Creative Activity and COVID 19 Captivity

Engaging yourself and your family in positive growth during uncertain times.

Posted Mar 28, 2020

Shelley Carson
Source: Shelley Carson

The COVID 19 virus has many of us, both individuals and families, virtually housebound. There is anxiety surrounding our (and our loved ones') health and the economic devastation that is accompanying this pandemic. But as long as we take appropriate precautions to safeguard our health, these two main concerns – health and the economic fallout – are essentially out of our hands. Our goal as resilient and creative people is to come out the other side of this episode stronger than we were going in. How can we use this time to do that?

Of course, as a psychologist and creativity researcher, I recommend engaging in creative work to increase personal growth and add to the collective total of positive human output. Creative activity has been shown to reduce stress1, help regulate emotions2 (important during these uncertain times), and you never know what impact even some small creative act you complete may have on someone else: you can plant a garden, write a blog post or a poem, create a recipe, record a song – that may inspire someone who you never even know about.

I’ll use this space in the coming weeks to recommend some exercises and activities that will enhance your creative skills and make positive use of your time during “COVID 19 Captivity.” Our first activity today will also increase your personal knowledge bank and give you some interesting topics of conversation at your next gathering (and yes, there will be festive gatherings again in the future).

The first step in the creative process (Preparation) involves gathering knowledge. The more bits of information you have stored in your mental repository, the more elements you have to combine into novel and original ideas. (Note that this is the very definition of creativity: the ability to combine elements to form novel or original ideas or products that are in some way useful or adaptive.)

This is the ideal time, when many of us have been instructed to stay at home and shelter in place, to gather some unique knowledge, regardless of age. One of my favorite exercises that really stretches the mind, and is appropriate and equally meaningful for seniors, business executives, and children, is one I call “Become an Expert.”

Here are the guidelines as I outlined them in Your Creative Brain3. After you read the guidelines, I’ll explain how you can adapt this exercise as a family activity and use it with children as young as 7 years of age. I was just reminded of this by a student who is using it with success and recommending it to her friends with children.

Become an Expert

Aim of exercise: To improve your ability to activate the prefrontal cortical circuits associated with the executive center and to widen your scope of knowledge. You will need Internet access and a variable block of free time.

Procedure: Pick a topic that interests you that you either know nothing about or would like to know more about. This should be a relatively restricted topic that you can get a grasp of without researching for a dissertation. Here are some topics chosen by others: tree-climbing lions, the life of Beethoven, the “lost wax” process, North American wildflowers, cell phone radiation, psychedelic drugs, solar flares.

  • Begin a computer file on your topic. Save articles, webpages of interest, photos. Take notes. Be thorough. Your investigation should include a number of sources.
  • Use both Internet sources and scholarly sources to learn about your chosen topic. You may consider contacting experts on your topic and talking to them directly.
  • Choose a new topic about every two months. But continue to keep an eye out for new developments in your previously chosen topic areas and periodically update and review your topics of expertise.

This exercise is fun to do with another person with whom you can share your acquired knowledge. Not only does this exercise activate and develop executive areas of the brain but it also increases your intellectual curiosity. Your newfound expertise will also make you a more interesting person and may also suggest areas for potential creative development.

Adopting “Become an Expert” as a Family Exercise:

  • Each family member can choose a topic on which they want to become an expert. You can help younger children select a topic by looking through magazines, books, or doing online searches about animals, science topics, music, or other topics you know your child likes.
  • Each person can start their own computer file. Some younger children may prefer to have a physical file (like a scrapbook), where they can paste pictures and store notes and articles.
  • Help younger children by getting them set up with resources. These can include books or articles that are easy to read, videos (on YouTube or science websites), and photos, and pictures. Help them to make their files and take notes (either traditional notes or mind maps, see the picture at the top of this post). As they learn how to do this, give them more control over the process.
  • For both yourself and your family members, it’s important that the activity is driven by a desire to learn and not be forced. If a child loses interest in their topic, you may gently guide them back to it by finding some interesting fact or photograph. Or occasionally a child may want to change topics. That’s fine.
  • Set certain times, perhaps at dinner, to share your information with each other. When we share what we’ve learned with others it reinforces our learning.

Benefits:

  • The obvious benefit is that you (or your family member) will have acquired some interesting knowledge. You never know when it may be useful, if not of practical use then at least as a conversational topic.
  • Children who develop intellectual curiosity will never be bored. There is always more material to explore – the next topic to master, to become expert in; we will never run out of subject matter to learn.
  • Children who are intellectually curious and have learned how to research a topic have learned a lot about how to solve problems. In fact, research shows that intellectual curiosity is a direct predictor of creative problem-solving ability4.
  • Research connects intellectual curiosity with academic success5. The more you can develop a curiosity for learning in your children during this time, the better chance they have of doing well in school when it resumes.

These are all good reasons to institute the Become an Expert activity in your household. Let me know if you try this activity and if you find it to be a positive experience.

Stay well!

References

1 Martin, L., Oepen, R., Bauer, K., Nottensteiner, A., Mergheim, K., Gruber, H., & Koch, S. (2018). Creative arts interventions for stress management and prevention: A systematic review. Behavioral Sciences, 8, article 28.

2 Conner, Tamlin S., DeYoung, Colin G., & Silvia, Paul J., 2018. Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(2), p.181-189.

3 Carson, S. (2012). Your Creative Brain. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

4 Hardy, J. H., Ness, A. M., & Mecca, J. (2017). Outside the box: Epistemic curiosity as a predictor of creative problem solving and creative performance. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 230–237.

5 von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The hungry mind : Intellectual curiosity is the third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 574–588.