects, engage in projects yourself.
To that end, I try to make time for my interests and projects, and I try to find ways to include my children in those activities.
When cooking and baking together, the kids help buy groceries, chop vegetables, measure, and stir. They plant seeds and harvest herbs and fruit from the garden, and help with all kinds of yard work—such as assembling the chicken coop or digging holes for planting blueberries. They paint and draw with me. If I'm making a rag rug, they help tear the rags. Randy set up a laptop for the kids to learn about his work. Sometimes, when the kids are playing, I keep them company while reading a book, or working out ideas in a notebook.
Sure, there are trade-offs in time. Many things are less efficient when you involve children. But if I make two rag rugs this winter instead of five, that's fine. Because my goal for most of these projects isn't to complete them as efficiently as possible. It's to do them while encouraging and inspiring my children.