From our panel of staff contributors
Mud, the pre-Renaissance child's paint. From what I've heard, one of the big benefits of arts and crafts for kids is the tactile/sensory input. So if they don't like paint, Play-Doh or beads, maybe they like building with mud, sand, snow or autumn leaves. Or fondling raw eggs, like one child I know. Or writing in shaving cream. Or seeing how quickly they can dig up the Army guys buried in a bin of dry beans.
My youngest used to throw fits because he couldn't draw a symmetrical Christmas tree, until I walked him down the block and challenged him to point out a single symmetrical tree. But there's more to creativity than careful craftsmanship. The thing is to focus on something your kids enjoy, and then encourage a little outside-the-box thinking. Working a coloring book? Hey, let's pick one page and make the water yellow, the sun brown and the fish orange. Reading a story? Ask the kid to write you a happy birthday note while pretending to be one of the story's characters. The sheer fun of doing the unexpected might get across the idea that there's no "wrong" way to paint/sing/write/dance, and that's the first step to creative thinking.
"It doesn't matter what they produce, as long as they're enjoying the process," says Carla Sonheim, author of "The Art of Silliness: A Creativity Book for Everyone" (Perigree).
Creativity, after all, is about original thinking, invention, problem solving, imagination. Those skills are hardly confined to a craft table.
"Some of us are creative in drawing and painting," says Sonheim. "For some of us, it's how we fold our socks or organize our house or dress or cook."
Kids (and adults) are often intimidated by the notion of creating, Sonheim says, because they're afraid they're doing it wrong. It's important to remind them there is no wrong.
Sonheim has used these tactics for art instruction.
•Hunt for blobs. "Find random shapes; either paint them or draw them or go outside and find leaves on the ground. Then turn the blob around in all different directions to see what you can find. I often find faces. Some people find airplanes or shoes or animals. Kids love, love, love that."
•Flip the script. "When I taught a Michelangelo lesson I taped paper underneath a table so kids could see what it was like to hang upside down from scaffolding and paint. Their drawings came out crazy and it gave them the experience of seeing how awkward and fun it is to draw upside down."
•Draw blind. "My niece and her friends close their eyes and give each other prompts about what to draw: 'Draw a giraffe so the head starts at the top. Add spots. Add a flower garden.' When everyone opens their eyes (there) is laughter all around.
"As they get older they might become more intentional about making something pretty, but in the beginning you just want to make it fun and nonthreatening and encouraging," Sonheim says.
And keep at it.
"I liken not developing creativity to driving with a flat tire," she says. "You can get where you're going, but how much faster and smoother and more enjoyable is the ride if all four tires are inflated?"
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