Creativity and Poverty

How do you spell “cytokinesis” if your alphabet doesn’t include a “y”, an “I” and only 1 “s”? Have a look at Kaden’s take on the problem.

only the child of and engineer and scientist, right?

only the child of and engineer and scientist, right?

Let me explain. Someone gave us a little bag of plastic alphabet letters one day last year. I put them up on the refrigerator thinking my toddler friends might enjoy playing with them when they came to visit. The next thing I knew, my boys were writing “messages” with them. Every morning I would wake up and check to see what was new. Often it was a totally new message but just as often, a slight rearrangement of the message from the day before. Listen, I did not put them up to this! They just started doing it.
For many weeks I watched and laughed at what they put up (see another example below).
cows nerf gun

with a slight rearrangment you

with a slight rearrangment you

Then one morning I made my own subtle change to the message. When they saw it they commenced to argue about “who dunnit.” It was fun to watch but after awhile I casually said, “Oh, I did it.” They stopped dead in their tracks for a moment and then burst out laughing. Here’s another example of one that showed up recently.

can you see the creativity?!

can you see the creativity?!


Anyway, imagine my delight the morning I came out and found “cytokinesis” spelled out on my fridge (I am a scientist by training you might remember). However, I was a little bit embarrassed that my “poor children” were having to “make due” with an incomplete alphabet. I wanted to jump on Amazon and order up another set of letters with ALL the letters represented. Wouldn’t any good mom at least provide her kids with a complete set of alphabet letters (and maybe a bit more age-appropriate ones?)? Let’s take another look at photo 1 so we can see what the “poor little buggers” had to do in order to represent the word they wanted to.
remember this?

remember this?


Here you can see that, lacking a “y”, you can put together a “V” and a “j” and create a “y”. Ok, that’s good thinking. Next you see that Kaden encountered another problem. He doesn’t have enough letters to spell the word correctly. He has to “re-spell” the word in a new way but maintain the basic sound patterns (I don’t know what the actual terms for all this “language arts” stuff are…remember, I’m a scientist by training…). He decides to drop an “I” altogether and, at the end, goes with an “x” since he lacks an “s” and invents an “I” from a Lego man magnet (if you know my boys and legos, you know how perfect this solution really is). As I sat at the table, drinking my tea and staring at the day’s word spelled out in incomplete plastic baby letters (poor kids), I realized that the lack of resources caused them to move toward a much greater creativity. Would I have ever seen this creativity if they had possessed a complete alphabet set? Would they have chosen the creative route or the easiest, well established route if they had a choice?
Since then I have been thinking about whether there is a connection between a having a type of “poverty” and creativity. I know that many of my Dominican neighbors could put MacGyver to shame (they solve similar problems but without the help of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife). They use whatever is around them and re-purpose it in new and imaginative ways to solve problems. They do this because they are living in a financial poverty situation. They cannot just go out and buy something “appropriate” to fix a problem, they must create and invent. I am going to be looking for their solutions and maybe get some photographic evidence in the near future.
But back to my genius kids, it just tickles me that my kids are playing these word games because they want to. I love it that their minds must play but that their creativity comes through also. I love it that “cytokinesis” is the type of the word they put up. The creativity and the connections that they instinctively make awe me. I’m going to keep thinking about creativity in “poverty” and encouraging my kids to look for creative solutions to their “problems…” but I might have also just purchased a new set of letters for the fridge…

About harleymc31

My wife Abby and I are missionaries in the Dominican Republic, working as a High School Math and Science teachers at Doulos Discovery School. We are joined by our three boys, aged 9, 7, and 5 who attend the same school and bring us untold joy every day.
This entry was posted in Day to day life, Play Time. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Creativity and Poverty

  1. Shannon Merrifield says:

    This is so awesome for so many reasons! Miss hearing these kinds of things from you guys!

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