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Abby Connors Teaching Children
2011 Interviews : Abby Connors

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Early-Childhood Arts Educator & Author Abby Connors

By Molly Anderson-Childers

Abby ConnorsAbby Connors' creative journey has been a circuitous route, a twisting and turning road to her dreams. She began her career as a music teacher, soon changing her focus to help children with special needs. After going back to school to become a school psychologist, she had trouble finding a position in her chosen field and worked a miserable office job. Just when things were at a low point, she discovered she loved teaching movement and music to children through a community education program. The rest, as they say, is history.

Abby discovered she had a passion for inventing games and songs to teach children about music, and began a music enrichment program for kids. She began presenting her ideas to other teachers, writing articles and books, and she's never looked back. Her newest book, Teaching Creativity, is a great resource for teachers and parents alike. I'm thrilled to have her here with us today. Abby, welcome to Creativity Portal.

Q: Tell us a bit about your creative journey — were there a few surprising twists and turns along the path before you found your way to the career of your dreams?

A: Even as a little girl, I knew music would always be a big part of my life. I studied music education in college and I LOVED it, but when I graduated and got a job teaching K-12 music, I found I actually disliked the job and was quite lousy at it. Then I worked as a special education aide for a couple of years and that was fun, so I got a masters degree in educational psychology, thinking to become a counselor or school psychologist. But it was tough finding a job after grad school and I wound up working in an office for two miserable years. When my children were small I was invited to teach a Saturday music class for young children in a community education program. To my delight, I had an instant rapport with these little ones — they loved singing and playing with me, and I was charmed and inspired by their energy, imagination, and enthusiasm. Soon I was writing songs and inventing games and activities for them, and when my children were school-age, I started my own freelance music enrichment program for preschools and day care centers.

Q: What inspired you to write Teaching Creativity?

A: I've always been curious about why young children are so incredibly creative, yet adults seem to need so much help in accessing their creative thinking skills. In my research for the book, I found that children's creativity does indeed decrease as they grow. I wanted to understand why this is true, and help teachers support and nurture their students' creative thinking so it continues to develop.

Q: What are some of the strategies you use to help children express themselves in creative ways?

Abby Connors Teaching Children

A: First of all, we do a lot of improvisation with rhythm instruments. (Many of the improvisation activities I designed are in my book 101 Rhythm Instrument Activities for Young Children.) We do a lot of movement improvisation, too. I put on some rhythmic music (I love the Putumayo CD's of world music for children) and away we go! These are all nonverbal, easy, playful activities — everyone is more creative when they're relaxed and having fun.

Q: How can adults regain the childish sense of wonder which is so necessary for creative juiciness?

A: Well, I'm very fortunate that I get to spend a lot of time with young children — hanging out with little kids is unbelievably refreshing and inspiring. It also helps to remember times from childhood when I felt curious, awed, or excited by beauty. For instance, I loved riding in a car at night and being entranced by the sparkling lights and colors — it was like a magic world. That feeling still helps me reconnect to a simpler, more magical way of thinking.

Q: Some people lack faith in their ability to be creative. How do you respond when someone tells you, "I don't have a creative bone in my body."

A: I believe creativity is part of what makes us human. If you're alive, you're creative. Everyone has their own ideas of beauty, of humor, of invention. No one tells a story or dreams a dream exactly like anyone else.

Q: Why are children seemingly so much more creative than their adult counterparts?

A: Children aren't as hemmed in by categories and literalness the way we are, so they're freer to make up words, tell stories that don't "make sense," paint blue pumpkins and play instruments upside down. But even more importantly, they're not afraid to fail. They do creative things because they love to. They're just in it for the fun.

Q: In what ways does your book help teachers and parents keep kids inspired through the teen years and into adulthood?

A: "Teaching Creativity" is written in three sections — one has inspiring activities, but the other two sections focus on creating a climate of support and respect for creative thinking, and showing how we value and appreciate students' creativity. My goal is to help teachers get children in the habit of creative thinking; to help them see themselves as creative thinkers who have a lot of great ideas to contribute and aren't afraid to share them; to give them a foundation to build on as they grow.

Q: Your best strategy for breaking through creative blocks is…

A: To just keep working through dry spells — keep writing, keep singing and playing — and have faith that inspiration will come back.

Q: Favorite way to relax after a hard day in the classroom?

A: I love to read, all kinds of books but especially science fiction and fantasy. Walking and (in nice weather) jogging refresh my mind. And it's great to spend time with my family and my cat Fireball.

Q: A creativity booster for busy adults…

A: Write a list of everything you wish you could do in terms of creativity, no matter how far-fetched it might seem. Then choose one of them and do it! This strategy has led me to some very fun projects!

Also: Try doing something short. For instance, instead of buying a birthday card, make a card or write a poem for the birthday person.

Q: New projects on the horizon you can't wait to dish about...

A: Since "Teaching Creativity" I've written a book about teaching music and movement to toddlers and a funny young-adult novel about a girl whose daydreams seem to be coming true — but not in a good way! Both books are in waiting-to-hear-from-publishers limbo at the moment. They were both a lot of fun to write, especially the novel, since I'd never written a novel before.

Q: Any final words of advice or inspiration for our readers?

A: I recently read a great quote from Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers" — "Talent is the desire to practice." Creativity seems to come out of nowhere, but consistent practice of our creative crafts makes those "magic moments" of inspiration happen more often. •

Abby ConnorsAbby Connors is an early childhood music educator, author, and presenter. Her books include “101 Rhythm Instrument Activities for Young Children”, “Teaching Creativity”, and “The Musical Toddler.” More »

© 2011 Molly Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

Updated 1/10/14