I Have a Question

Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

How can I encourage creativity in my children? It always seems to involve expense, mess, and the danger of their poking their eyes out.

Laurie Williams Sowby, mother of four and preschool teacher, American Fork Thirteenth Ward, American Fork Utah Stake Let’s take the “mess” issue first. If an activity is worthwhile, exciting, and fun, then it’s worth a little inconvenience! Besides, some very simple precautions—such as covering the floor with newspaper and using aprons—can minimize the mess and make cleanup a snap. If we are truly interested in fostering creativity, the mess should be the least of our worries.

As for expense, encouraging creativity is not a series of costly projects—it’s a way of life! We can work creativity into our everyday routine at virtually no cost. A parent’s greatest expenditure should be in time spent with a child.

Creativity begins with stimulation of the brain at an early age. Giving a baby a variety of interesting things to look at, listen to, touch, and manipulate helps his brain to begin storing many different images and ideas that he can draw upon later. Parents can make a child aware of how things look, feel, sound, and smell by stressing details and differences in color, shape, texture, and size, and by giving simple explanations of how things work. This builds in the child a natural curiosity for learning, leading him to experiment and make discoveries on his own.

It can be as simple as pointing out at lunch that green peas are round and therefore roll, while cheese cubes won’t; or suggesting to your children, “Look at that tall house. Is it old or new? What’s it made of? What do you think is behind those windows way up on the roof?” The wider a child’s variety of experience (zoo, concert hall, farm, airport, grocery store, etc.), the greater his creative potential, because he has so much more to draw upon than a child who is limited in his sphere of learning.

Creative thinking is always encouraged when it is not discouraged. Imagine, for instance, the child’s feelings when he shows his latest creation, a crude drawing of an airplane, to his dad and Dad says, “Oh! It’s a plane. I see now. Would you like me to show you how a real one is drawn?” Or picture his response when his older brother comments, “What a dumb drawing! Nobody has purple hair!”

A parent who always chooses what the child will wear or insists on decorating and arranging the child’s room to his own tastes is missing a great opportunity to encourage the child to try things his way. A child needs an area to do with as he pleases—perhaps a bulletin board in his room for displaying his art or writing attempts. There is a need for the child to be flexible within his own environment.

I learned from my mother’s example the value of doing projects with children. My children have access to finger paints, play dough, crayons, scratch paper, and a variety of “dress-up” and make-believe props both at home and when they visit grandma.

Our boys bedroom is adorned with plaster-cast knickknacks that they have painted at Grandma’s with water-soluble acrylics. A part of our own home art supply is powdered tempera paint, which I can mix up at a moment’s notice for a little boy who wants to paint the “airplane” he’s hammered out of two boards. (I send him outside to do it, and I can do something else in the meantime. If it looks like he’s working too fast, I give him a smaller brush!)

One night as I was wallpapering my kitchen, the boys (ages four and six) begged to help. As they gathered up the scraps, I got a brush for each of them and filled a cottage cheese carton half full of paste. They headed out to their “hut” under the deck with their supplies and a flashlight, and I could hear them giggling and exchanging ideas as they “papered” the hut’s walls. Occasionally one would express self-confidence by exclaiming, “Hey! That looks nice! That was a really good idea I had, wasn’t it?” (They also had some really good splotches of paste on their jeans, but it washed out.)

The kitchen is one of the best sources of creative materials. Once you accept that the mess is worth it, the rest is easy. One adventurous mother of six occasionally turns the kitchen over to the children for a day. They get everything out of the cupboards and, with a few guidelines from her, mix and match ingredients until the batter tastes edible. “So far,” reports the mother, “we’ve been able to eat everything they’ve concocted.” Rolled dough cut out with cookie cutters is every child’s delight. As my two-year-old cut out his first star, he exclaimed, “I done it!” When I corrected him by saying, “I did it,” he beamed, “So did I!”

Much of the “danger” of creative projects can be eliminated by close supervision of small children and by stressing safety measures as the skill is taught: teach them how to cut with blunt scissors, how to hammer a nail without getting their fingers in the way, and how to saw cardboard with a paring knife. Even preschool children can safely learn simple skills if the instruments are the proper size for little fingers. At age two, our children have started using small, round-tipped scissors: the toddlers sit on the floor with a pile of old newspapers, the scissors, and a wastebasket, and by their third birthday, all have been expert cutters. (Yes, it’s a mess, but part of learning to create is learning to clean up!)

I have seen from experience that a child who has no skill at using scissors, paste, crayons, or paint will not be too interested in creating anything that requires these tools. Take the time to help your child gain the self-confidence that comes with knowing these basic skills.

Of course, creativity is not manifest only on paper, so try some other kinds of activities that stimulate the imagination: role-playing in family home evening; “what if” questions and situations that require alternative solutions; making up songs about the family or some place you’ve been; decorating windows and bulletin boards for a holiday; creating patterns and sewing doll clothes; building a playhouse or hut with large boxes or boards; etc.

The most important aspect of encouraging creativity is building the child’s self-esteem, so he feels his ideas are worth expressing. My own formula for encouraging creativity is half stimulation and half opportunity. And then we clean up the mess.

How can we as Church members be appropriately involved in community causes?

Wendell J. Ashton, managing director, Church Public Communications The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith that “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.) Joseph Smith and other Church leaders have since encouraged our people to work toward improving the moral, cultural, and physical environment—as well as the spiritual—in the areas where they live.

A number of times in recent years the First Presidency has urged Church members as citizens to join with their neighbors in vigorously opposing such evils as pornography, abortion, and the availability of liquor to youth. Latter-day Saints acting as concerned citizens (not as Church representatives) have in many cases responded admirably. In some places Saints have helped achieve tighter laws on abortion, curtailment of obscene motion pictures, and curbs on young people’s access to liquor.

Certainly if we are to have for ourselves and our families a more wholesome environment, we as concerned citizens must ever be vigilant in watching legislation and the enforcement of laws. Moral pollution is too often the price we pay for indifference. We should constantly keep in mind that big money is made in such businesses as pornography and liquor, which means that well-paid professionals are working to increase sales and patronage.

Opposing these things also takes time, hard work, talent, and dedication. For example, I know of a Latter-day Saint woman who for years has toiled hard and effectively in a community organization that is fighting obscenity. Under her dedicated leadership, local ordinances for controlling pornography have been passed. A respected attorney and a successful businessman, both active Church members, have for years been key members of a citizens’ council that “watchdogs” liquor laws in their state.

Latter-day Saints also should be involved in bringing positive benefits to their community. A mother in our ward, a stalwart in the Church with a good family, has found time to lead out in creating and funding a recreational park for the elementary school our daughter attended at the time. Another ward member is a leader in promoting civic drama. Another neighbor helps with the ballet; another, the symphony.

President Spencer W. Kimball has set the example: before he was called to the Council of Twelve, he was a stake president, yet he was also a district governor of Rotary International and an effective community builder in Arizona.

And much good can often result from even a little time invested—a letter to an editor or lawmaker, a turn in picketing an obscene movie.

While Latter-day Saints should engage in community causes, they should maintain a good balance. Their family should come first. Church activity should not be neglected. I knew a man years ago who was so caught up in community causes that his home and yard became a neighborhood eyesore. Another was so busy in politics and civic undertakings that his own children drifted into delinquency.

But for the well-organized Latter-day Saint, there usually is time to be a concerned, involved citizen. It may mean one or two fewer television shows a week, or one less ball game a month—but it is worth it. Even more, it is vital, if we are to have the kind of communities we need for a full flowering of gospel living and the joy that is its reward.

How can I develop a love for great literature? I started reading Moby Dick once, but it was so hard I just gave up.

Wayne C. Booth, Professor of English, University of Chicago The question of how to develop a love for great literature is a little like questions about other forms of love. People don’t ask “How can I develop a love for my girl friend?” or “How can I develop a love for a beautiful car?” We seem to love many things in life spontaneously, and that leads us to expect that if we do not discover a spontaneous love for great art, there is nothing we can do about it. Or we may even come to think that from a sheer sense of duty we can require ourselves to love what other people have told us is lovely and of good report.

But if we look closely at how our “spontaneous” loves develop or die, we see that they only endure and grow if certain conditions are met. First of all, any genuine love requires repeated and deepening experience. Even so-called love-at-first-sight will never endure for long unless one, by repeated and deepening experiences, learns to see more and more qualities in his beloved. And most of our loves—even of people—do not arise at “first sight” but only after prolonged enrichment of our vision and our capacity to see what is there to be loved. The questioner who says “I started Moby Dick once, but it was so hard I just gave up” seems to be placing a demand on the book that would make any loving relationship impossible. It is like saying, “I tried to fall in love with Mary the first day I met her, but she puzzled me so much I just gave up.”

Even more important than the length of time spent is the person’s willingness to put his or her whole soul into the attempt. Love of persons fails to develop or dies when the suitor insists that the beloved provide all of the energy and reward. Love of good literature or music or art is just like that. A book will give its reader only what the reader can re-create for himself. Many books are written to attract the greatest number of the easily caught—they are like men or women who “get themselves up” in the hope of catching even the laziest eye. Similarly, TV shows are usually designed to require no effort and no creative imagination from the viewer. It is thus easy to love television in the sense of wanting to live with it daily; it is easy because so much of television makes no demands upon us whatever; it gives the illusion of giving all we need. Appreciation of good literature—like genuine religious experience, active participation in natural beauty, or building a marriage—requires our willingness to lose ourselves in it, even when the immediate rewards do not seem exciting.

The comparison between loving literature and loving people may be misleading, however, because literature is such a general word, covering so much ground, that in a sense nobody ever could love anything that big. What one loves is particular books and poems and stories. We have no commandment to love all literature. We are commanded to be charitable to all men, but we need not be charitable to all books. Anyone trying to develop a love relationship with literature ought to begin with those works that are closest at hand and that seem most likely to be rewarding. Just as most of us find it easier to say that we love our fellowmen than to be kind to our own children, neighbors, or office mates, so it is tempting to try to “love literature” and yet do no actual reading.

So I would say to anyone who really believes, as I do, that a love of literature is life-enhancing: start reading, today! Make an appointment with yourself to read whatever seems to you most rewarding, for at least one hour each day. The reading might be done aloud with friends or family, or by yourself but it should be done at a time of day when you are fully alert, wide awake, able to give yourself totally to your developing love.

In short, every human love is first developed and then sustained by a giving of self that can be described either as work or play. What you do not work at, you cannot fully enjoy. Love of literature is the happy by-product of many happy hours of working with and learning to love particular novels, plays, and poems.