The Gift of Difference and of Play…

It seems obvious perhaps, but if Darwin hadn’t been curious about the story of human life, we might not now have the story of human evolution. Without stories, we wouldn’t have History, and we wouldn’t be able to create coherent narratives about ourselves that give our lives meaning.

Storytelling is essential in our life in all its aspects – from the obvious to the less obvious. And yet, too often, particularly the older we get, storytelling is treated as somehow inessential, or maybe labelled as a “softer” subject.

In my work as a Creative Mentor for children, I work with storytelling in its loosest sense. Sometimes, it’s as basic as “this is how I feel today”, but that’s still the start of an important story. I also focus on play and creativity as a source of joy, and I place that joy at the centre of the work. 

Play means that the work is open-ended – so, while we do artmaking, it’s not an art lesson, and it’s not craft making. It’s an exploration, the development of curiosity, the courage to make “mistakes” (because that’s often where the creative magic really happens), and it’s allowing the creative process to lead us to unknown, sometimes wonderful, places. To let go.

I tend to work with children who are experiencing emotional blocks which are getting in the way of their education and learning. Sometimes, it’s a lack of confidence, which can be paralysing. Other times, it might be an SEN which is affecting a child’s self-esteem. My intention is not to “heal”, but to connect the child to their own creativity. Whatever we are experiencing, our connection with our creativity allows us to live fuller, more meaningful lives. It can be enough to make the world seem interesting and full of possibility again even when things feel otherwise bleak.

Sometimes, I think that the best way of thinking about what I do is to think about the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi Kusama is an artist who has suffered with Schizophrenia for most of her adult life and lives in an institution to support her by night, but has her studio just across the road, which she goes to work in every day. Internationally acclaimed and with exhibitions in top galleries all across the world, Yayoi Kusama will almost certainly never live a life free of Schizophrenia, but she has created a meaningful, authentic life that centres on creating pieces expressive of her life experience. Pieces that bring meaning (and maybe joy) to her and certainly bring joy and life-enhancement to all of us who are able to share her unique perspective through her work. 

Through creativity, difference may become a positive - a gift - rather than just a challenge. It can add meaning rather than detract from it. Through creativity, we may experience ourselves as whole again and find our own ways to shine. 

I developed Creative Mentoring for any child who desires, or needs, more opportunity to play, to be and to explore in a zero-pressure environment where self-expression and uniqueness is valued. It’s about going back to basics and recognising that the “basics” are actually not basic. That in creativity and open-ended play we develop our curiosity and our capacity to learn. We may also find out what it is we are interested in and how we learn best. We may discover who we are and all the other things we can also be.

I have created a short creative activity video to go with this article called Stories to Music. The intention is to inspire your family to start creating in an enjoy-the-present, don’t-know-where-this-is going kind of way… To inspire you all to play.