Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Great idea!

Sometimes good ideas never see the light of day because of our own preconceptions and misgivings.

"I don't have talent in this area."
"I never come up with cool ideas."
"I'm not artistic/creative/talented."
"Last time I tried to be artsy, it was a disaster."
"I'll look/feel like an idiot if this doesn't work."

Oh, baloney.  :)   If you've ever figured out dinner when there was no time to get to the grocery store, successfully entertained a toddler in the line at the bank, decorated your home, or worked within a budget, then there is some kind of a creative person hiding in you somewhere....

Our children are quite in touch with their creative side, but it's important to keep that connection open and prevent them from falling into that same self-doubt that plagues many adults. How do we do that?

  •  encouraging them to try their ideas (even the ones you are sure won't work!)
  •  being willing to advise.
  •  praising a good effort.
  •  offering alternative suggestions if they hit a wall.
  •  encouraging practice. (Artists have a God-given talent, but they aren't usually born with a paint brush in their hands.)

But the one I think is most important:

  •  spurring them on past their "failures." When something doesn't work, use it as a learning experience rather than a stumbling block. Edison is credited as saying, "I have not failed at making a light bulb. I have discovered 1000 ways to NOT make a light bulb!" 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Outdoor Canvas

Making a mess with paint can be fabulous fun at any age, but bringing the mess outside is a great way to encourage expression without worrying about the clean-up! And with summer upon us, it is another way to get the kids outside for some sun and fresh air. Here are some ideas to get your kids creating outside:

  • Grab a large bucket of sidewalk chalk and set them loose on the driveway. Nothing forces creativity quite like a blank canvas--especially an outdoor one!
  • Another way to temporarily decorate your driveway is with sidewalk paint. Just mix together 1/4 cup of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water and add a few drops of food coloring. The kids will love it and, best of all, it washes right off. Tip: save used applesauce cups and use them for mixing the paints.
The yellow paint spilled, but it looked interesting anyway.

  • Smooth the sand in the sandbox and have your kids draw in it with their fingers.
  • Gather items from nature (sticks, leaves, etc.) and have your children arrange them as a picture or collage. When you're done, the items can be thrown in the yard waste or compost pile.
Have fun, and don't forget to grab your camera!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let's do some Creative Writing!

If you were in a classroom right now, you'd hear a collective groan.... in stereo surround sound.

It's not as hard as they (or you) think!

How about some stimulating activities to help open those jammed floodgates of inspiration?

With your littles, creative "writing" couldn't be simpler. They are natural storytellers. How fast can you write? Sit down next to a child who's coloring something indistinguishable to you, and ask what's happening in his picture. Get your pen handy, because he knows. After you've written his story out, congratulate him on having written a book, encourage another illustration or two, and make an afternoon of publishing it using your printer for his dictated words, his picture(s), and some cardboard and interesting paper or fabric for a cover. Even brown paper with an illustrated cover turns out adorable :)

Other ideas:

  • Alternate endings 
Pick out a storybook that the kidlets have never seen before, and read just over half of the story to them. Close it and ask them what happens next. Ask some leading questions to draw them out if necessary.

  • A patchwork story
Set a timer. Mom or Dad makes up the beginning of a story and talks for 30 - 60 seconds. When the timer beeps (or dings, if it's a little more old-school!) it's another family member's turn to pick up wherever the story left off. When it comes to your turn again, make sure to throw in some challenge for the main character or an interesting twist and keep them engaged!

  • Narrate nature
Sit in your driveway with your child and watch the ants, or the sparrow, or a rabbit, or even the neighbor's pot-bellied pig. Where do you think he's going in such a hurry? What do you suppose his name is? What are they saying to each other right now?

  • Read to them! All of them! Even big kids like to be read to. Give your kiddos a feel for plots and settings, development of characters, problem-solving and climax, happy endings, and an all-around good story.  Google "100 best kids books" if you're stuck for a reading list (but don't dismiss the classics you liked when YOU were a kid.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Erasing Boredom

"I'm dying of boredom!"

Most parents have heard it at least a time or two. If you're like me, or my mom, you happily tell your kids that you'll give them something to do if they're bored. Something like scrubbing the toilets or picking up dog poop.

That'll silence the complaints, but does it fix the problem?

A child with a healthy, active imagination will rarely get bored. And if he does, he'll find a way out of it. We can encourage our kids to learn how to find a way out of boredom by forcing boredom upon them and then sitting back and watching them work their way out of it.

A few years ago our family went to visit some relatives in a small town in the heart of Mexico. By spoiled American standards, there was nothing to do. No video games, no internet, no TV (at least not in English), no friends to call, no mall or playground nearby.

But my kids (ages 6, 10 and 12 at the time) did not get bored.

  • They read.
  • They explored.
  • They searched for lizards and inspected ant hills. 
  • They bought coloring pages at a local shop and spent time coloring and chatting with each other--all three of them.
  • They joined the local kids in games of jump rope and "esconditas" (hide and seek).
  • They enthusiastically helped wash laundry the old-fashioned way (by hand) and pick "nopales" (prickly pear cactus). 

I could not have been more pleased with how well my kids handled themselves in the face of having nothing to do.

You can do the same for your kids, and you don't even have to leave home to do it. Simply turn off the TV and computer and ban your kids from using any kind of electronic device for a day or two. Then just sit back and see what happens. Depending on their ages, they may need some nudges in the right direction, but you just might be surprised to see what they can do with "nothing."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Just give 'em a chance.

What's the best way to inspire little children to create? The art class that is so loved by parents and children that there's a one-year waiting list? The essay contest with the clever title? The music lessons from top-notch instructors?

Those things are stimulating, and can be a lot of fun, but don't overthink it. 

Getting kids to tap their ability to concoct and construct is as simple as putting materials in front of them. All they need is a chance to use their hands! 

Give them some blocks. Some play dough. Crayons. Boxes, paint, and glue. They love to build, squish, shape, decorate, and experiment, the whole time filing away ideas and concepts to be utilized again at later times.

Here's an excellent, inexpensive recipe for play dough that I found online and made for the kidlings today. They have been occupied with it for the last three hours, and the ingredients for one batch cost me about $0.75!

1. Mix 1c flour, 2t cream of tartar, and 1/3c salt in a saucepan. 

2. Add 1c water and 1T vegetable oil, and mix well (it's okay if it's a little lumpy).

3. Stir over med-low heat (and add some food coloring now, if you like) until it's... uh.... like play dough. It goes from a gooey mess, to balling up when you stir it.

4. Let it cool - it only takes a few minutes - and knead out any remaining lumps.

5. Give it to the child that's been bouncing around your ankles this entire time.

6. Repeat until all the children are sitting quietly at the table with colorful snakes, snowmen, cookies, igloos, bowls, etc. It took five batches for my brood.