Book Review: The Creative Family

>> Monday, July 13, 2009

The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections

by Amanda Blake Soule

Rating: **1/2


Amanda Blake Soule never considered herself creative. That is, until she was pregnant with her first child, and she got bit by the knitting bug. Suddenly, she found herself consumed with the passion to create. After her son was born, her creative desire was fueled by the natural creativity she observed in her child - the inherent creativity found in all children. Soule found that her own creativity and the creativity of her children fed into each other. She asserts:

Being creative (in whatever capacity) is important: important to me, because I feel myself to be a more complete person when my creativity is expressed; important to my children, who witness adults growing, sharing, and learning creatively; and important to my family, who grow and connect by creating together.
Soule began sharing her family's creative spirit on her blog, SouleMama, where she posts photos of her family and their projects, particularly sewing and knitting.

In The Creative Family, she continues to share ideas and projects from her own family in four categories: gathering (provide good quality materials in an accessible and inspiring location), playing (encourage opportunities for imaginative play and set aside times to be creative), living (find inspiration in nature and family rituals), and connecting (creatively celebrate family traditions and holidays).

These four sections are peppered with projects to stretch your family's creativity, including making a child's pants out of the sleeves of an old adult's shirt; teaching your child simple embroidery, sewing, and knitting; building homes for fairies; and sewing birthday crowns and garlands.

My Opinion

We drove the 1200 miles to Kentucky and back again this week, and I zoomed through this book on the long car ride. When I finished, my opinion of it was a casual shrug. It was okay. It wasn't the best parenting/education type of book I'd ever read, few of Soule's ideas were original or inspiring, and I had some criticisms. But overall, it was an okay book.

Then I visited her blog, and my opinion dropped down another half a star. The photos on her blog are gorgeous. Where were those photos in the book! And her sewing and crafting ideas on the blog are original and inspiring. Where are those ideas in the book?

I can only guess that she wrote the book before her photography improved and that she was targeting it at a beginner audience. Also, when she wrote the book, she had three children under five years old - meaning she was actually fairly inexperienced at creative living and parenting.

That last factor is probably the main reason I wasn't thrilled with this book - although I don't exercise my own creativity as much as I could, my children are already very creative. They are amazingly talented artists, they have a band called The Banders and have written some of their own songs, and they are developing a series of comic books starring their imaginary heroes Crack-a-Man and Gogog.

I don't need someone to tell me how to encourage imagination in a five-year-old. What I would like (and what I was hoping to get from this book) is someone who can show me how to preserve their natural creativity as they grow older.

Having said that, Soule did provide a few ideas that have stuck with me:
  • Soule comes from the school of parenting that prefers natural, homemade toys to the plastic, electronic kind most children play with nowadays. However, her reason surprised me. Besides the common belief that simple toys encourage more imaginative play, Soule believes that providing your children with toys made from natural materials is another way to encourage a connection to the earth. She encourages letting your children play with wooden toys, fabric toys (or just fabric, yarn, and string), and "found" items such as rocks, shells, acorns, and pinecones. She also encourages using natural materials (like wool and cotton as opposed to polyester) in your children's art and sewing for the same reason.
  • I enjoyed some of Soule's ideas for developing a child's love of nature by bringing nature into the home. We've long had a rule in our family - "no rocks or sticks in the house!" But Soule encourages her children to bring rocks and sticks into the house and even sets aside a table for them to display their rocks and shells and leaves. She also puts a "seasons tree" on the table - an empty branch from which they hang various ornaments depending on the season.
  • Another intriguing idea from this book is the concept of craftivism, or activism in social justice or environmentalism through crafting. For example, sewing blankets or knitting caps for children in need. I'm not a crafty enough person to want to be a craftivist, but it's an interesting idea.
  • Finally, I think this book is worth picking up just for the resources section. Besides providing a great list of other books about crafting and creating with children, she also includes a list of websites where you can find natural art supplies and materials.
As a final note, if you're really looking for ideas for creative projects to do with your kids, I think the best resources on that subject are any of the books by MaryAnn F. Kohl. My favorites are Preschool Art and Making Make Believe.

Up next on my reading list...Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs.

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