Personal Spaces: Three children speak on how their home nurtures their creative spirit

If you have children in the house, it’s crucial to design your home such that it brings them sparks of creative inspiration and nurtures their talents and gifts. Experts and the internet offer many ideas, but wouldn’t it be great to hear it from the children themselves? 

For Personal Spaces, we are going to “visit” a home in the San Francisco Bay Area to talk to the Acosta children: Bella (16 years old), Emma (10 years old), and Olivia (4 years old). We asked them to answer four questions about their home and the family’s creative activities. Their answers offer important details on how we might create homes that stimulate our children’s creative spirit.

Bella (16), Olivia (4), and Emma (10

What do you like best about your home and why?

B: I really love the backyard. It’s a wide open space that tends to be sunny, and there’s a metal table where I can do homework. Plus, there’s a red umbrella for when the sun gets a bit overzealous. I like to sit there when my room gets too stifling and I have intensive work to do. Just being outside, where I can feel the breeze, is always very calming.

E:  I love our library. It consists of three tall white bookshelves and a carpet. The bookshelves are overflowing with books, each one better than the last, each one good enough to get lost in. It reminds me of my dream room, more like a library than a room, where every wall is a bookshelf and HUGE windows to read by. It’s only three shelves, but it’s a start.

O: I love my art gallery because it shows my best artworks. 

Olivia’s “art gallery”

What is your favorite space in the house? What do you like to do when you spend time there? 

B: There’s this meter-wide gap between my parent’s bed and a glass sliding door leading into the backyard. The sun shines right in and it’s always kept clear since it’s an aisleway. So if it’s obnoxiously hot or if venturing outside is too much effort, I like to set up a little desk space there to work. I get the sun from outside and the airconditioning from inside, which is the best combination. It’s right by the big bookshelf too, so if I want to just curl up and read, there’s a mat in the corner that I can unroll and just relax on.

E: My favorite place in the house is my reading nook. It’s an armchair with a light hanging over it, but it’s a wonderfully comfortable place to get lost in a good book. Good lighting, good chair, good book. What else would a person need?

O: Wherever I am playing with Emma. My favorite thing to play with Emma is (a pretend play that we made up called) Land of Magic. I play Sen of Fire. She lives in a volcano. She has fire powers. Sometimes I also play Sea Foam from the Mermaid Kingdom. She is a mermaid and can control water. Emma plays Chiara who can fly and uses air magic. She sometimes plays Fern who is a sorceress. She lives in a tree trunk. She makes different kinds of potions. 

A home library is essential.

What are your favorite creative activities that you do alone in the house? With your family? 

B: So many! I like to write stories on my laptop and work on my Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I DM (dungeon master) for a club. Usually, I do that in the sunny place by the backyard door. I also like to draw and paint, particularly with watercolors, but I keep that to my room since carrying painting supplies everywhere can get hazardous. I play guitar, too. My lolo teaches me, so I also like to set up my camera for FaceTime by the backyard door and tape chord sheets to the glass. With family, I like to bake and cook. The kitchen is small and we’re rather numerous, so it gets crowded sometimes!

E: My favorite creative activity that I do alone is writing. I am currently working on a novel that I started last year and that I try to work on at least twice a week. My favorite creative activity that I do with my family, or rather, with my little sister, is drawing. We draw together a lot of the time, and sometimes we’ll paint. Occasionally we might do crafts together.

O: When Emma is doing schoolwork and no one else can play with me, I like to play with my Legos. I also draw a lot. I like to build, too. I use the wooden blocks, magnetic tiles, bristle blocks, tinker toy, or goldiblocks. I love doing crafts with Momma and Emma. I also like making potions when I’m in the backyard and gardening with Momma.

Jose’s sketches of Emma and Bella hang on the wall.

How does your home allow you to express yourself? 

B: Well, my mom is pretty keen on making sure I’m creative. There are art and stationery supplies everywhere. And she’s always wanted us to be big readers from a young age. This really just means that even though we’ve got a massive bookshelf, the books end up scattered around the house anywhere. My dad plays guitar, so he has plenty of amps and lets me play an old electric guitar he used to use. And there’s always space in the backyard to be creative without the stifling feeling of four walls. And at the start of quarantine, I picked up dancing, and the backyard’s space is really good for learning new moves!  

E: My home is the place where I express myself through my “creative activities”, through my art, through music, through writing. It’s my home, and my way of expressing my feelings. Without it, I don’t know where I would be, or what I would be doing at this moment.

O: Sometimes I think of something I want to draw or make. I get my paper or my sketchbook from my cubby and the color pencils or crayon bin. If I am happy with my drawing Momma helps me hang it at my gallery or on the office door where some of my drawings are. Sometimes I feel like dancing or singing. Alexa is helpful with that. I like singing A Million Dreams and I can read the lyrics now! I like dancing with my sisters. I learned K-pop dancing from my sisters. That was fun!

Bella playing the guitar in her favorite space

On raising creative children

Jeanette Encomienda Acosta is the mommy of Bella, Emma, and Olivia. She shares this special list for the readers of Personal Spaces. Here are the ways by which her family fosters creativity in their home.

We make space for creativity. It could be an art table in a shared space or personal desks in the kids’ rooms. Isabella and Emma have their desks in their rooms. They have their preferred art tools within reach. Sometimes depending on the activity, the bed or the floor becomes a convenient space too and that’s fine. We have a shared office space that we use for family crafting and other art activities. Olivia uses a portable table that we bring from room to room, as needed. The floor is a favorite space for her, too, when she is drawing or reading. 

Everywhere is a comfy space to read.

We support the girls’ interests and passions. Paying attention to the girls’ interests gives us ideas on how we can support them. Making materials available and accessible around the house allows them freedom to create and give life to their ideas. As simple as having art tools in labeled bins and cubbies allow them to express their ideas almost immediately and freely. Checking out classes or videos that help them understand and execute their ideas is another way to show support. 

Wall of artworks and inspiration

We make time to listen, discuss, question and celebrate. Tuning in to your kids’ ideas is a good way to boost their confidence, assure them that their ideas matter, and also provides a platform to discuss possibilities. It encourages creative and critical thinking, an important skill that they can benefit from even as adults. I encourage them to explore their story ideas — nevermind if they don’t finish writing every story or every painting or drawing they had in mind. The important thing is that they start and try to put their ideas on paper. The times that they finish a story or an artwork are definitely days of celebration. Their happy faces beam with joy and pride. Celebrating their art endeavors is important. Hanging them on the fridge or wall, sharing them with other people (like grandparents and extended families), printing them in book form or even framing them are some ways to celebrate their art. They develop a sense of pride in their work and abilities. Celebrating also encourages them to do their best. Both Isabella and Emma have published some of their writing. I have framed and printed some of their artworks and hung them around our home and also gave some as gifts to family. 

We start teaching reading at a very young age. As babies, the girls looked at black and white boardbooks that stimulate their growing brains. I started reading books to them once they start engaging, recognizing faces, making sounds, and exhibiting first facial expressions. I probably have read Goodnight Moon a million times! It is definitely my most favorite bedtime story. The text is so descriptive and encourages imagination. Aside from reading to the girls, we never baby talked to them. They learn and understand words faster, making them more aware of verbal and written language early on. The girls started reading early, even before they attended school— Isabella at four, Emma at 3.5 years old, and Olivia was sounding off letters before she turned three. They’re all voracious readers!

Olivia tracing a drawing using the bright sunny area in her parents’ bedroom

We teach the girls to be more aware of their senses.  Going on nature walks, or just a simple walk around the block exposes them to a variety of stimulations. These train them to be more observant of themselves and their surroundings. Impromptu nature scavenger hunts are also a fun and good way to enhance creativity and interests. Aside from going outdoors, we also go to libraries and museums. They remember these experiences and learnings when they make art or write on their own time. 

We enforce down time. Over scheduling kids can’t be good for their growing brains. Down time allows them to be imaginative. After schoolwork, they get free choice on what they want to do. They don’t have a lot of structured activities everyday of the week. With three girls, doing things together mostly comes easy but we make it a point for each kid to have personal time to do activities on their own. 

We take time to pursue our own creative projects. My husband (Jose) and I met in Film School at UP Diliman. We are both creative individuals. We each have our own ways of expressing ourselves creatively. In the past, we’ve worked on film and video productions together and separately. But since we’ve moved to the US and started our own little family, Jose has changed careers and apart from a brief period working in Communication Training, I’ve stayed home since, just before I gave birth to our firstborn. In our busy lives, embarking on creative projects like we used to when we were a lot younger is not as easy but we try. They definitely help us stay sane. Jose plays the guitar, both as a means to manage stress and as self-expression. He also likes to modify the guitars he buys so they suit his preferred sound, tone or look. I, on the other hand, have been the self-designated family photographer, arts and crafts teacher, home economics teacher, among other titles. Family life in the US is very busy. We do every chore at home. And to raise children along with everything else is definitely not an easy decision for everyone. Some families are blessed to have extended family members who help out but most don’t. We all just make it work, no matter how hard some days can be. Embarking on personal creative projects, apart from modelling for the girls, can be both relaxing and fulfilling. 

Jeanette says that a home is not just for sleeping and eating; it is where we live. So for her girls, she strives to build the kind of home that “nurtures life’s many occurences, opportunities, possibilities, and discoveries.”

Bella’s writing, published by The American Library of Poetry and Creative Communication