Week forty six: can you lick the end of your nose?

While scrolling through my Facebook memories this morning a post popped up from 2015 which just said ‘Terrible urge to learn to crochet’. I remember waking up that day and my fingers were actually twitching with the need to learn something new, to create something tangible and practical. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t making other things – I was dressmaking by then, and cross stitch was always in the background, but I am the very definition of a life-long learner. Combine this with creativity and curiosity and what you get is – well – me.

Luckily, I had yarn from my knitting phase and crochet hooks from the last time I’d tried to learn from my beloved’s mother, so with the help of YouTube and my crafty library I was able to get on with it. Over the next few days Facebook will show me my early progress: wonky granny squares, double crochet which gains and loses stitches at the end of every row, and – finally – a recognisable square. Friends were free with helpful advice – the craft community usually is, probably as we love to see other people getting joy from the same things we do – and I quickly became hooked (if you’ll pardon the pun). Generally I have crochet with me at all times: emergency yarn under my desk at work, a sock or an amigurumi in progress on the commute, and a large home project like a blanket. It’s very calming to be able to sit, to make repetitive actions, and the tactile nature of yarn makes it a sensory process too. If you’re happy using basic yarns it can be a relatively cheap hobby, too, but it never stops there.

I have an urge now to learn something new. I want to learn to draw. Once (in 1985) I got a B- from Mrs Allan the art teacher for my observational pencil drawing of my mum’s avocado plant, but that has always remained the pinnacle of my artistic achievement.

I don’t want to draw portraits, though I wouldn’t mind being able to draw a recognisable cat. I want to draw flowers and trees, houses and streets, and to be able to feel confident enough to do this whenever and wherever I want. I love seeing urban sketching on Instagram by people like the Shoreditch Sketcher and MaltzCreative, and two of my cousins are producing gorgeous work (Colour Confusions and ElliesPad – check them out!). I love Michael Powell‘s quirky paintings. I want to be able to see an interesting doorway or a window, and to be able to whip out a sketchbook and render it on the page.

So that’s my next mission: learn to draw. I have books (so many books!) and I signed up to Craftsy a while ago when they had an offer. There’s a number of ‘learn to’ videos on there, and it’s ridiculous to say I don’t have the patience – what I need to develop is the discipline to practise.

Play for mental health

Making and creating are play activities for me. I have attended a couple of really interesting webinars over Zoom this week about the importance of play for children’s mental health, particularly during the current pandemic, and the challenges of ensuring that children have access to play opportunities at a time when government focus is on ‘lost’ learning.

There is a lack of understanding in the current ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum that play is learning: it helps people (not just children!) to build relationships, to solve problems, to take risks, to have autonomy over their actions, to self-regulate their emotions, to make decisions, to make sense of the world around them. It doesn’t have to be structured play or play with a specific, adult-generated learning outcome. Playing with children enables us as adults to recall our playful selves, to find moments of joy in watching children make discoveries, to remember our own childhood. Sometimes its really hard to do this when you’re an adult.

One of the presenters, Sheba Gittens (an activist/artivist in Pittsburgh) talked about the need to forget that anyone might be watching you and give in to moments of joy – face pulling, laughing for the sheer joy of it, moving your body. She suggested that perhaps children’s ability to do all these things without self-consciousness is actually our default state of being, and we become so weighted down with other people’s expectations of ‘proper’ behaviour that we lose those abilities. I’ve certainly never been encouraged to try and lick the end of my own nose in a meeting before, or to pull a lot of funny faces. I’m usually trying to stop myself rolling my eyes…

When I teach a session called ‘The Importance of Play’ to GCSE/A-level and undergrads I ask them to define play, to tell me when children stop ‘playing’ and what activities they do themselves that they think are playful. It’s quite disheartening (for me and their teachers!) to hear the narrow definitions they have for play, and that they think children stop playing when they start school and ‘start learning’. Once I can get them to think of play as an activity that they do because they enjoy it, they open their thinking a bit more: I have found, also, that by starting the session with a play activity they are far more inclined to come out of the shadow of their hoodies and share their ideas. The best sessions are the ones where people talk to you, and ask questions, and think – the number of teachers who have apologised for their students interacting with me amazes me. I’d much rather they talked to me than looked at me in silence.

Reach for the stars

The lovely people at CPRE invited me to create a craft activity to support their annual star count, which this year takes place between 6 and 14 February (that’s now!). The focus of the count is the number of stars that can be seen within the constellation of Orion, which reminded me of the chapter in one of my favourite children’s books where a baby barn owl meets an astronomer. Here‘s what I came up with – why not have a go at the Star Count and making your own Orion? For those of you doing home learning, it supports fine motor skills (threading and sewing), science (light pollution), art, and English.

That’s it from me this week – I have a giant blanket hoodie to make and some mending to do, so I probably ought to get on with it. See you at the end of week 47.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Ring the Hill – Tom Cox

Close Encounters of the Purred Kind – Tom Cox

The Night Hawks (Ruth Galloway) – Elly Griffiths

Spoils of the Dead (Liam Campbell) – Dana Stabenow

Tate: Sketch Club Urban Drawing – Phil Dean