A journal of creativity with my daughter Grace

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This is my journal the creative ideas I try with my daughter Grace over this school year. I'm posting them so that kids, teachers and parents might be encouraged to try some of them, or be inspired to make up their own. It's to show you I practice what I preach, and hopefully you'll like some of the ideas and pictures of what we try. Grace is four, but things we do could be done with any young child, and the art and music we listen to are certainly useful for any age. Come, join us on our journey! It should be great fun!

Past months:

• October


Friday, October 1

Today, Grace made up this story:

Once there was a horse named Sparkle, because of her sparkly mane. One day in school, she was outside playing with her friends. Her one friend, Dave, said that he could run faster than Sparkle. This made her “a little sad, a little upset, and a little frustrated”. She thought that she was a fast runner, too. Dave became even meaner, saying, “Go out and sit by yourself and watch me as I run faster than you.” Then it started to rain. “You sit here by yourself,” said Dave, as they all started to go back into the building. He didn’t even say he was sorry.
But he wasn’t watching Sparkle. She ran so fast, she went in before him. He didn’t see her go back to her seat. He was left outside in the rain and the door was locked. Then he felt very bad, and said he was sorry.

We bought some new gourds today. She thought this one looked like a baby heron, so she wrapped it up in a blanket to keep it warm.

Tuesday, October 5

We tried watercolor today. I've been a watercolor illustrator for over 20 years and teach a watercolor lesson to 7th graders in the local middle school. I love the medium because it's a great way to learn that mistakes can be really useful. Here, we worked from a photo of some flowers we saw in a book.

This is mostly what watercolor painters call "wet-on-wet", which means wet paper and wet brush. That's what makes the wonderful soft edges -- called "bleeding".

Grace did a fantastic job putting the brush down and pulling the brush rather than pushing it. And of course, we looked again and again at the photograph, trying to notice how the flowers really looked. (Read more on drawing from real life with kids.)

Monday, October 11

We did DaVinci's Doodles today. Grace loves this game, but she calls it The Drawing Game. Since it was such a beautiful fall day, we did with chalk on our walk. Here, you can see her turning a squiggle into an octopus.

Then we just lay under this tree for a while, talking about how the sunlight sparkled through the leaves. Grace got up and started touching the branches. Soon, she had picked a twig with leaves and fruit attached.

We went inside and begain to carefully draw what she had picked. I thought this might be too hard for her, but I drew on one piece of paper, she drew on another.

Sometimes I had to direct her hand with my hand. (Hands on teaching!) And as we drew, we talked about what we were seeing. This photo on the right is Grace's drawing, not mine. It's an amazing drawing.

I wonder sometimes how much I should correct. I think early on with my older children, I corrected too much.

And I'm not an art teacher. So I wouldn't be surprised if I'm considered too controlling by saying, "Now draw the veings on the leaf going out from the center line, and change the direction a little as you go." But I think kids need to learn to really see before they can really draw. For example, this exercise was a great way to talk about "overlapping" -- where the berries are in front of the leaf. I wanted her to be able to see that.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

This morning started gloomy, with dripping rain and low, dark skies. After the flurry of the usual activity – lunches, breakfasts, working out after-school schedules – the grayness of the world outside added to a sense of coziness in the house. I know it’s early in the fall, and there will be plenty of rainy days that won’t seem so snug, but today I like the closeness. So, fittingly, we made cookies. Along the way, things became animated: I had her pajamas talk to her as they got put away, I had the butter call out when it went into the mixer; she had the cookie scooper pretend it was a bird. I told it that it must have been playing in the mud to get so messy.

While the cookies baked, I put on the CD Choo Choo Boogaloo, a kids zydeco album, and we made our attempt at copying the pattern we had seen in a book on Kazakhstan. It proved to be much harder than I thought it would be for Grace. Particularly, the curves gave her trouble. But she worked hard at it, never complaining, not wanting to stop until it was done. The drawing about is hers.

I’ve noticed that the crowning touch to all these endeavors is being able to show Mommy when she comes home. Grace runs up, usually with the paper hid behind her then presents it to Alison with a big grin and leaps of excitement.

Art isn’t finished until it has an audience

Sunday, October 17

And just so you don't think Grace is a little Michele-angela, this is how she draws in real life -- which is still great for a four-year-old, but definitely looks like a pre-schooler's picture.

But here's what thrilled me about this, which she made during church this morning. After she drew it, she showed it to me excitedly, saying, "Look, daddy, I didn't make the tree go through her arm because it's behind her!"

See? Overlapping. She gets it!

Wednesday, October 20

I awoke this morning with a weariness that was hard to shake. Yesterday, I was at a school and didn’t return until 11:15 PM; I enjoyed pouring myself out for the students, teachers and students. At the end of the day, after an evening program, one teacher asked me if I was the Energizer Bunny. I laughed and shrugged it off, since I was in the flow of the performance. Today, I’m not laughing. I feel totally spent.

But I’m finding that with Grace, the truly fun creative times come spontaneously. I don’t disparage the planned projects; I simply find the ones that take us by surprise, that develop naturally in the flow of the day, to be the most rewarding. This morning, I sat down at the piano while she ate breakfast and fumbled around with some basic kid tunes – This Little Light of Mine, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – until I chanced upon a tune that was heavily “suggested” in the back of my mind by a song I had heard on a tape. I made up words to go with it. The words were a simple repetitive pattern:

I wish that I had a dog
Oh, I wish that I had a dog
If I had a dog,
I’d sit him on a log,
I wish that I had a dog.

Then I invited her to jump in with ideas. First I waited at the end of “I wish that I had a…” for her to think of an animal. I began to sing her choice. Then I waited for her to think of rhyme. Grace is exceptionally good at rhyming, and also at meter. Here are some of the condensed verses she made up.

I wish that I had a mole
If I had a mole, I’d sit him in a bowl.

I wish that I had a sloth;
If I had a sloth, I’d fly him like a moth.

I wish that I had a snake;
If I had a snake, I’d bake him a cake.
(this one came after many attempts at using rake without success)

I wish that I had a bear;
If I had a bear, I’d be very fair.
… sit (him) on a chair
teach him how to share

It was really fun making the song up. A real collaborative effort. And she seemed to want it to go on and on. I suppose we did this for half an hour, with many more verses.

This is something you can do in the car -- just take a simple song and challenge your young children to make up the rhyme to go with your line. "Mary had a little dog whose fur was black as night, and everyone who met the dog..." then let your child finish it. It's fun, and a great way to get your child thinking about both words and rhythm.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Grace made her own puzzle today. I gave her a blank puzzle I bought years ago at a craft store and asked her to draw something on it. She colored each side, and worked very hard. The first side turned out more muted than the other. She colored so carefully that when I went to put it together for the scanning, I had a hard time assembling it.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Today, while looking through a book of Maxfield Parrish's work, Grace was fascinated by this painting of Jack and the Giant. She didn't know the story, so I told it to her as best as I could remember. Then we went to the library and tracked down a really fine version. I read it to her a number of times, using my best booming giant voice for "Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!"

She loved it. Soon she had her own giant voice, with wonderful inflection. My favorite: "I'll GRIND his bones..."

I wonder about scary things for kids, especially with Halloween coming. I'm not a big fan of the ghoulish, and celebrating death and decay just doesn't seem right to me. But there is something that one might call "deliciously scary" that children love. Something just up to the line, but not over it. Mastering that shiver gives children a sense of being in control. I sense that as I hear Grace doing her giant as tough and mean as she can.

And that's what we both found curious about this painting. The giant doesn't seem scary. And Jack doesn't look scared. In fact, it looks like Jack just insulted the big guy, and now the giant's pouting. Interesting.

This was another quick project we did with gathered leaves. We glued them down onto a quick sketch of a bird. It was fun because it was fairly quick. Sometimes I need these to keep art from becoming too demanding for her.

Tuesday, October 26

I decided to come back to the issue of being scared. I asked Grace today what scared her. Here’s what she said:

- When you forget to turn on my night-light
- When I have a big, big, huge bad dream and it never went to a good dream
- If it was thundering, lightning, and raining so hard, maybe I could cry… it’s kinda scary
- If a tornado almost crashed my house
- If a monster almost grabbed my friends

“What’s scary on TV, Grace?”

“Flying saucers.” (She had seen a scary episode of Reading Rainbow, of all things, which played scary music while telling of a woman who went outside and thought she saw a flying saucer.)

“What’s scary in books?”
She couldn’t think of anything. So I came back to the Jack story. “Were you afraid of that giant in the story?”
“Really?” She might be giving me the answer she thinks I want to hear.
“Uh-huh. ‘Cause he was really big and huge. Right, Dad?”
I decided to bring it up again later.
“What was scary about the giant?”
“His loud, ‘Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!’ When you said that, I had to turn in my chair.”

Saturday, October 30

Carving pumpkins was a great way to showcase the whole family's creativity. The top left is my college son's design, the one under it is Grace's. Then came my "cat in the moon". Then my 11yr old son's big-eyed Jack. Then the design by an international student friend of ours who came over to try her hand at an American tradition.

I hope you enjoyed reading about what Grace and I tried this month. I didn't mention all the music we listened to, or all the books we read aloud, but these were the activities that stood out. It doesn't take much to get a child's creative juices flowing; just be ready, ask questions, have paper and markers handy.

Have comments? Questions? Chime in --I'd love to hear what you think!

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter
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