They file into the studio and choose their seats.
They are the latest Wacky Workshops students (aged five to 12) and they’re drawing a picture of their favourite toy.
This was the first activity in a toy-making workshop. A way to keep them busy and get into a creative groove while waiting for the others to arrive.
Almost all of the students drew iPads on their sheets and began to talk to each other about their favourite games. The perfect icebreaker.
Friendships were made. The conversation was enthusiastic and joyful.
They discussed the challenges of getting through complicated stages in a game they all knew and loved.
I wondered how today’s activities would stack up against the lure of technology.
It was more curiosity than concern. I’ve never had an unhappy student.
I also knew that during that three-hour workshop, amazing things would be happening inside their brains. Things that don’t happen while in front of a screen.
Creating things by hand sets up a chain of events in the brain that makes us happier and can even help to ward off depression.
Creativity activates our own effort-driven reward circuitry creating a cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters. These include dopamine (the reward chemical), endorphins (released with exercise), and serotonin (secreted during repetitive movement).
Neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, chair of the psychology department at Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College, claims it could be an antidote to our ‘cultural malaise’.
CRAFTING A HAPPY LIFE WITH MENTAL HEALTH VITAMINS
“It’s like taking mental-health vitamins, building up resilience – our ability to bounce back from hardship – by reminding our brains that we can have some impact on the world around us.”
Mental health vitamins are more important than ever when you consider around one in 35 Australians aged four to 17 experience a depressive disorder.
According to Beyond Blue, one in 14 young Australians, aged four to 27, experienced an anxiety disorder in 2015. This is approximately 278,000 young people.
The number of deaths by suicide in young Australians is the highest it has been in 10 years and is the biggest killer, accounting for more deaths than car accidents.
I get that these kinds of statistics are sad and scary. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.
There is a host of reasons, such as bullying, that can be held responsible for these tragedies.
Research has revealed that overexposure to online devices, such as iPads and smartphones, can lead to attention deficit disorders and depression.
The overuse of online devices places children in a “digital fog” in which they feel fatigued, irritable, and distracted, according to Daniel Riseman, President of Riseman Educational Consulting.
The brain secretes more cortisol and adrenaline to combat this ‘mental burnout’. It is a short-term fix that ultimately leads to depression and changes the neural circuitry for self-regulation, he claims.
CRAFTING A HAPPY LIFE
The power of pottery to overcome the blues was described by Louisa Kamps in her article, DIY Therapy: How Handiwork Can Treat Depression.
This article really resonated with me as I count pottery as a lifesaver for me during some particularly tumultuous emotional times.
No matter how down I was feeling, I was able to wedge (knead) a lump of clay and then mould it to create some kind of handbuilt fantasy creation (usually a dragon).
Immediately upon touching that clay I became immersed in the project and the troubles seemed to melt away.
The troubles didn’t disappear, of course, but when my brain returned to them, I found them easier to cope with.
Kamps explains how movement helps break the cycle of rumination which can lead to depression.
She quotes Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, as saying thinking becomes more clear and less negative when interrupting these ruminations by doing a mentally absorbing task.
Creativity makes us happier and has the power to help with depression, so why doesn’t everyone get involved?
For adults, it’s usually the result of fear – fear that their creations won’t be good enough, that they will make mistakes.
Some have been given the impression they didn’t have what it takes to be creative, to be an artist.
Undoing that kind of negativity is really hard work and takes confidence and a leap of faith.
Creativity takes courage.
With kids, it’s easier. They are extra curious and eager to explore possibilities without as much fear of failure.
The more we can promote this, the better we can balance their lives in a world of technology, and help them be more resilient adults.
The kids are immersed in the fun of creating sock puppets, back at Wacky’s toy-making workshop. The students are no longer talking about their iPads and games.
They are exchanging ideas and holding up their creations with pride.
They will create flying rockets, hovering balls and hovercrafts. Along with the sock puppets, they’ll make little spoon puppets with small cardboard box theatre stages. They’ll turn plastic bottles into a ball catch toy. There will even be time to have fun racing the tiny boats they made out of corks.
The majority of my projects incorporate the use of recyclable materials. I like to impress on the students how they can make a difference to the world.
Between the activities, the students wander around the studio checking out various creations displayed.
One girl tells me how much she would like to make a stick frame she sees. I encourage her to make one for herself at home and show her how.
Another girl points out an octopus made out of a sock and I show her how she could make one at home. I’ll also make sure her mother is aware of my next ocean-themed workshop.
However, the real point is that they create (anywhere) and keep on creating and crafting a happy life.
I hope you are crafting a happy life and wish you a gleeful week, Tamuria.