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Crafting A Creative Life

Crafting A Creative Life

Hello Everyone -- We are thrilled to share with you a guest blog from Joanne Emery. She is a teacher in New Jersey and her blog is: Word Dancer. She blogs every week, usually on curiosity, imagination, connection, mindfulness and weaves that into whatever she is doing - travel, reading, or art. Her life is delightful and we are grateful for her to share this article on creativity. Something we could all use more of in our lives. Enjoy!

Since I was a child, I have loved to play with paper, pencils, scissors, and glue. I looked forward to getting that new Crayola crayon box with lovely colors like periwinkle and cornflower. I folded and cut paper making houses, people, and a whole forest of animals. As I grew, I learned fabric crafts: embroidery, sewing, weaving, and needlepoint. I enjoyed creating handmade present for my friends and family. I still have a crewel embroidered pillow I made for my mother one memorable Mother’s Day. Crafting allowed me to use my creative mind. I spent much of my time creating making and fabricating. That energy was well spent. In the process of crafting, I learned from my mistakes, kept going, and failed ever-forward. These were important lessons to learn. I became confident in my abilities and I as a result became more curious other ways to craft, build, and tinker.

As a teacher, I always included crafting as part of my curriculum. As I used crafts to enrich my math, reading, social studies, and science lessons. These projects allowed my students to solidify their foundational knowledge, because they presented concepts they had just learned in a creative way. We made quilts, water clocks, and models of colonial New York, to name a few. The children worked both individually and in small groups to show what they had learned. Along the way, they also found out how to build, sew, weave, and use many different types of tools. Crafting helped the students to be active, curious and develop their interests.

Five years ago, I created a place at my school where students could come to freely craft. The first iteration was Wonder Lab, an unused art space transformed into a makerspace. Then the space was needed for a computer and engineering lab, so I used the lobby outside my office to create Wonder Studio. The Wonder Studio is a small space where students can come during recess time to play with paper, scissors, glue, and a wide variety of crafting materials.

It seems like such a simple idea and it is, but it is so important to the children. The children never hesitate to let me know how much Wonder Studio means to them. During studio time, children can explore what interests them and create their own projects. I do not set any agenda. I just provide space, time, and materials. It always brings a smile to my face when I hear children give their opinion about Wonder Studio. They feel that it is their space, a kids’ space where they have agency. They get so excited to show me what they are working on and love coming to me to discuss a project and to work out problems. In turn, this energizes me to continue to think outside the box.

This year, we continued to have COVID restriction, which shortened the students’ time in Wonder Studio. I considered abandoning it until the following year, but the children would stop me in the hallway or during classes and ask, “When is Wonder Studio starting again? You need to get it up and running!” I could not disappoint them. I am privileged to work alongside some of the bravest and most brilliant little girls who will not take “NO!” for an answer. So, I kept offering times throughout the year, stopping occasionally when COVID restriction prevented us from meeting.

In these brief periods of time, children finger-knitted, leaved to weave, sewed stuff animals, made easels out of paper straws, beaded innumerable bracelets, decorated containers, painted bird houses, and just made beautiful messes. Beautiful mess is definitely essential to the creative process. “I need to come to Wonder Lab. My mom would never let me do this at home,” a student proclaimed as she scattered gold glitter over glue on a sign she was creating. And I am happy to provide that space, that place of wonder and curiosity where beautiful messes are made, and creativity is crafted.

     .  

This past winter, Ava, one of my 5th grade students, asked me to teach her to hand sew. She wanted to make a stuffed animal for her little sister. Over the course of three months, Ava started the slow process of designing, embroidering, and sewing a stuffed bunny. I thought she might abandon the project, but she did not. This was quite a feat because our Wonder Studio times were short, about 20 minutes, two times a week, and they were often interrupted by COVID closures. But Ava persevered, and in May she gave the little bunny to her sister. This was so gratifying to me because I taught Ava a skill that my mother had taught me. It has made me want to hone my own crafting skills, so I can be a better resources for my Wonder Studio students.   

If I hadn’t already gotten the message from my students that Wonder Studio is important to them, I was reminded by Ellie, a 2nd grader, during the last week of school. Ellie saw me in the hallway and held up one finger, “Wait right there,” she commanded. Ellie ran to her classroom, ran back to me, and handed me a card. This is what she expressed:

I keep Ellie’s card in my office, proudly on display. If I ever have a question of whether or not to continue Wonder Studio, all I have to do is reread Ellies’ words, and I know the answer.

Crafting may seem like a simple activity, the stuff of childhood, and it is. But it is also an essential part of a creative mindset. Many of the students, who are consistent participants in the Wonder Studio, are also students who sometimes find academic work more challenging. There is no doubt in my mind that crafting fosters creativity, and creativity provides an ongoing sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. This is important for all children (even grown ones). Kids thrive in a space where they can freely use their hands, hearts, and minds. I am so glad I crafted Wonder Studio so they can do just that!

Find more inspiration and read more of Joanne's work at: www.worddancerblog.com


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