Raising children is a hard job. And these days it’s exponentially more challenging because raising good, problem-solving, independent, passionate and kind kids is not only essential to the future of our country (and the world), but it also needs to happen at home thanks to the global pandemic. And while it’s definitely a challenge and parents will surely need to make some sacrifices in their struggle to survive 2020, experts stress the importance of allowing your children to be creatively engaged now, more than ever.
Where children typically benefit from a combination of well-rounded academics and extracurricular activities, and they also benefit from the guidance and attention of teachers, coaches, friends and caregivers, in 2020 it seems that the brunt of the responsibility is falling on parents and the bulk of those activities are happening at home. Parents are suddenly finding themselves playing the role of educator, art teacher, coach and confidant, among other important jobs, like, say, their actual careers.
Needless to say, it’s a lot. It’s a lot on parents, and believe it or not, it’s a lot on kids as well. Sure, kids are resilient, and they might seem to be doing okay emotionally during this period of domestic upheaval, but make no mistake about it — the abrupt end to the school year followed by months of social isolation, anxiety, disruption and loss has taken its toll on our children as much as it has impacted us all.
According to clinical and developmental psychologist Nancy S. Molitor, Ph.D., “kids of all ages are having a tough time” as the world deals with the COVID-19 outbreak. “Every adult, if you’re paying attention, has anxiety that’s enhanced right now. And the kids are feeling that,” she explained in Healthline.
As parents, we’re all just trying to do our best. To keep kids engaged. To keep them happy. To keep them safe and healthy. To give them the gift of childhood. To educate them about the important issues happening today. And perhaps more importantly, we’re trying to show them how to be good people so they can be a part of the solution and they can be contributors to a more empathetic and positive future. But something we might be forgetting about is encouraging our kids to be creative.
Believe it or not, creativity in kids is a crucial part of a healthy and balanced youth. It can not only encourage self-expression, but also allow children to manage their stress levels in a productive way. It can distract kids from the everyday anxiety they are exposed to and allow them to just be kids, even if it’s only for a brief moment in time. Creativity can help to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress… And it can also help kids (and adults too!) process trauma.
But where do you even begin if you’re trying to encourage creativity at home, while also juggling the very real burdens of parenting during a global pandemic? We weren’t sure either, so we called in for reinforcements.
Meet Catalina Gutierrez. This Colombian-born artist extraordinaire is a creativity expert based in Miami, Florida. Through her company Red Violet Studio she teaches art classes for kids of all ages, and she has mastered the task of keeping kids engaged through artistic expression and sensory play. Creativity is in her blood — her mom is also an artist, she grew up crafting, and she even married an artist — and art has always been her passion.
Her bread and butter is certainly in-person art classes where she helps to foster a love for the arts and imagination through fun and empowering sensory and creative experiences. But currently she’s using this pandemic period as an opportunity to explore creativity in her own home. Her ideas, passion and easy-to-execute projects provide parents around the world with the guidance they need to keep kids busy and curious, even if you’re stuck at home.
Just one glance at her Instagram page and you’ll see why so many parents have come to rely on Cata for inspiration and guidance — her ideas and art experiments are the stuff childhood dreams are made of. From finger painting to clay modeling to spray paint to slime and beyond, she knows just how important creativity is, and just how to use these creative skills as a way to help kids cope, grow and learn in a positive way.
We sat down with Cata to get her take on how to keep kids engaged, creative, connected and happy at home.
Why do you think that it’s so crucial, now more than ever, that kids and families embrace creativity and find ways to stay creatively engaged together?
I think now more than ever the temptation of a screen is very much present, and we have to make a greater effort to engage children in other ways, sparking their creativity. It’s so important to provide other options for them that reinforce skills such as creative thinking and problem solving, among others. Letting them be bored is a powerful teaching tool to force them to find other ways of getting busy and following their natural curiosity.
Do you think that creativity is an important part of self-expression for kids? How do you think that art can help kids express themselves in unique ways and embrace what makes us all different?
Creativity is a vital part of self-expression. We are all creative in so many different ways, just as much as we are unique and valuable. The beauty of expression through creativity lies in the endless possibilities there are, all of them giving voice and value to the individuality of a child.
How can parents encourage and embrace imaginative activities when they are stuck at home or trying to socially distance?
I think the key is to keep it as simple as possible. There’s no need to go out of the way with fancy projects or supplies. Providing the space and time for unstructured play and creativity is key. Unplugging a little is important, and the key is to find simple things around the house that can serve as creative canvases for building, painting or simply playing. Boxes, recycled containers, egg cartons, lids; these are everyday elements with lots of open-ended possibilities. And if you’re in need of a little inspiration, there’s always so many resources to check out. I offer a bunch of ideas on my Instagram account for instance. I also have an at-home Creative Lifesaver guide, available in both English and Spanish, to help parents entertain and engage kids wherever you are.
What are some must-have art and crafting supplies that parents can keep in their house to use throughout the summer months and beyond?
I have a bunch of favorite supplies that I always keep on hand, but my top 10 supplies are:
– card stock paper
– watercolor paints
– tempera paints and tempera paint sticks
– oil pastels
– play dough (or you can always make your own, it’s super simple!)
What are some of your favorite resources and inspirations for creative activities to do with your kids?
I find a lot of inspiration on Instagram; there are many wonderful accounts with beautiful ideas. The Artful Parent has great ideas plus a fab app that is a great resource for parents who are looking for some guidance in the art and crafts department.
A lot of parents are hesitant to allow messy activities in their homes (for obvious reasons). What’s your take on sensory expression and allowing kids to enjoy messy play? And what are some tips to keep the mess manageable?
Messy play is always fun. Through the years I’ve come to realize that the process of a child being able to enjoy and embrace messiness has a lot more value than having to do a little cleanup afterwards. It is so important for a child’s development to feel comfortable with being messy, to experience different textures and to be able to freely discover and explore all kinds of invitations. And yes, with time I have come up with a few tips that make clean-up easier. My favorite is always setting up a plastic tablecloth or canvas underneath the potentially messy activity so that you can contain the mess and clean it up faster when you’re done.