Teaching Children to be Creators, and not just Consumers

As a person living in 21st century America, it might seem that our whole existence revolves around consuming. We consume readily available food and drink, we buy clothes and items for our household, and we consume larger than ever amounts of media in all its different forms. Truly, if we are honest with ourselves, we spend much of our time each day in “consumer mode” without a second thought. Consuming is not an evil in and of itself, but it can become addictive and can lead us to become lazy and passive about our daily lives. Whereas our ancestors grew their own food, sewed their own clothes, and built their own homes, most of us buy food produced by someone else, clothes sewn by someone else, and homes built by someone else. Whereas communities relied on each other in the past for entertainment and the communication of information, we can now plug into a vast network from the convenience of our own homes and never connect with another person in the process. The more I think about this, the more stark the contrast becomes in my mind, and the more it makes me wonder about the psychological and practical implications for individuals, families, and society at large.

At a recent Open House at my son’s new school, one of the teachers made the comment that they are striving to teach our sons to be Creators, and not merely Consumers. They will emphasize creating in every aspect of the school year, from the classroom to the art and music studios to the playing field. This idea struck a cord in me, and I immediately began to think of all of the ways that God calls us to cooperate in His work of Creation, even as he has given us (out of His goodness) many good things to enjoy and care for. I began to think of all of the mothers I know who, against the grain of our modern world, have found it important to create beautiful things within their own homes. These women grow vegetables in their backyards, knit blankets and sew dresses, create delicious homemade meals, paint bedrooms, and make lesson plans for their children. I thought of my own husband, who likes to fix and build things even when it would be easier to hire someone else to do these tasks. I thought about the fulfillment that I get from things like playing the piano, writing in my journal or for this blog, and making pizza for my family – all of these are ways of creating, and they are good.

The joy of creating, with Play-dough

When we take the time to create, we learn about ourselves and about God, who is the source of all that is good. We also become more mindful of the things that we consume, and more thankful for their presence in our lives and for those who have created them. We realize the work that goes into creating, especially the things that we ourselves could not create (roads, buildings, sewer pipes, great works of art, musical masterpieces, etc.), and the inherent dignity that is attached to this work. Ultimately, this awareness makes us more fully human, and compels us to strive for a society in which all work is honored.

Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on all of these things, and I would love to hear your ideas on how to imbue a love of creating, and a proper appreciation for consuming, into our children.

Mary, Queen of Families, pray for us!

  • http://happilyeverjohnson.blogspot.com Queen B

    This is a wonderful, encouraging reflection, Kat. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://thisaintthelyceum.org Kelly Mantoan

    I think so much of what kids engage in today is passive entertainment, like TV or handheld video games. Restricting passive entertainment allow our kids to participate in more active, creative play. Impromptu scavenger hunts, intense plastic army men battles and dressing up dolls for a night with Prince Charming; I hope all these things instill in my children at a young age the knowledge that they can create things for themselves. As for how to reign in their consumer tendencies, I am curious to read others suggestions as well.

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

    I think that there is also something wonderful that happens when we create something together. When I had 4 tiny ones, I would bake with the oldest most afternoons while the others napped. He learned a real skill (tomorrow he will bake his own birthday cake), but we also had such a nice cozy time creating something and he was always proud to serve the banana bread or cookies to the other kids when they got up. Creativity and service really go hand in hand, and I have always hoped that my children’s self esteem would come from being service oriented people rather than consumers or winners.
    With piano, my kids play with a group at the nursing home a few times a year, and this year we are trying to plan an evening of lessons and carols at the Catholic retirement home, as a way to share our talents. I have one child who is very praise driven, and she wants to perform a lot, which is just fine, but again I want to try to channel that into thinking of service rather than self aggrandizement.
    I don’t know if this is really related, but Lego for Girls have made their way into our life, and I am surprised to be really happy about it. At first I was disgusted and thought it was sexist to have Legos for girls, but then I realized that my girls were always building houses out of Legos and would like to have more house accessories for their Lego play. In our family, Lego is the best toy ever, they work together for hours and hours, and I am happy to have the girls more engaged in it now, because I think it is just fine for us to acknowledge that there is something in them that is more interested in decorating a home than building a space craft. And, because of the learning that goes on with Legos, they may be more likely to grow up to be real engineers, even if they started on pink Legos.

  • Kellie “Red”

    First, I think think this is an excellent post and a great topic. Nice work Katrina!

    As for my thoughts, I agree that children should be creators, rather than consumers. I think allowing children plenty of free time to just be “bored” really helps with this. Having to entertain themselves (without a screen!), whether that be through simple hands on toys, outdoor play, reading, etc., helps to foster creativity. Parents who play with their children all the time, “help” them to play with the toys, over schedule, or park their kids in front of a screen (hand held devices count!), are not helping their children learn how to self entertain and create.

    Young children will have a hard time being creative in schoolwork, so I don’t think that should be the emphasis. So, for example, asking a 1st grader to make up and write a story isn’t going to foster creativity. Most children at that age are not capable of really writing anything well, so the stress of the actual writing will overcome their ability to create anything! But ask that child to tell you a story, or build you something, and they will likely get very excited and do a great job. I often think schools overemphasize creativity as part of basic academic skills, when really most younger children learn best through creative PLAY. In the elementary years, we drill the 3 R’s around here, but then allow plenty of time to just play and create.

    Also, I think consumerism often starts with the parents. Toys are so cheap now, so it is easy to get sucked into purchasing our children WAY too many toys. I see parents bribing their children with toys to take their swimming lesson, to pay attention at soccer practice, etc. I realize there are times to use a bribe, but perhaps then the child needs to pick a toy to give away! Most American households are filled with a bunch of crap. Sorry, but it’s true. Our kids will be more creative if their closets aren’t stuffed to the brim with every flashing toy available. Their little brains need some basic simple tools to use as part of their play, but often the more basic, the better. Kids get overwhelmed easily. To keep things simple, in our house this means avoiding mass-marketed toys. We buy basic cars, not the Disney cars. We buy a basis sword, not the sword that so and so used. Obviously this is not always possible, but the mindset does really help to limit how many toys the children have. We also have a rule that our toys need to fit in our playroom and be put away by the children. If the kids are not capable of doing that, toys need to be taken away or given away. You would be surprised by how many households have room upon room filled with toys. Kids have toys in their bedrooms, toys in the playroom, toys in the living room, etc. With 3 children, you might have toys in 4 of the 7 rooms in your house!

  • willa

    I really like the topic of this post! I think cultivating an enjoyment of creativity in children is a skill and resource for later in life. During some of the more stressful moments of my college life, I found renewed energy and mental relaxation in drawing. During graduate school I pursued my interests in gardening, pickling and making jam-activities that broke the monotony of sitting in front of my computer for untold hours typing up papers.

    I also think that bringing some awareness of how things are made and where they come from helps children become critical thinkers and critical consumers. In my region of the country, Native American art is heavily collected, sold and purchased not to mention copied in factories overseas. Understanding the masterful technique and great care with which these cultural/art objects are made gives new appreciation for the traditions of making them. Certainly we make decisions all day as to whether or not to buy coffee from Dunkin Donuts or Whole Foods and whether the price is worth it to our pocketbooks; understanding this process on a deeper level gives children valuable skills I think.

    Thanks again for this thought provoking post

  • http://youngmarriedmom.com Lindsay (Young Married Mom)

    This is beautiful. I’m not sure I have much to add, except that I have been having my two-year-old son make cards for family and friends on special occasions. He works on a piece of computer paper, then I cut it into quarters and glue each to cardstock. Not only is this WAY cheaper than store-bought greeting cards, his aunts, uncles, and grandparents love having art he made. He’s starting to get the idea that we are creating for others, so I hope that idea of service and giving of time and energy is making an impression. Lovely, lovely post today!

  • JMB

    As I look back over my life as a mother, the one thing that stands out that has allowed me to pursue my creative side is time. Time is a luxury that a lot of families can’t afford – the mother who is holding down a demanding job working 60 hour weeks and the father who is doing the same, may not have the time to plan and cultivate a garden or paint a room, or roast a chicken for dinner. I’m not saying that this is a bad way of living, heck I’d rather stick needles in my eye than paint a bedroom, but it’s the tradeoff of time vs money. So wth my children, I tried to push them a little with their hobbies and interests to show them how their talents can add to the family – rather than buying cookies, the daughter who likes to bake, bakes them. The one with an artistic bent plans and plants the annual garden. The one who likes to work on his tan sans top gets to mow the lawn and vacuum the pool (yes we’re working on him but 17 year olds can be mighty dumb). I guess what I’m trying to say is the luxury of being home with your kids really does bring out the creative juices, whether you subconsiously pursue it or not.

  • Jane

    I loved this post! We’ve been trying to get out of the consumer mind-set more lately after being inspired by a friend. We noticed that when she needs something, her natural thought process immediately goes to, “Could I make that? How?” instead of ,”What store would I buy that in? Do I have time to go there tomorrow?” When we buy so many things online or in a big-box store, our kids completely lose touch with the idea of making things. Things just appear in packages! We’re trying to empower our kids to creativity by starting with ourselves. When I start talking about buying something, my husband challenges me to make it instead. Sometimes this is possible (ice cream and chocolate syrup!), and sometimes it’s not (a dress for a special occasion, I’m not that talented yet). We still order online and go to those big box stores. But we’re making a conscious effort to get a little more creative too.

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  • texasmommy

    Kat, I loved reading this on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul! Thanks!


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