Grace Fleming-Williams explains how an article inspired a series of poems about mindful, imagination-based play, and why exercising creativity as a form of self-kindness has never been more important
‘Creativity’ is a broad term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb ‘create’ as simply “to make something happen or exist”. This could be a tangible activity, such as singing a piece of music, sculpting something from a block of clay or writing an essay. Practising creativity could also be a more abstract cognitive activity, however, such as dreaming up a thoughtful gift to send to a loved one, experiencing a sequence of anxious thoughts after seeing an upwards trending graph on the news, or processing the day through nightly dreams. Our minds are constantly employing creative thought as a tool to successfully navigate day-to-day life, but in times of hardship, this creative element works overtime to maintain our mental, physical and emotional safety, by frequent problem-solving. This overworked mind can often fall into negative creative thought patterns when working through this hardship, however.
‘To worry’ means to feel concern over real or potential scenarios. If it is a potential scenario, the brain creates it, and imagines the threat as a reality to problem-solve ahead of time, preparing for future harm. This is a useful process, but if used too frequently, we can experience great fatigue, impaired perceptions, and unhelpful mental habits. We must allow for time to be kind to this creative part of our mind, by permitting periods of escape and rest, in order to ensure this incredibly important function can operate effectively and healthily.
The process of practising escape through creativity as a form of kindness is beneficial to everyone, but it is especially important in the lives of young children, whose developing minds rely even more heavily on creative thought to process information, understand the world around them, make connections and problem-solve. (Crude anecdotal evidence of this is the recent emergence of ‘Covid tag’ in school playgrounds, as children strive to make sense of the pandemic through creative play.) A good friend of mine described the human experience of this pandemic as people being within the same storm, but on different boats. Some of us (children and adults alike) are almost suffocated by schedule. Others are almost drowning in the lack of it. Whether this time for healthy escape through creativity is scheduled, or whether it happens by chance in between Zoom meetings, it is an important act of kindness towards both ourselves, and one another.
In the early part of the first lockdown, Professor Barry Carpenter and principal Matthew Carpenter released a think piece called ‘A recovery curriculum: loss and life for our children post pandemic’. It called for educational practitioners across all sectors to apply compassion in their leadership, and to acknowledge that the scale of loss which children are experiencing as a result of the pandemic extends far beyond loss of knowledge. How we reintegrate children into the school environment is critical for their recovery from this broad spectrum of loss. It is a fabulous piece of writing, which I recommend to anybody spending time with children at the moment, whether they are 6 months or 16 years old. It inspired me to focus on how to integrate kindness into my creative teaching practice. To be kind to one another and ourselves is not just a hygiene factor of being a good citizen, but a vital step in recognising the many traumas this pandemic experience has caused, and the foundation on which to recover from them.
Around the same time as discovering the recovery curriculum, I came across a story about anthropologist Margaret Mead. The story told how Margaret Mead had been questioned by a student on what she considered to be the first signs of civilisation within a culture. The student expected reference to items such as clay cooking vessels, tools and religious artifacts. Instead, Mead explained how evidence of an early civilisation was best demonstrated by finding a healed broken femur. In the animal kingdom, an injury to such a significant bone would result in quite simply starving to death through lack of mobility, or being abandoned, and then, probably, being eaten by something stronger than you! In finding a bone of this size and significance that has healed, you also find evidence that the individual was cared for as part of a community, nursed, brought food and water while they recovered, and was protected by the people around them. You find evidence of empathy, altruism and compassion. In the foundation of civilisation, you find kindness.
‘What shall we do today?’ is a series of activity poems, which I wrote as a result of these many pools of thought. I wanted to offer a practical starting point for children of all ages to access this creative escape, and a malleable structure within which this exploration could take place. Some of the activities will be familiar, and are designed for families to experience together. This isn’t always possible, however, so many of the activities are also appropriate for independent play, and can be adapted or simplified to meet the needs of the child. They require little to no resources, just dedicated time and the mental permission to say yes to imagination.
I hope you can enjoy the activities of ‘What shall we do today?’ together, even if it’s only for a few moments. My overall aim was to design a piece of work that facilitates mindful, positive creative play in a range of accessible environments, to provide a practical way for families to escape their day-to-day challenges without travelling from home, to give people an opportunity to be kind to themselves and one another, and as a result, to rest, and maybe in time, to recover.
What shall we do at home today?
Build a castle with a moat. Sail away aboard a boat.
Make a palace for the bugs, dig the ground and find some slugs.
Cook a pie of mud and leaves. Build a den and climb some trees.
Dip our toes into the stream. Look up at the clouds and dream.
Dig a hole and plant a seed. Curl up in the sun and read.
Bake a banquet for the bears. Sort the junk under the stairs.
Paint a picture for a frame. Find some cloth and sew our names.
Walk along a winding path. Run ourselves a bubble bath.
Make a dance about a bird, tell a story without words.
Flour, sugar, butter: bake! Make some biscuits or a cake.
Ride a bus into the town, count the bricks upon the ground.
Go inside a library, read a book on strawberries.
Sing a song about a girl travelling around the world.
Build a kite and set it free. Draw a sketch of you and me.
Find a moment to sit down, take in everything around.
What shall we do on our street today?
Balance on a concrete kerb. Listen to the singing birds.
Spot a roof with orange tiles. Watch the traffic for a while.
Follow ants along their track, finding food to carry back
To their nest deep underground, keeping larvae safe and sound.
Find a green which has some swings, be a bird with massive wings!
Rule a castle, fight a shark, all inside your local park.
Decorate a fence with leaves; use your hands to make a weave.
Wear some gloves and pick up litter, make the Earth a little better.
Read the local epitaph, think of heroes from the past.
Watch some diggers hard at work building something in the dirt.
Go inside the library, read a book on honey bees.
Watch the train along the track, wave and see if they wave back!
If you have some clothes to spare, take them to a place of care,
Helping people all around, living in your local town.
Find a bench and take a seat, watch the world along your street.
What shall we do in the woods today?
Search for leaves upon the ground, make a royal forest crown.
Mix some mud and sculpt a face, use a tree trunk as your base.
Build a wooden bug hotel, somewhere insects love to dwell.
Balance on a wooden log. Find a pond, watch a frog.
Make a tunnel for a mouse so he can run from house to house
Under cover from the owl, who late at night will hunt and prowl.
Stack a cairn with flattened stones; see how high up it can go!
Find a puddle, paint some rocks, make a paintbrush out of moss.
Scan the ground to spot a track. Badger? Fox? Young muntjac?
Lay a path of stepping-stones somewhere wild and overgrown.
Clear a space upon the ground, drag a pointy stick around,
See the shape that you have made, fill it with a thousand shades;
Yellow, orange, brown and cream, a splash of red a touch of green.
Make the art to say thank you, to all the plants and creatures too.
Find a tree, sit and lean, look up at the roof of green.
What shall we do at the beach today?
Run around upon the sand. Take a walk and hold my hand.
Find a stick that’s turning grey from years of floating on the waves.
Find some rope and tie a knot. Use your towel to sail a yacht.
Read a book under the shade. Be a merman or mermaid!
Play a game of bat and ball. Build a castle proud and tall.
Listen to a giant shell, hear the gentle ocean swell.
Make a wig of seaweed locks. Find a perfect oval rock.
Choose a stream and build a damn. Make friends with a giant clam.
Find a rock pool at low tide, watch the creatures come outside
From hiding under rocks and weeds, waiting for the fresh cool sea.
Have a swim and ride the waves. Climb the rocks and find a cave.
Search inside a pirate’s cove, find a hidden treasure trove.
Wrap up warm in comfy clothes, snuggle up and warm your toes.
Eat a picnic on a rug, drink hot chocolate from a mug.
Sit and listen to the wind, what a lovely day it’s been.
Grace Fleming-Williams is a creative practitioner, performer, vocalist, singer and tutor. Outside work, she enjoys all time spent in nature, time with her family and friends, time with her instruments and all forms of music, creative writing and reading books, eating food, and going on adventures with her husband in their van conversion. She is also busy preparing for her first child!
During lockdown, Grace has provided lessons and workshops for private students, North Wales Music Tuition Centres, Bitesize Theatre Company, Hijinx, and Venue Cymru. Her current creative projects include the release of a jazz album and the publication of short story pieces.
Illustration by Veronica Petrie
This issue was originally published in Spring 2021, Issue 72 of JUNO Magazine.