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Active vs. Passive Leisure For Our Children's Creativity

Many children, when left to their own devices, will opt for passive leisure... focusing on electronic devices... solitary... indoors. I honor that our kids need relief from the pressures of their days, just as we adults need to relax after a strenuous or hyper-stimulating workday. Focusing internally, unwinding through a storyline on TV or losing oneself in an internet game can, in the moment, bring our children pleasure... however a balance between passive and active leisure needs to be struck.

After a school day ends, in the few hours before dinnertime, homework, or chores, remaining leisure time can be directed toward a more active style... a hobby... if you provide the resources and encouragement. What’s a hobby? An activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure. Would you like your child to have more social interaction... and he loves to play word games? A scrabble club would be perfect. Your daughter loves to stay active? A weekly pick-up Frisbee game can be organized with a little help from you. Any reasonable child will opt for a pleasurable activity, especially if you have discussed this with him or her before making the decision on your own. Forced violin lessons will never increase a child’s creativity.

Hobbies can foster new social connections and get your kids out into their community. They can learn about charitable giving to those less fortunate... a weekly volunteer job at your town’s free pantry or reading to seniors at the nursing home. Countless studies have found that social connections are a key component in the happiness and meaningful life formula. Hobbies have been known to help create new friends, make your children more interesting, and make the world more interesting.

Talk to your children about possible hobbies they might like to pursue. Tell them to let their imaginations run wild, no hobby idea is too crazy to consider. They can write down their ideas or use bedtime as a time to talk about their dreams and goals. Then listen to them. Avoid managing. “Children have an amazing innate ability to be creative when they play freely on their own, and unfortunately, the act of over parenting dampens or even wipes out that innate ability,” according to Mike Lanza of Playborhood.com.

A new hobby begins as an interest... it doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. Take them to the library or an art gallery. It could be as simple as a weekly sketching session in the park. These sessions will help your child to structure his time. If he has a practice or club meeting that he is eager to attend, he’ll get his homework done early in order to get there on time.

Psychologists know that children are more creative, more invigorated, when engaged in an active leisure pursuit rather than a passive one. “Hobbies can enhance your creativity, help you think more clearly and sharpen your focus,” said Carol Kauffman, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School. “When you’re really engaged in a hobby you love, you lose your sense of time and enter what’s called a flow state, and that restores your mind and energy,” she said.

“When people do things that make them feel good, like a hobby, it activates an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens that controls how we feel about life,” said Dr. S. Ausim Azizi, chairman of the department of neurology at Temple University’s School of Medicine in Philadelphia, who studies brain activity and cell signaling. Activities you enjoy also stimulate the brain’s septal zone - which he calls the “feel good” area - and that makes you feel happy.

Hobbies are good for children. When they are absorbed in a sport or fully focused on creating a work of art, their heightened state of concentration raises the levels of neurotransmitters in their brains — chemicals like endorphins, norepinephrine and dopamine — that keep them focused and interested in what they’re doing. Dr. Gabriela Corá, a psychiatrist at the Florida Neuroscience Center says, “Making time for enjoyable activities stimulates parts of the brain associated with creative and positive thinking. You become emotionally and intellectually more motivated.”

Hobbies also enhance self-esteem and self-confidence. Children need to have a perception of themselves outside of school and not rely solely on their performance in the classroom to foster self-esteem. If their identity is varied - creative writer, sculpture, gingerbread house maker, animal caregiver - they can reflect on their successes in those other endeavors, allowing their hobbies to also reflect who they are.

Once you have decided on something to try, you will need to schedule the activity on your calendar at home and at work. Dedicate a time on the weekends, early in the morning or in the evening after dinner. If you’d like to get a change of environment, another option is to take a class with your children, like painting, pottery, cake decorating or knitting in a studio or store. Start an Etsy business with your crocheted creations... you see, no idea is too crazy.

Taking a short trip each week is a great way to get your kids creative juices flowing. Every season and every kind of weather lends itself to exploration. Now is prime time for apple picking followed by pie making or apple raisin cookie baking at home. Next week take an hour or two and choose a few pumpkins from local farm stands. Allow your children to plan their designs and either carve or draw on their chosen pumpkins. Make sure you have art supplies on hand for their Halloween creations.

Every city and every town has a neighborhood paper or two. Check them out. Pick up a copy of everyone whenever you see them available for the taking. You will find a wealth of information for parents... parents who are looking for a stimulating life for their children. Weekend activities, nature walks, museum drawing classes for children... most are free.

Free up the time for your children’s creative spirits to flourish. The future of the world depends on it.

Paula Zindler

RN IBCLC

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