Cultivating Creative Children in a Technical World

Momma dumped the box out onto the kitchen table. “Have at it,” she said.

My eyes widened at the pile of trash, before turning to my sister, Tricia, who shrugged in response. It was a scorcher out, and this was Momma’s solution in keeping us from tearing up the house. A pile of garbage dumped onto the kitchen table, empty laundry bottles, tin cans, remnants of fabric and ribbons, and stray buttons.

“Go ahead.” Momma nodded. “Make something with it.”

And with her suggestion, a trash pile, and a bottle of glue we dove in. We made farm animals and robots out of Momma’s recyclables—before recycling became a thing. Today, I suppose the practice is called upcycling; only back then it was called “crafting with what you got because nobody got money for Michaels.”

My parents cultivated creativity in their brood without realizing that’s what they were doing. They were just being parents and finding uncomplicated and cheap ways to entertain and educate us.

“Every child is an artist.”

Pablo Picasso

From My Mother:

I credit Momma for fostering our love of music. We knew when the classical music poured out of the stereo it meant ‘get the dust cloths, it’s cleaning time.’ To this day, when I smell lemon polish, I hear Bach. If my daughter, Bella, hears the genre, she’ll say, “Sounds like Nana’s house.” But Momma loved all kinds of music: Gospel, Motown, Classic rock, Folk, or Country. It just depended on the time of day. By suppertime, she’d swing her hips, stirring the pots at the stove. I imagined it helped keep her energy up.

Momma also read many novels in her car while waiting on us to finish piano lessons. She’d gather us around the piano after dinner for some good old fashioned family gospel singing. She’d play the piano while randon played his drums, and we’d all sing off key—except Momma. Unfortunately, today that would be considered corny.

 

 

“…See the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.” Exodus 35:30b-33 (ESV)

Every Christmas we received toys that would foster creativity, from sewing kits to instruments. If she didn’t know how to do something, Momma sent us to another woman who did. Our neighbor Aunt Christine (not related) taught us how to cross stitch and embroider.

When I wanted to learn how to make clothes, Momma put me in the local 4-H club, where I learned how to read a pattern and I made a wrap skirt. I was so proud of that ugly skirt that I wore it until it could no longer stay wrapped, if you know what I mean.

From My Father:

My Daddy was the writer, painter, storyteller, historian, and Bible scholar in the family. He was also a high school drop-out who became an autodidactic. Anything we wanted to know; we’d go to him—the walking encyclopedia. He spun history in a way that made me feel as if he were an eyewitness to the event. Daddy became a Confederate soldier, returning skinny and bearded from war, before he grew long black hair and became an angry Nansemond Indian who punished a thieving settler by stuffing corn down his throat until his intestines burst. Yep, his stories were good, but it took great imagination to transform Daddy into a Native American because his English/Irish skin can cast a bluish tint that’ll blind ya.

As a teenager, I treasured the few times we meandered the sacred halls of the Chrysler Museum. Daddy pointed out light and shadows, depth, and composition, including the history behind the image. I could tell which artists he respected, and which he didn’t. He’d walk on by the splashes of paint or the Campbell soup can as if they weren’t worth his time. He’d said, “If the good Lord gives you talent don’t hide it by producing junk.”

My father also challenged me in writing. He’d give me a subject to write about and after making me rewrite it over and over, he’d smile at the page and nod. “Tammy, you are a writer.” His praise felt like winning the lottery or what I imagine winning the lottery would feel like. I worked hard for his praise.

While my friends played Atari after school, or watched television, we played outside building forts in the woods, riding bikes, or climbing trees. My parents thought video games were a waste of brain and money and didn’t allow us to watch tv on school days. Naively, they thought with these rules we’d do well in school. They’d send us to our bedrooms after the supper dishes were cleaned. Unbeknownst to them, I wrote poetry, short stories, and love songs in my bedroom instead of doing homework, and my brother, Brandon, was painting at his easel.

The Effects of Technology on Children:

I’ve been thinking about how different my childhood was when compared to my children’s. As a parent I’ve had to navigate modern technology by weaving it in with a healthy dose of farm life, creativity, and sports. But what if you don’t have a farm or your child is not into sports or the arts?

Over the last 50 years researchers have measured creative thought in children and have noted a significant decrease. It’s by no coincidence this decrease coincides with the rise of technology. Could technology be harming our children? Many experts believe so. Beyond creativity, other negative impacts of technology on children are:

  1. Not learning to deal with their emotions

Go to any grocery store and you’ll see a worn-out mother with shove their phone at their screaming toddler. It works, so why not? This seemingly loving act hinders children from learning how to deal with their own emotions. Constant placating with technology can later cause anxiety-ridden teenagers who experience panic attacks, depression, or worse.

  1. Addiction

It’s also been found that children who use technology for entertainment can develop an addiction to it. This addiction is almost like a hard-wired behavior in the brain, leading to other types of addictions later in life.

  1. Shortened attention spans

Too much technology also shortens attention spans, as the brain becomes accustomed to the swipe of the finger and a new screen, anytime boredom sets in. This attention span breakdown will be evident in their grades and may lead a parent to medicate the child to become a better performer.

  1. Obesity

Technology can affect the health of our children by keeping them from fresh air and exercise, leading to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

  1. Social Anxiety

It’s been proven that social media has led to social anxiety in children and teens. Furthermore, there is a risk of not developing social skills when their primary source of communication is through a phone or tablet.

Parenting in a Hyper Techno World:

How do we, as parents, navigate this modern age of technology with our children? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 3 to 5 years should be limited to one hour per day of screen time, and that 6 years and above should be strictly limited. For children under two years old, there should be no technology introduced.

But here we are…post Covid lockdown…well for us, we are in Florida. Some poor children haven’t yet returned to school. We wonder why our children are less motivated, depressed, anti-social, and ridden with anxiety. They’ve been communicating through a screen all day (most of them probably alone, as their parents head off to work).

The warm sun ushers in better times…we hope. We parents have a choice to make; we can let our elementary-aged children continue to feed this monster that’s been released into their lives, or we can come up with ways to rebuild their creative minds, lessen their addiction, rebuild their muscles, and increase their social skills.

Ideas to Keep Kids Off of Screens:

If you’re like me and are trying to plan some summer activities to keep your younger children’s bodies moving and their minds creating, I’ve gathered some ideas from other Mommas to help. Feel free to steal them. I did.

  1. Fly kites. How to make your own kite click here: Build a Kite
  2. Make slime in your kitchen. For recipe click here: The Best Ideas for Kids
  3. Have a picnic.
  4. Look for half-day camps that interest your child.
  5. Go on a nature hunt. Hunt for leaves, acorns, sticks, feathers.
  6. Make a nature journal with the items you find. Paint pictures of the things you saw on your hunt.
  7. Explore Nature trails.
  8. Look for free sprinkler parks.
  9. Make ice cream. For 49 scrumptious recipes click here: Epicurious
  10. Find a service activity, like bringing the fire men some brownies.
  11. Sign your children up for VBS at your church or a local church.
  12. Head to a beach or a lake to swim.
  13. Swap playdates with another Mom. You take all the kids one day and she another.
  14. Arrange to pay an older child to help them earn their service hours while they entertain your child, so you can work.
  15. Give them age-appropriate chores. Kids need chores.
  16. Involve your children in menu planning and meal preparation.
  17. Go outside and take pictures of birds you see, then research them.
  18. Build things with trash. (Thanks Momma.)
  19. Have museum days.
  20. Have library and ice cream days.
  21. Build forts with bed sheets in the house.
  22. Read books in the forts or outside on a blanket.
  23. Play board games.
  24. Work on puzzles.
  25. Set up a makeshift bowling alley.
  26. Make cards for people who are having a difficult time.
  27. Go to a zoo, aquarium, or planetarium.
  28. Explore careers your child may be interested in.
  29. Have your child act out plays of Bible stories.
  30. Get creative with sidewalk chalk and play hopscotch.
  31. Plant a garden and maintain it.
  32. Make a spaceship from a cardboard box.
  33. Paint a canvas
  34. Let him or her redesign the old clothes they’ve outgrown.
  35. Make a dress up box
  36. Keep a craft box on hand.
  37. Go on bike rides.
  38. Catch fireflies.
  39. Go fishing.
  40. Visit a farm and ride horses.
  41. Have water balloon and water guns fights.
  42. Have your child learn a new language.
  43. Learn about food from different countries by cooking different meals.
  44. Let your children dig in the dirt. Make roads for their matchbox cars and mud pies.
  45. Play treasure hunt. You hide things they have to find.
  46. Do activity books like Highlights and grade prep books.
  47. Have a movie night with popcorn.
  48. Make a collage with mixed media
  49. Make jewelry for kids in hospital.
  50. Learn a new sport.
  51. Sit under the stars and point out the constellations.
  52. Find the pictures in the clouds.
  53. Make a puppet stage using a box and put on a puppet shoe with stuffed animals.
  54. Play in the rain, splash in the puddles.
  55. Interview neighbors from different cultures.

The Flip Side of Technology:

On the flip side, technology in small amounts has some benefits. There are multiple educational programs, games that develop hand-eye coordination, programs that boost creative thinking, such as building games, and websites to help with reading and comprehension.

Now that summer has started for my kids. I’m setting the summertime rules for Bella. She must do chores, exercise, read, and do a creative activity every day to have a small amount of technology time.

I hope you find the list above useful, and if you’d like to read more about the effects of technology on children’s development, you can check out the following articles.

Harvard Health Publishing

Florida Tech Online

I’d love to hear some ways you plan to keep your kids active this summer. Let’s hear your ideas in the comments.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Tammy Carter Adams is the founder of The Hallelujah House. She resides in Orlando, Florida with her husband and two of her four children, who have yet to leave the nest. When she’s not writing she enjoys painting and finding inspiration in the outdoors.  If you’d like to connect with Tammy personally, she’d love to hear from you. You can find her contact information under the “About Us” tab at the top of the homepage.

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