Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seashells and Dragon Scales

My eldest wasn't thrilled with one of the projects proposed at art camp this summer, and this was unusual, so I set out to find the reason for his lack of enthusiasm.  For this particular project, the campers were asked to select an assortment of seashells and draw them, widely spaced, on a large piece of white paper.  Then, the remaining white space among the seashells was to be divided into smaller sections and the kids were asked to fill each section with a different pattern, anything they could imagine.  He had drawn the shells and divided the space, but then his interest sort of wandered and the instructor wondered if she was losing him ... Well, the cause of my child's reluctance was soon revealed when I picked him up early from camp one day and saw what the other kids were working on.  By chance my eldest was the lone boy among a group of girls in this camp session, and as I walked around the room I saw that the girls were filling their drawings with patterns of hearts and stars and rainbows, and I just knew ... 

It's like when you get an irritating-but-catchy tune in your head, and even though you don't want to think of it, it's all you can think of, you know?  I talked with him later that night, and it turned out that since artists (and campers) share their work with each other all the time, by the time he was ready to draw his patterns all he could think of was hearts, and stars, and rainbows, and he wasn't about to fill his drawing with all that dreck (no offense to the girls out there; it's just a boy-thing).  But he couldn't think of anything else, just like that annoying song! 

So we got to talking about the patterns in nature, like the ridges on a scallop shell or the scales of a snake, and soon my youngest joined us, and then we were talking all at once, rattling off examples - zebra stripes! spiderwebs! honeycombs! leopard spots!  And on and on.  We talked about how so many artists are inspired by nature, by the sights and sounds and textures of the natural world, and I wondered, had we never discussed this before?  I feel like we must have, but maybe this is the type of concept that must be brought up again and again before it takes root in their young minds?  The boys were still talking about it the next morning, and later on my eldest proudly showed me that he had completely filled in his drawing with all his favorite patterns, dragon scales, and spirals, and animal tracks arranged in stripes ... a visual triumph of self-expression!

In the past few weeks we've been to the zoo, the coast, the backyard, and now it seems everywhere we go we see patterns, especially my youngest.  I feel lucky that we found ourselves in this specific situation, a direct occasion to talk about patterns in nature, to wonder about them and go looking for them.   How often does such an occasion present itself in our hurried and stressed-out lives, or more to the point, how often do we recognize it when it does?  And how likely is it that our children are being given the chance to wonder about and explore these kinds of concepts in their hurried and stressed-out school days? 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

it never hurts to ask ...

museum sketching
I just spent the past two weeks bringing my kids to art camp in the city every day, which has become an annual tradition in our family and is quite frankly the best part of my summer every year!  My kids get more work done, more art projects made, in these two weeks than in an entire school year of once-a-week 45-minute art classes.  And they're better projects!  I love seeing my kids wake up excited to get going, asking me before they've even eaten any breakfast, "Is today a camp day?"  The creative energy that pounds within the college where the camp is held is invigorating, for them and for me (I think I got more work done in these past two weeks than in the past two months!).  And yet, I'm supposed to feel LUCKY that my local public school district still offers art class once a week?

Newsweek recently ran an article called "The Creativity Crisis" describing the fact that creativity skills in children are measurably decreasing.  This trend is terribly alarming, considering the fact that creative-thinking skills are widely recognized as crucial to success in the 21st-century world.  Parents have certainly been buzzing in response to the article - I've read a number of posts about it online and I've overheard people talking about it around town, too.  Some have suggested that as long as they're encouraging their own kids to be creative at home, then they're doing enough.  But I disagree. 

I think that if we only 'take care of our own' then nothing is ever going to change for the better and the decreasing creativity trend will get even worse.  For most of the year our kids spend most of their day in school, commuting to and from school, and doing homework.  I've read for several years about the narrowing of the curriculum as more and more school districts focus on standardized test scores, and I've seen it happen firsthand in my own school district over the past two years.  But I also know that parents have a lot of influence, more than many of us realize, and that if we all made an effort to do one small thing more, we might be able to effect real change regarding creativity in our public schools. 

Of course we can all encourage our own kids to be creative (and there are many places to look to for inspiration, for example), but that 'one thing more' I mentioned is this: we can also encourage our kids' teachers and principals and school administrators to bring more creativity into the classroom.  There's a great arts-advocacy campaign that uses the tag-line "The Arts. Ask For More." and the premise here is the same.  If we all let our kids' teachers and principals and school administrators know, over and over again, that encouraging creativity in the classroom is something that we value greatly and want to see more of, then we can change things for the better in our kids' schools. Just with the power of conversation!  I've been thinking of an old saying that goes something like, "a single drop of water will raise the level of the sea".  Well, imagine what a downpour can accomplish!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

good morning!

peeking out
This morning I went outside to snip off the faded blooms from my patch of daisies
early enough that it wasn't yet too hot & humid.  It must've rained in the wee hours because everything was dripping wet.  Tidying up like this gave me a special gift - the chance to notice the tiny new daisies, just opening up and stretching toward the sun.  The colors are so pure!  The whitest whites, better than a brand new t-shirt, and the yellow so-yellow it looks like wet paint!  I called my boys over to take a look, and my youngest noticed the small petal just forming, as if it was a bit late to the game.  This is one of the things I love best about the slow pace of summer vacation, not only having the time to notice a beautiful, simple thing like a new daisy, but also having the time to share it with my boys.   

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Because these are particularly important to me, the arts and nature, and these are the areas that I find lacking in my kids' public schools.  And since my mom always told me "put your money where your mouth is" which, in addition to its traditional "be-careful-when-you-brag" advice, also means (at least in my house) that you better not complain about something unless you're willing to do your part to make it better.  So, here's me, doing my part.