Exploring Retirement: Jeanette Lewis

Jeannette Lewis, contributorJeanette is one of the regular writers for Exploring Retirement. Each month she contributes an inspirational article on living life to the full in retirement.

Enhance Your Creativity by Mimicking A Child

Can adults enhance creativity by observing and mimicking a child's delight in exploring the world?

Earlier in July our four-year old grand daughter stayed at our summer cottage for a week. As grand parents have the luxury of taking things more slowly than happened during the hectic years of parenting, the week was an opportunity to observe how a child explores the environment and learns through play.

Concerned that she may be bored, or worse, homesick, I planned a myriad of activities for the week. She enjoyed wagon rides, walks to the harbour, playing on the beach, dunking in the lake, doing puzzles, drawing, and helping in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

The unplanned events provided as many moments for learning and fun as the organized activities. Observing, listening, and talking with her made me remember and notice the ways children explore and understand aspects of life that we take for granted.

Every morning we went for walks around the cottage neighbourhood. We walked to the harbour, to the ice cream store or to the fish market. During these walking expeditions she provided an impressive commentary on her observations. She stopped to scrutinize every type of spider, beetle or other insect encountered on the pathway. Answering her questions was sometimes a struggle. Why are these mushrooms orange instead of white? What makes the fishing boat smell so bad? Why does ice cream melt? Why is the lake grey on some days instead of blue?

Although too shy to interact with people we encountered, our grand daughter was curious about them. She was not embarrassed to stare at strangers, watching them carefully. When we were alone the questions began. Where do those people live? Can people cook and sleep on a boat? What is that man doing with the nets? Why do old people have bumps on their toes? Why is that boy running away from his mother when she is calling him? Her questions showed how closely she had observed people we met. The connections she made were interesting and unique.

It was joyful to watch her take risks and try new things. Whether jumping off the sand dune cliffs, playing in the waves or adapting her movements on climbing ropes at the playground, she constantly tested her body’s capacity. Although my heart was in my throat as I watched some of the play, she was learning the limits of her body. She acted carefully but it was obvious that she was building confidence and self-knowledge.

The week was also full of small learning experiments. She loved digging holes in the sand, pouring water into the holes, and watching it slowly disappear. Over and over, she filled the hole with water but couldn’t get the water to fill the hole and remain there. Sometimes she would use her shovel to ‘mix’ and stir the sand with stones. Sometimes she would stand in the hole and watch as gravity pulled sand over her feet. Finally she put the sand pail into the hole to hold the water.

Playing pretend as a "lady" amused her on many afternoons. She wrapped herself in my shawls, tried on my shoes, fixed her hair, begged for lipstick, and then pretended to go shopping. When I "played" shopping with her, we visualized ourselves in various types of stores at the mall. Sometimes she would take the role of the salesperson; sometimes she wanted to be the customer. Sometimes she took the role of a waitress taking my "order" for a restaurant meal.

It was interesting to notice that after a busy day, our grand daughter often went to her room, cuddled her favourite stuffed toy and chose to spend time alone. As she is not yet able to read, she looked at picture books and told herself the stories that had been read to her. Sometimes she sang nursery songs while arranging her toys or playing with her marbles. The time alone refreshed her.

Lessons from my grand daughter

There is much to be learned from watching a child experience the world with joy, energy and playfulness. As adults we often fail to closely observe and experience our immediate environment. We don't question the obvious. We ignore many of the big questions of life. Colours, smells, and sounds fail to stimulate curiosity. Small things pass without notice. We've forgotten that visualization helps us imagine new ways of living.

While people-watching is a world-wide sport, as adults, we watch others with discretion. We are embarrassed to look closely at people we meet. Staring is considered gauche behaviour. We may be curious about the lives of others yet we keep a safe distance from strangers. Perhaps we should take more time for interaction to learn about the people we encounter during our busy lives.

Observing children's repetitive actions when trying new things can teach us about persistence and tenacity. Repeated failure should not be reason enough to give up on something important. From watching our grand daughter, I realize that too often I've stopped too quickly or hesitated to take risks when attempting something new. Failure may be painful but when a negative experience encourages another beginning, success can follow.

Finally, our grand daughter's retreats to her room reinforced the need for time alone to rejuvenate. As adults, we know that creative moments usually come after time alone for reflection and mindful exploration of the inner voice.

Spending a week with a four-year old helped me to realize the joy of paying close attention to things around me — things I take for granted. I learned again that spending unhurried time generates interesting and unique connections. Games of pretend offer opportunities to visualize new connections. Taking a small risk brings inspiration for trying something outside of the comfort zone.

Readers may not have opportunities to interact regularly with young children yet everyone can observe children in a playground, on the street, or in a school yard. Their behaviours have profound lessons that can inspire creativity, imagination and joy in our everyday lives.