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From bricks to rubber bands

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Christopher Johnson used to build with bricks and mortar, now he prefers Popsicle sticks and rubber bands.

He finds the new tools more useful for the crafty birthday parties and camps he hosts for children.

“In 2015, I lost my job in construction,” the 41-year-old said. “After three or four months I was going stir crazy.

“I like to be doing things, so I volunteered at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation. I love gardening, so I thought I could help them with their garden.”

The organisers of the non-profit programme in Devonshire came up with a different job for him — teaching toddlers about nature and gardening concepts.

“I was nervous, but I'm always willing to try things,” said Mr Johnson, who had never taught children and had none of his own.

He fell in love.

“I really like children. I love their enthusiasm and I love how curious they are,” he said.

“Unlike adults, they don't think they know everything and their minds are open. They are so mouldable.”

He soon graduated to teaching other classes, one of which involved crafts. It gave him the courage to start a business of his own. In September, he opened Mr Christopher's Creative Contraptions for kids aged 5 to 12.

First he held a Halloween camp; a Star Wars camp at St George's Sweet Saak Bakery followed last month.

Children can expect to make anything from galactic pigs to catapults to fighter jets.

Tools include old plastic bottles, toilet paper rolls and egg cartons. He estimates that the ten kids in his two-day Star Wars camp, went through about 4,000 Popsicle sticks.

“I'd always been crafty and loved building things,” he said. “I'm just a big kid at heart. I lay out instructions for the kids, but if they want to do things their own way then that is fine.”

He doesn't have a car, so he bought a pizza delivery bike to cart all the supplies around.

“A lot of the kids tell me they love coming,” he said. “That's what I live for, to hear words like that.”

Mr Johnson grew up in Ada, Oklahoma, where his parents ran a bakery and deli and often did crafts with him.

An early talent for art got him into the gifted programme at school, but he did not see it as a career. Construction, on the other hand, promised an income.

A job brought him here 17 years ago and in 2011, he married his Bermudian wife, Alice.

He has particularly enjoyed working with autistic children and is hoping to become a special needs art teacher.

“I'd really like to work with autistic children and special needs children full-time,” he said. “I love being with the kids and seeing what they can do. I think sometimes adults take a very negative approach to handling them.” In his classes, he urges students to be kind to one another.

“I am very focused on positive reinforcement with the children,” he said.

“I have found a few of them saying things to each other about their work.

“I tell them there's no reason you can't be nice to each other. We all see things different and we all put things together differently.”

For upcoming classes, see Christopher Johnson's Creative Contraptions on Facebook

Animal magic: Christopher Johnson with a possum children made in one of his camps (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Christopher Johnson with some of the contraptions children have made in his art camps (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Christopher Johnson with some of the contraptions children have made in his art camps (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Christopher Johnson on his pizza delivery bike turned into a crafts carrier (Photograph supplied)
Christopher Johnson with his pizza delivery bike turned into a crafts carrier (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

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Published February 08, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 08, 2018 at 7:55 am)

From bricks to rubber bands

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