Homeschooling in Lockdown? Why I’m Raising an Artist.

Liam Leddy
Modern Parent

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We spend a lot of our time telling our young children what they should be; healthy eaters, fitness fanatics, prolific readers. Once they reach, secondary school kids are told they need to be obsessively career-driven. They are continuously asked, ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’ often by people who are often in no position to offer career advice.

In reality, most parents eat junk when they’re out of the house, sit in an office all day only to come home and watch TV, haven’t read a book since they finished with Goosebumps in Primary School, and finished their education entirely lost and confused with plans no more long-sighted than figuring out where they were going to get drunk to celebrate the end of an era. And in fact, those of us blessed with tunnel vision at the age of sixteen often end up regretting their choices or making huge U-turns.

The truth is that even though most of us have failed to plan our own lives and battle with the subsequent regret and insecurity, we somehow assume that we can be the Architects of our children’s future.

Anecdotally it seems fair to say that the happiest people we know are the ones who live a life true to the things that make them tick. No five-year-old wakes up on a Saturday morning demanding to take part in spelling tests that define their self-worth. A friend of mine dropped out of an elite University to become a professional Bridge player, he told me that it is the only thing that makes him forget about everything else, the only thing he finds so absorbing that time seems to stand still. In contrast, I completed my education and spent my twenties in corporate offices, constantly day dreaming about making the jump into a life that felt worth living.

With this in mind, I found myself recently considering how to help guide my daughters’ growth despite the fact that I had to accept I probably wasn’t too well equipped. The conclusion I reached was that pushing her down predefined routes is a recipe for disaster and the ethos of ‘leaving her to it’ was too distant for me. As such, I decided to a parent (and home school in lockdown) through encouraging skills and character development, not rote learning or route mapping.

After considering the things, I value the most, and what makes the people who live a life full of meaning different from those of us who have forced ourselves into a mold, I decided to focus on five things.

Firstly, creativity. In order to build your own path, you must first have the vision to do so.

Your vision of where or what you want to be is the greatest asset you have,” Paul Arden.

Mapping out our lives is the most intimately personal thing we do. It can seem impossible to really share our dreams with other people sometimes, mainly because we all see the same world through different lenses and struggle to appreciate other peoples’ perceptions and targets fully.

Having aims and dreams of our own can feel alienating, but it doesn’t stop them from being valid. The creative drive to see something that doesn’t exist yet is what drives all progress; individuals need it to self actualize, teachers need it to find new ways to plan, artists need it to create, and entrepreneurs need it to build.

Creative vision is a priceless asset.

Secondly, accountability. To walk the unchartered territory of life with nobody holding your hand, you must accept responsibility for your actions, regardless of the scale of your success or failure.

Whilst working in large project-based teams, I have seen success hinge on the actions of individuals. That means that everyone else’s work can be made redundant if there’s a weak link. If things go wrong or start to take a turn for the worse, reflecting and accepting accountability is key. Not only does it help keep things moving, but honesty builds trust and respect.

Also, whilst being self-employed, my actions have been the only thing that can be measured, changed, or accounted for. Unless, of course, you want to bring the economy or the weather into every conversation about barriers being faced.

“Personal accountability requires mindfulness, acceptance, honesty and courage” (Shelby Martin)

Accountability is the first step in looking at what we have done, appreciating what works, and figuring out what we need to improve. This might sound easy, but if we’re honest, true accountability is rare and difficult to learn. It takes effort to be mindful of where your work is leading, and perhaps the hardest thing is looking yourself in the mirror and being brave enough to say your vision was wrong when it turns out your efforts didn’t go to plan.

Thirdly, problem-solving skills. I never sat in a class at school that focused on forging a plan or solving a problem, yet to achieve most things, it is vital.

Increasingly, employers demand soft skills and strategic abilities. Project-based industries like Tech and Media demand employees to start with an end goal in mind and formulate the necessary steps to reach it.

Furthermore, there has never been so much opportunity to become an entrepreneur. The ubiquitous nature of the internet means that young people now see opportunities to be independent at every turn. Ten years ago, the career dream has changed, and we need the ability to build plans and solve problems to make that creative drive into a success.

“Every problem has a solution. You just need to be creative enough to find it.” (Travis Kalanick)

That creative drive to find solutions is something we can nurture. A skill and attribute that can bloom.

Also, confidence. In order to believe that you are capable of solving problems, that you are built to do more than maintain the status quo, then we have first to be confident in our ability. And, of course, true confidence comes from experience.

Growth doesn’t have to linear. Life doesn’t demand we have a perfect vision of the finish line and head straight there. The reality is that life throws barriers up at every turn. We have to change course all the time, where we end up is rarely where we had imagined when starting. The fact that we have to readjust demands we develop the confidence to get up and move and the self-belief to know that we learn when we fail.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Kurt Vonnegut

Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Sometimes things go to plan, and sometimes they don’t. But we can always learn and grow. We can always make moves and develop from the experience.

Finally, determination. To complete a plan, whether it be a Lego project or building a Start-up, we have to be determined to see it through to the end. This isn’t just about preparing our kids for professional success or financial security. This supports them to be themselves, grow, and feel capable of adding value to the world around them.

Life can be tough. We all feel hopeless at times, as if we’ve walked down a dead-end road. But having the bravery and grit to keep moving, to get up from failure, and pursue something meaningful is a life skill that makes us more resilient and makes life worth living.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
Barack Obama

Whatever this year throws at us, we can still keep moving and growing. We can still set new goals and challenges to keep us motivated and ensure we aim for something for most of us. Our kids need it. Let them aim, shoot, miss some, and score some. The main thing is they feel brave enough to try new things and have the determination to keep trying.

I believe all five of these traits are essential to living a life of courage and meaning. Most importantly, I believe all five can be taught through art. Art is a fun, and safe space to learn how to plan, fail and pivot whilst enjoying the journey. It’s a place that allows our creativity to run free, the projects we work on forcing us to solve the problems we never had prepared for whilst starting.

With recent economic events, we have seen media furor over the perceived diminished value placed on creative subjects. What Rishi Sunak really meant has been debated. However. However, with the sense that Artists don’t stand a chance of paying the bills, its value in a child’s development becomes even more precarious in the minds of many people.

It seems we spend too little time helping our children find space in which they can be themselves, the kind of space that lets them flourish. In fact, it seems the emphasis is on forcing kids to become more like a preconceived version of “successful.”

Art has major benefits. Not everyone is going to become Picasso and sell paintings for millions. In fact, History shows us that even if we were to become the next big thing, then the world probably wouldn’t appreciate our work until our death, so getting rich from Art doesn’t have to be the aim. The benefits we reap from Art are both psychological and emotional. In a world in which mental health problems and anxiety are increasingly widespread and affecting people of an increasingly young age, we need to be finding both a cure and prevention.

Research shows time and time again that Art has cathartic and therapeutic effects. It relieves stress, helps children construct narratives to deal with trauma, nourishes the developing mind, and fuels creativity. On top of that, working through projects (whether constructing narratives or paintings) develops skills and strengths. The education system often struggles to deliver alongside the endless targets heaped on teachers. If a fun hobby can help our kids psychologically and with key life skills, why wouldn’t we give it a go?

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