Organisation = Creativity. No, Really.

A couple of months ago our house was a mess. I began to get on top of things by doing only a few things a day, but doing them well. This approach made sense to me as it is what we’ve always expected from our children. It’s done wonders not only for the state of the house, but also for my sense of wellbeing. Yay.

Prior to the big re-organise, one of the things I was hearing regularly was…”Muuuuum, I need your eyes to find two red flat” or something similar. By regularly, I mean once or twice an hour at least, more often if a decent Lego project was on the go (it often was). I believe that well-nurtured, well-connected children do well with a good dose of being ignored each day. (I will blog about this in detail at a later time.) Constantly needing Mum’s good eyes to find small pieces of Lego in a large box was not my idea of ignoring and the older boys were frustrated…they were always losing their train of thought. They had to stop being in the zone, consciously think, “I need Mum’s help” and then come and find me.

As I was de-cluttering anyway I decided to organise all the Lego into colours. This is something I never imagined I would do. This is something I thought was the realm of bored housewives and perfectionists. I was keen to do it all the same, call me mad – Craig certainly did. LOL

One of the local stores, which is always having a sale, had a sale on different sized storage boxes…shoe-box type covered in fabric. Off I went and got a pile of them. Came home, tipped both big boxes of Lego on the floor and began to sort. Within an hour or so it was done. The Owl and the Hare were ecstatic: they could find what they wanted with relative ease. I was also pretty happy about the situation because they got to stay in their zone state while they were creating.

That was about six weeks ago. And a remarkable thing has happened. The boys’ level of creativity has increased. This is particularly evident with the Owl who was very good at asking the Hare to complete things for him. He is concentrating longer in order to make his creations. (Not that he had concentration issues before.) He is able to stay fully on task for longer because he doesn’t have to spend so long searching for pieces and he is less likely to call me to help. Indeed, I think he’s asked me to use my Mummy’s eyes less than five times in the whole six-week period. I think of it like this: he’s able to think at a deeper/more intense level.

Like  muscles, brains need to be stretched a little in order to develop to a greater density. (A bit like an entangled jungle – the thicker and more prevalent the ‘vines’ linking up the brain, the healthier and more creative the person.) The longer someone can stay deeply focussed on a task, the more connections made, for each new connection the brain has to ‘stretch’ a little, every time there is a little stretch there is either a new ‘vine’ created or an old one is strengthened/thickened. 

The great thing about Lego, and other toys which can be used in many ways, is there is no right answer. (Unlike ‘educational’ toys!)  In very simplistic terms, the children’s brains are free to create or strengthen many, many connecting ‘vines’, when they use open-ended toys. It’s a cycle, which can only end with people who are both highly self-motivated and great at problem-solving. And never bored.

1. The children are free to assemble the blocks in any way they chose.

2. They can access the pieces they want more easily, now things are organised, so they are able to stay engaged for longer.

3. They stay engaged for increasing periods of time because the longer they stay creating, the greater the amount of yummy motivation and happiness chemicals released – our brains like this kind of activity and ‘reward’ us for engaging in it. It feels good, so kids want to keep doing it.

4. The longer the engagement the more likely the children use more blocks, develop greater complexity in their constructions and are then truly proud of their outcomes.

5. One of us, or all of us, re-organise the blocks every couple of days. Return to Number 1.

Do I end up doing most of the tidying-up? Certainly. Am I bothered ? No. I can tidy-up in less than five minutes every couple of days, which is far less time than what I was spending being interrupted all the time to use my Mummy’s eyes. Also, our kids are great at doing their chores etc – it’s not like they don’t get other chances to tidy-up. Sometimes they help with the Lego, sometimes they don’t.

So there you have it. Blow me down. Not only is our house (generally) more organised and tidy,which we’re all loving, the kids are getting to stretch their grey-matter more.

Other toys which are open-ended…

shells, wooden blocks, expressionless dolls (Waldorf ones); pieces of fabric; stones; sand-pits; water-troughs; large pieces of wood with hammer and nails; old animal bones; old clothes belonging to parents; pillows; blankets…anything which can be used in more than one way and relies on the child’s imagination to fill in the gaps.

The more information the toy provides the less imaginative/creative/problem-solving work the child has to do.

And now I can also confidently say, the more easily the components are to access…the more likely they can stay on task.

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )

About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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26 Responses to Organisation = Creativity. No, Really.

  1. Many is the occasion when I’ve marveled (?) at the differences in parenting styles! Examples – Asking for help, or rather receiving it, from our mother didn’t happen. She wanted us to learn to play well alone in our rooms and so we did. Tidying up after ourselves, especially before dad got home, was a requirement; *no toys left scattered about, no bikes lying in the driveway, etc. etc.* Things weren’t done for us; rather, we did things for parents and household. I can’t imagine ever leaving a mess for someone else to clean up or turning to a parent asking where a red lego is!! I’d be expected to find it myself. And I would. 🙂

  2. Juliana says:

    Interesting post. I may have to spend a little while this weekend organizing T’s legos, although his will have to be in Ziploc baggies, as we don’t have any extra space right now for boxes. I was wondering, though – why didn’t you use clear plastic boxes? It seems like it would be easier to identify the colors without opening each different box – or did you label them? Just wondering. 🙂

    • Hi Juliana,
      Good luck with the organising. I’m trying to avoid plastic so went with something that at least looked organic, and we’ve just kept the lids out of the way so the children can see what colour is inside. Good points, though. 🙂

  3. adhdwith3 says:

    What an interesting post, and I so relate! I was going crazy with the lego so we bought a little storage drawer unit for them although they wanted to sort by shape–

    Anyway, they love it! And they spend hours playing–

    Sorry I’ve been gone a while. I’m still recovering from our vacation.

  4. LOVE IT! I started doing the same thing on our last school break, and what a difference it’s made! Although I still have yet to tackle some of the neediest spots, having a few rooms where things are actually where they belong has improved all of our moods and made for much calmer children. Not to mention their mom.

  5. hakea says:

    I always shake my head at those big toy chests and containers. Kids always toss everything out or tip them up to see what’s in there. And then all that stuff on the floor is too overwhelming for kids to pack away.

    Ideally everything should be placed on shelves so they are easy to see, access, and pack away, but not every home has the luxury of space. I took the doors off the cupboards and wardrobes in my boys’ room so they can see everything easier.

    Kids love order. Five minutes after you’ve made the loungeroom pristine, in they file with their boxes of stuff to revel in the new-found order.

    • LOL That does sound familiar.
      I agree on that sense of being totally overwhelmed by the large pile of toys and the easy access bit of your comment. It is difficult to work with the space you have sometimes, which is one of the reasons we have reduced our kids’ toys down to the bare-bones. We have a lot of Lego and a wooden Thomas set we’ve built up slowly over the years, but other than them there are very few things you could call toys in our house. Having more of a few things has been great.

  6. Julie says:

    I love organisation and agree that creativity can spring from it more easily. Good on you for your de-cluttering. I am working on it… 🙂 I also love the idea of only a few toys around and we don’t have too many but I do keep a tub upstairs for ‘those days’ – the noisy, plasticky things that have been given to us.

    But what I find hard is the ‘make it’ area. There seems to be so much stuff because you never know what shape box you will need to make whatever it is that you want to make! Then you have a 2 year old who will come along and tip out a couple of sorted drawers and mix it all up. I hold on to the fact that this will pass and #2 will soon appreciate having an order to things!

    Thought-provoking blog – thank you. Julie

    • I’ve given up on a pure make-it area! The older kids (nine and six) are pretty fluid with their creativitiy…they find what they need make it and display it…and eventually even the creations disappear. Again, we’ve kept supplies to a minimum and I would rather go out and buy/find stuff as they want it for that kind of thing than have the gear lurking (we just don’t have the space). Our 19 month old is of the tipping variety too, but he loves to pick things up so I’m hoping he’ll end up being tidy. The others have been truly messy up until recently, so I’m enjoying their tidiness a lot.

  7. Laura Weldon says:

    The most creative of my kids aren’t organized, and when I do try to impose/suggest/help with organization it doesn’t seem to have the positive effect you’ve found. For example, tidied up art supplies kept in nice boxes on the shelf seem less likely to be put in use. But if the paints are out for a few days a lot more paintings (and lovely 3-D assemblages and collages) happen. Maybe there’s hope for my family’s organization yet by keeping things neat but still in sight. sigh

    • Our kids haven’t been organised or neat until now either Laura. I think it’s the neat but still in sight that’s the key. Blogging buddy hakea took all the cupboard/wardrobe doors off in her kids’ room, and I’ve removed all the lids from our Lego boxes. What I can’t get over is that our kids want to have tidy rooms now and are happy to do the ocassional ‘2 minute rescue.’

  8. MamaWerewolf says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    At our school, we consider the environment to be the third teacher in the classroom. We have all materials out at all times at the children’s level (and here is the key piece) in a way that is logical, functional, and aesthetic. It makes the teacher superfluous for such tasks as locating the right material or cleaning up and thus frees her (or him) to provoke and facilitate deeper understandings. This applies to moms as well 😉

    I am excited to hear about the ways your environment is working for you!

  9. faemom says:

    We have been meaning to buy more legos for the boys, but we always get sucked in by those lego sets. Not very creative. And I’m afraid, one day, I too will be organizing legos by colors. Shudder.

    • Hi Faemom,
      Yep, we get the sets too. The boys follow the instructions the first time they use the Lego pieces and then they get dismantled and added to the general pile. I totally understand that shudder – it’s exactly what I thought too!

  10. Marcy says:

    I’m all about detailed organization — and for exactly that reason of easy access and less frustrated searching.

    My little one goes to a Montessori school where everything is at child height, in sight, accessible, and she does fine with putting one thing away before getting out a new thing. At home, not at all. I’m not sure she’s ever put anything away before getting out a new thing, and often her play involves pretend Christmas or birthday where all the play food and a vast array of other items gets combined into one party… and she does somewhat often get overwhelmed at cleanup time. It does go a little better when I am available to help, except some times when I help she just fusses and whines and doesn’t help, and some evenings I’m not able to stay calm when that’s going on.

    • I agree it is hard to keep your cool sometimes. Have you had a look at my post:
      Tidy Up Your Room: A No Fuss Method that Works…? It outlines a great strategy I picked up somewhere that really helped us with the tidying up.

      • Marcy says:

        I have read it; I might need to give it a more thorough and consistent try, but as I said, many times I’m just not able to work calmly with someone fussing right next to me. I almost wonder if, at such times, it would be helpful to have a large box to dump everything in just to get it off the floor, and work together on putting things in their proper place at a calmer time.

        • That’s a great idea Marcy. If that’s going to make things somewhat tidy – why not! 🙂
          PS Just realised that I do exactly the same thing when things are overwhelming for me…I put all the clutter into one box or basket then deal with it when I have time or the inclination to do so.

  11. I agree with everything you have said….the fact is that lego is really expensive here in SA. Think I am going to do some searching and see if someone is prepared to sell all their kid’s old lego blocks. Who knows- this could become a family affair. Xx

    • Lego is not that cheap here either. We had to make the decision to give up other toys to buy it, but it has been worth it and we’ve just built it up slowly over the past four years. The boys now have a reasonable amount, although apparently Santa is bringing some plain sets and roofing tiles – who knew!

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