Parent Educator and Author, Elaine Heffner once said, "The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children."
For our first big trip overseas with three young kids in tow, we stayed with family who manage a missionary hospital and orphanage in central India. The orphanage currently houses 60 girls from 6 years of age.
WHAT WE DID:
Before we embarked on this life changing journey, we decided to raise some funds for the orphanage. When my 7 and 4 year old sons brought some artwork home from school (and amazed me with their creativity), I curated a few and designed them into celebratory cards for birthdays, Christmas and the Chinese New Year with Vistaprint, online. We sold the cards at our local community group and celebrations, raising enough to pay the school fees for two of the girls for the coming year.
LET'S CREATE EXPERIENCES!
When the boys presented the cheque to the very excited girls at their annual Christmas function, I felt so proud of them and I could see they felt pretty special to have helped support the orphanage. The boys enjoyed the simple living so much that they didn't want to leave when it was time to say farewell. They were amazed at the incredibly poor conditions but still thriving people of the hospital and orphanage.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
Needless to say, this exceptionally enriching experience and many others in India gave the boys the opportunity to learn invaluable life lessons including empathy and tolerance and obtaining the virtues of kindness and humility. It was great to see their emotional intelligence kicking in when I heard the older one tell the younger one that they shouldn't eat the Cornettos that the orphanage gifted them with, in front of the girls, as the girls could not afford to eat them. They chomped down the melting ice-creams soon after we left the orphanage. Now that was some new found self-control for one of their favourite desserts right there!
We're thinking this creative project for our wider community might become an annual Christmas tradition - please email me if you would like to pursue a similar project! I would love to explore more creative ideas for community and encourage 'the art of living' to my kids. Hope to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section.
Dinosaurs, digging and tools are a few of my boys' favourite things. So, when they discovered how to create mini ice excavations to free frozen dinosaurs, it was NEXT LEVEL!
This STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) and sensory play has since become the kids' favourite activity not only because it's fun and easy to do but it also helps them to focus on something engaging, quickly. There is nothing quite like hammering away at blocks of ice to unwind and release energy – for both kids and parents!
Now, we always keep an ice tray full of frozen creatures. Preferably, near the ice packs for injuries in our freezer. What is the method behind the madness? When the kids (or I) feel grumpy or get a bump, we quite literally break ice as an ‘ice-breaker’ and a distraction from the stinging pain of cold ice pack on owie!
In fact, experts advise the art of distraction is often effective to help calm kids down, especially when they are hurting or need to let go of tension. Now, even the kids' play-dates request this fun, easy and engaging activity when they come over. A win-win for everyone :) Learn how we do it, below.
WHAT WE USE:
Invite the kids to place a creature figure in each open space of the ice tray. Then, help them to pour water into each space and put the ice tray in the freezer. When the water has frozen, remove the ice tray from the freezer and extract the ice blocks onto a large surface (preferably on the ground, outside). Then, let the kids excavate away at the ice blocks with their toy tools to free the fossilized bugs or dinosaurs! Another option is to use water sprays to slowly melt the ice blocks. My kids also like to find different things to freeze to keep it interesting, such as tiny trinkets and water beads.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
Not only is this activity an effective distraction and releases energy, it also develops skills such as:
Artist and Engineer, Leonardo Da Vinci once said, 'Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.' He demonstrated this by creatively combining and connecting science and art to make important discoveries.
Why does this matter? STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focused on science concepts. Kids who learn creative methods with STEAM (including Art within the acronym) make connections between concepts, learn to inquire and problem-solve in new and exciting ways.
Today, creative methods are acknowledged more than ever as vital for future-ready employees and as a life skill. One way I incorporate STEAM into play for my three kids is with marbles - encouraging creativity and challenging their engineering skills.
The kids and I were inspired to create our own version of Marble Runs and Trampolines from this post on Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls - thank you so much Mama Sarah for your amazing ideas that helped to grow my kids basic understanding of physics concepts.
WHAT WE USE:
Try dropping a marble on a balloon to see it bounce! Then get to work creating marble runs that include your trampolines! Our first track was simple, and we used wooden blocks to support the wooden bridge train tracks. We also used masking tape to attach the paper towel rolls to the blocks.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
Not only is this a great collaborative and engineering activity, but a great way to learn physics concepts and observation skills for older kids. My sons enjoyed tackling the following challenges I gave them:
I would love to hear what you think in the comments section!
Go to Amazing Mazes, Painting with Marbles and Sensory Play with Light for some more creative STEAM activities.
Once upon a time, boys who engaged in creative play and hobbies that were perceived as feminine, like crafting or cooking, were ridiculed. They were often dismissed as 'being boys' who did not have the patience to sit still for long periods or follow instructions in order to create. They were not given the opportunity to express their true potential.
So, many boys stopped channeling their creativity and turned off an intrinsic ability that all infants – boys and girls – naturally possess.
Thankfully, we have moved on from believing that boys are limited in their abilities to create and innovate! However, studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270278/) still show that boys are more successful at Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). One of my greatest intentions is to debunk the facts and tune into my boys’ creativity, using STEAM (including Art within the acronym), instead.
Kids who often practice creative pursuits in life (such as writing, singing, crafting, painting and dancing) generally feel more empowered because they are more thoughtful, reflective, happier, interesting and build greater confidence.
Today, creativity is acknowledged more than ever as a vital life skill to make connections between concepts, learn to inquire, problem-solve and challenge the norm in new and exciting ways for future-ready employees.
After inspiring creativity in both my boys and delighting in experiencing their creative juices flow, I have the pleasure in proving my prediction and have curated my creative insights to help empower you to engage with your boys, here:
Who would have thought 9 years with my two beautiful boys would help to affirm my own creativity? I am grateful to do it all over again now, with my toddling daughter!
Of course, little boys are naturally active. To help increase your boy’s attention span and keep his focus, it is best to start early and encourage experimenting with different creative pursuits for short periods of time.
How do you get creative with your boys?
Here's a Lego maze that will amaze your kids! Mazes are fun and a great creative activity to encourage kids to apply basic Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) concepts into their play. To learn more about STEAM, go to Fun Marble Runs!
Mazes are also great for improving fine motor skills. They can be crafted, for example, out of a large cardboard box lid and straws or built from Lego. The boys raided their Lego box for some of the mazes pictured above.
WHAT WE USE:
Making sure that the path remains about 4 studs wide to comfortably fit a regular size marble, let your kids experiment with how they construct their selected lego pieces on to the lego flat board. Use different length legos shapes until they're happy with their completed maze. Then place the marble at the start of the maze and tip the flat board in the angle that the marble path is constructed to enable the marble to roll towards the finish line.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
This is an opportune activity for the kids to work together and collaborate on their ideas of how to construct the maze, what blocks to use or how complex they want to make it. They can even devise how tall the walls should be in order to prevent the marble from falling out!
Go to Painting with Marbles and Sensory Play with Light for some more creative STEAM activities.
When kids engage in creative pursuits in life (such as art, craft, writing or dancing) they are better at self-expression and have higher emotional intelligence. This is because they have a safe and welcoming (creative) space to explore and understand their emotions. Read more about how Creativity can Empower your Kids here.
Dr Laura Markham, trained clinical psychologist and founder of Aha Parenting advises we teach our kids that:
When my younger son has trouble expressing his emotions, he sometimes act out by yelling his frustration. This is because his brain has not developed fully to physically control his wild emotions. He doesn't even know his behaviour is inappropriate in a full-scale meltdown. Child development expert, Daniel J. Siegel suggests that “connection should be our first response in virtually any disciplinary situation.”
WHAT I USE:
It's not easy to drop whatever I am doing and become very present and empathetic to my son's needs but it is my most successful way in making him feel safe enough to express his tears and feel the fears that may be driving his anger. Holding him close, I acknowledge how he is feeling. He knows someone understands, which makes him feel just a bit better, so he's more likely to cooperate. He knows he doesn't have to yell or act out to be heard.
Engaging in creative ways together with my kids is also an integral part of my connection with them. In order to help them cope with their emotions whilst limiting their actions, I connect with them via a visualisation technique I created. When my son is willing to listen, I compassionately invite him to visualise an Airport Control Tower trying to help land planes safely, during stormy weather at the airport. The Airport Control Tower is his brain's Emotional Control Tower and the planes are his hands, feet and mouth.
I help him understand that just as we can't control the stormy weather, we don't usually have a choice about what we are feeling. However, the Airport Control Tower can control the planes flying around it and similarly, our brain's Emotional Control Tower can control how we use our limbs and voice. Our brain can choose to land our limbs safely by our sides and control the volume of our voice, during the storm. In time, the stormy weather will pass and so will our stormy feelings. They always do.
CONNECT & INSPIRE...
This holistic visualisation usually engages my son's imagination because he loves aircrafts and begins to focus on what types of planes his limbs could be. This dissipates the desperation in his emotional outburst and helps him to feel in 'control' of his emotions, which he often expresses to me when he is ready. That is, until the next time a new challenge filled with new emotions he is unable to control comes his way!
Before that happens, it's time for a big glass of water to boost my own oxygenation and patience power...knowing that one day he will be able to 'control' his emotions because he has a healthy, expressible emotional life (like my older son) makes it worth the effort and wait!
Read Ice Excavation & The Art of Distraction for another technique your kids can use to let go of tension and release energy. How do you help your kids with their emotions? I would love to hear from you in the comments section!
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