Morag Prunty is the Irish author of several novels under her own name, as well as under her pen name, Kate Kerrigan. She’s married to Niall Kerrigan, an artist, has two boys, and lives in idyllic Killalla on the west coast of Ireland. We met many moons ago when she was the editor and I was a writer for U magazine.
This post about how she parents her fabulous 9-year-old son, Leo.
Here’s Leo being interviewed on the news – he won an international competition to create a comic book character that was featured in one of the oldest and best-known comic books on the planet, The Dandy. I don’t know if it’s his accent, his adorability factor, or his deep connection to his own creativity…but this kid blew my socks off:
I asked Morag what she does (or doesn’t do!) to foster his creativity. As a neurotic American hover-mom, I wanted to know what her secret is (if there is one) - how do you raise such a creative child? Is there a recipe? What’s the secret? What did you do? What didn’t you do?
Since she wrote Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, I figured that maybe she knows the recipe for raising a creative child.
It’s a flaw, I know – but after seeing Leo I wanted to interrogate Morag about her parenting theories, and she was kind enough to indulge me.
I have never consciously fostered my son’s creativity – partly because I suppose as a writer and with my husband being an artist – I don’t think “being creative” is such a big deal. In fact, I’d just as soon my kid was sporty or academic.
He has always had access to creative tools – crayons and stuff like any kid – but we run a very technical household and consider computers to be valid creative equipment (my husband is a graphic designer) and TV programs and movies (which I also write) as much a source of inspirational ideas as galleries and books. So rather than restrict technology – we use it all the time, and encourage him to use it too. Leo loves computer games and we are happy for him to play them. Just like “real life” some games are creative and educational and some are violent and moronic – and so far – he’s not been interested in the moronic, gangs-killing-each-other ones so – we’ll cross that bridge.
We are also avid collectors of art ourselves and I am guessing that being surrounded by interesting objects and paintings is as much an influence on our son as his boring old parents writing book and taking photographs! He comes along to gallery openings and book launches and creativity is just what we do.
I believe it’s important to let kids do their thing and not put pressure on them to be one way or the other. I had NO idea Leo was doing the whole comic thing in such a serious way until I saw the clip of him being interviewed on TV (I was not privy to the interview before it aired!) Niall and I never really encouraged it particularly – in fact, his babysitter Romy used to make comic books to amuse him as a small child, and they made up stories together. I think giving kids a broad experience of creative people outside the family is a hugely important influence.
Kids are always looking for role models besides their parents – so fostering friendships with other creative people is important.
Leo takes piano lessons with my friend Helen, and we have NOTHING to do with that at all – (aside from paying her). It’s something between her and him – and he got a distinction in his first exam – so she/we must be doing something right! I make him do ten minutes practice every day before school and he doesn’t mind because there is no telly allowed in our house in the morning.
Being creative is not always about performing or what you produce. We give Leo loads of space to do the things he likes creatively on his own – then – when he is ready to share it with us – we admire and coo – but we are never over-the-top.
Praise is important, but I think there is too much emphasis on making kids feel “special” for being able stick googly eyes on a colour-book frog picture and not enough on fostering concentration and practice in improving their creative work.
Having said that, here are a few of the things we have done to foster our son’s creativity.
- No technology in bedrooms. Not even Nintendo DS. He has all the technology going, but never upstairs – and it’s amazing how much time he chooses to spend up there, especially when friends come around.
- Total access to equipment of his choice. Annoyingly, even though he has oceans of markers and posh paper pads Leo ‘works’ mainly with our family biros (pens) and my computer paper!
- If we are going somewhere, a museum or gallery – we make it fun by getting him to Google them beforehand for us. I took him to Paris for his 9th birthday and he actually knew half the artists in the Pompidou. It was dead cool!
- Reading for pleasure seems to be becoming a thing of the past with kids because there is so much competition. So we “allow” half an hour reading time before lights out in bed, and are buying him a Kindle. We may be sentimental about paper-books but there is no reason to foist that on our kids who will ALL be consuming books on e-readers IF they consume them at all!
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