Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being an Artful Parent

I would not say I am particularly good at art. I did not like art class very much at school, I really can't draw, and I surely cannot paint. But I do believe in having fun while doing art projects, and I definitely can do that.

Coming up with those fun ideas is not always easy for me, so when HG was little I turned to the internet. A wonderful blog called The Artful Parent was fairly new at that point and offered many terrific, easy ideas for things to do with kids. It also introduced me to some books on doing art with kids, to the concept of "process art," and to the idea of having an art play group. A couple of friends and I made a date to get together every month or so with our three toddlers, and each time I'd come up with a simple activity for the girls to do while we grown-ups chatted. It was totally brilliant.

Now the Artful Parent blogger, Jean, has published a book that shares all of her wonderful ideas. I took it out from the library one day and barely opened it during my three week stint because I got busy. When I tried to renew it I found there was a hold on it, so I did what I never do these days as I am trying to reduce the number of books in my life: I went and bought it.

I wanted to share one idea from the book, and then you can go look for it in your library to get the rest. This great idea hinges on art--or creativity--being something you can do for short periods. It does not have to be complicated, and it does not have to be messy, and you can squeeze it into your (or your kids') day, every day. Jean suggests, among other ideas on this theme, that you set up a little creativity space (kitchen table, designated art space, front porch...) for your kids to find after school or when they wake up on Saturday morning or whatever. Just put out a pad of paper and a few crayons one day, or some yarn and sticks on another day, or a couple of boxes from the recycling bin and a glue gun, or a bunch of different dried beans and rice and stuff in little cups and some elmers and cardboard, or toothpicks and marshmallows, or some felt pieces and needle and thread. See how none of that is very complicated? And guess how long it takes to set each of those things up? I especially love the idea of just leaving the tools and the space for the children to find. They can dream up whatever they want to with the tools you've provided, and they are not overwhelmed by so many choices that they can't move.

Here are a selection of tools and inspiration in green that I set up a few days ago.
This is the kind of creativity that Waldorf schools (and other schools too) try to encourage. By reducing the volume of "stuff," and increasing the possible outcomes through providing open-ended experiences, little ones (and big ones!) can create in freedom. In my view, when you give kids more rigid parameters, such as showing them an end product you hope they'll emulate, or setting down some sort of already finished product for them to simply embellish (I'm thinking particularly of all those little wooden objects and figures people get at craft stores for kids to take home and paint), their creativity isn't really involved. This is not to say that doing those kinds of activities is wrong--I've done them, and my kids have done them, and we've all had a smashing good time--but when you only do coloring books and craft kits you are limiting their imagination.

The other day HG came down to dinner having made a dinner bell with a stick she found outside, some string, and a few little Christmastime crafting bells we had in some box in the art cabinet. Now that's what I'm talking about! My hat goes off to Jean and her blog (and her book, The Artful Parent), for introducing me to art and creativity as process activities, and to how simple it all can be.

Our new dinner bell.

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