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What Creativity Looks Like

bottle tree with chandelier on top

We talk about the importance of children developing creativity and problem-solving skills. What are we saying? Being creative means thinking differently, being imaginative, inventive, innovative. Its expression relies upon persistence, problem-solving, resourcefulness. Creativity and problem-solving skills are intertwined. Whether artistic or scientific, the creative process is fraught with challenges. A mind open to possibilities, exploration, experimentation, tinkering, and plain hard work are all required for creativity to blossom.

That’s why open-ended, experiential learning and self-directed play are essential. Kids need opportunities to use their imaginations, experiment, discover what works, what doesn’t, revise their plans, and work out the kinks. Adults too benefit from taking on creative challenges. Find a craft that appeals and give yourself permission to explore its possibilities. In other words, learn to play. 4184534267_e2b4206548_z

Creativity knows no boundaries. Fanciful, playful expressions abound, many off the beaten path and well worth a detour. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California, on old Route 66, is a magical place, a testament to the creativity of one man, Elmer Long, who built his first bottle tree in 2000. He says he doesn’t know how many he’s built. Doesn’t count them. Those who do, count over 200. Elmer says he has another 100 in his head. Building a bottle tree, he says, is easy. Only takes welding. Then he pauses and adds imagination.

From the age of six, Elmer and his father went camping in the desert, often visiting long abandoned 19th century ghost towns where they’d search the dumps, finding buried treasure, including glass bottles. Thus began his collecting of ordinary objects and bits and pieces that he uses in extraordinary ways. Besides bottles, Elmer collects old insulators and builds trees in an unbelievable array of styles.

He often incorporates objects that evoke memories. One tree topper is the Lionel train engine he received for Christmas when he was three years old. Other bottle trees feature everything from telephones and typewriters to machinery and tools. Helmets inside which birds have built nests, rifles and interesting bits and pieces, all with stories to tell.

Imagination, inventiveness, persistence, problem-solving skills, and resourcefulness combined to create the unique artistry of Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Passion fuels the process. Open-ended, self directed play fosters creative expression by developing the skills required to give original ideas their wings. Play is essential. For everyone. Everyday.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Learner Directed Play

Let’s look further at the idea of active, learner directed, experiential, open-ended learning opportunities for children with severe multiple disabilities. Dr. Lillie Nielsen developed an approach to working with children that she calls Active Learning. She calls the one on one time she spends with a child “being together” with the child. Her choice of words speaks volumes; she begins with being, observing, reflecting. She takes her cues from the child.

I was struck by her memories of being together with a child named Miranda. She remarked of their initial encounter, “Unfortunately, Miranda was completely unresponsive to whatever I did.” Fortunately the story did not end there. Dr. Nielsen wrote, “I will never forget my second meeting with Miranda. She was not happy in my arms. She rather wanted to be in her father’s arms listening to his voice. In order to get Miranda to respond to something else I asked the father to be quiet. Then I placed a scratch board under Miranda’s hand. Almost immediately she reacted by moving her fingers across the surface.”

Reflective “being together” lead Dr. Nielsen to suspect that Miranda lacked the ability to concentrate on more than one experience at a time. Testing that hypothesis confirmed her suspicions and enabled this insightful teacher to offer the parents sound advice on developmentally appropriate ways for Miranda to explore her senses and delight in discovery on her own terms. That’s Active Learning~learner directed, actively pursued, experiential, open-ended and personally satisfying.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play