Bear with me. This will make sense in a moment.
I got a new car this year. Gently used, actually. I turned in the keys to the family van that had been mine, a well-worn 2002 Honda Odyssey. Sally wisely declared that at 61 it was time for me to have a bit more manly ride. My son Joel found the car at a used lot in our little town. It was a good fit, and a quick decision. A late model, dark grey Subaru Outback with 70,000 miles. My car’s name is Gandalf (the Grey).
As I drove my “Subie” to my office this morning, I realized that being in a new car has changed my self-perception and outlook on life. When I am in my new ride, I enjoy the trip, listen to great music (like “Light for the Lost Boy” and “Birds of Relocation”), and find myself imagining new books, songs, ideas, and projects. I think about new things.
Maybe it was just the change that changed me, and not the car. But reflecting on its effect reminded me of a principle of cultivating creativity in our children that was a fixture in our toolbox of parenting: New things do things.
Way back in the beginning of our family, we read an article that argued for investing in tools for making a living, rather than just in static monetary instruments. It was an early expression of the 10,000-hour rule Malcom Gladwell talks about in Outliers. As intuitives and parents, that idea made immediate sense to us. We got it. Rather than always focusing on our money, we would focus on using our money to invest in our lives and our children’s lives.
While some parents might withhold big items to be earned or received as gifts, we would very often simply give our children those kinds of items because of a budding interest or area of giftedness. We wanted them to have tools—special books, electronics, software, musical instruments, science equipment, sports gear, special furniture—so they could do what they wanted to do, at the time when they were wanting to do it. We gave them new things without strings.
That concept inspired a part of our homeschooling model in Educating the WholeHearted Child. We created “Discovery Corners” throughout our home, specific spaces dedicated to self-directed learning in areas such as music, art, nature, science, cooking, calligraphy, and many others. We made sure each corner was amply stocked with good tools for exploration and discovery. We were investing in their creativity and imagination.
Some might wonder if our children became spoiled because we didn’t always make them wait or earn the big stuff, or if some things we got went unused. No they didn’t become spoiled, and yes some things didn’t get used, but they were good investments nonetheless. Let me fast forward to Joel, my now-26-year-old oldest son and successful car-picker, to illustrate how it worked in one child’s life.
We knew early-on Joel was musical, so we always encouraged that giftedness with instruments to try out, books, music, and much more. We kept his life filled with the musical. We tried to get him to take lessons, but he resisted them and insisted on playing by ear. We didn’t think much about that until he decided to apply for Berklee College of Music in Boston. During his interview, since we had failed to make him learn to sight-read music, he was not able to explain some basics of musical notation. And yet he was accepted based in part on an original piano composition he had written that week. This past spring, Joel graduated summa cum laude, was a composer of the year, and was writing forty-piece orchestrations and sacred choral music. Now he is studying for a Masters of Composition at Denver University.
Whatever else we did wrong or didn’t do right with Joel, there was one thing I think we did well: we made sure to keep his world, even at a young age, filled with musical tools, resources, and events. And we gave him those things when he needed them, not when he had fulfilled some kind of “delayed gratification” mandate. It was those tools—those good gifts given many times just out of grace—that kept his imagination amply fed and growing. He used them because they were “new things” coming into his life at the right time. New things do things, and I think they did for Joel.
So here’s the point: Don’t be afraid to cast your bread (your money) on the waters of your children’s imaginations, hearts, and minds (Ecc. 11:1). It will come back to you. As with any investment, there is a risk (11:6), but I believe the greater risk is in not giving your children all the tools and resources they need, when they need them, to give full expression to the creative imago dei developing within them. And remember that God is a God of new and good things (Is. 48:6, 2 Cor. 5:17, Jas. 1:17), so you will be following the lead of our heavenly Parent.
Now I realize your children probably don’t need a Power Wheels Jeep Wrangler, even a gently used one (if there is such a thing). But maybe one of your kids needs a good tool set. Or a violin. Or a computer. Or a camera. Or a digital keyboard. If the time is right, just surprise them with a gift of grace. They will feel loved, not spoiled, and I think you’ll see that new things do things.
Featured Image courtesy of Rebecca Smith Photography