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:

• September


Tuesday, September 21 (I started this journal late into this month)

At the park today, Grace gathered stones and make a little pile on the sidewalk, calling it her “treasure”. When she added an upright stick, I attached a leaf to make a flag. Now she was off, creatively thinking. “It’s pirate treasure,” she said. “We need to find a place to hide it!”

So off we went in search of a secret place. We found it in a far corner of the park: an old tree with a split in the trunk revealing a hollowed center. Carefully piling the treasure there, Grace felt it needed something to identify it as belonging to pirates. “It needs crossed bones,” she announced. While she found two sticks to cross on the ground in front of the pirate stash, I found a round walnut, recently fallen from the tree and with my car key, gouged out a passable skull face. The final look was very satisfying to both of us. Now we were really pirates.

our pirate treasure

I found us two stick-swords and I showed her how to make that cool swish through the air with it. Soon we were fending off attacking pirates (bushes), beating back a large octopus (a tree), and raiding a nearby ship (a wooden platform nearby). Soon we found that those fallen walnuts made great cannonballs for launching into the creek. So we waited until we imagined the bad pirate ship was passing and scared them away with our broadsides. I tried to steer Grace away from the idea that we were killing the bad pirates. Just scaring them away was good enough.

What delighted me was the eagerness she showed in this imaginative playing. Very quickly into the game, she took the lead role. She decided where we were going, what we were doing, giving way to me just long enough to hear my idea, then taking charge again. She frequently told me, “Now you just stay here while I go ahead.” I always answered with an “Aye, Aye, Captain.”

She tired of the game before I did. Soon it transformed into a follow-the-leader game, with her in the lead. She made us row with our sticks as we went.

Later we came home and made Chex Mix. One would think that would be enough parent-fun for one day. But no. After that was over, she kept asking me to do more things with her. I was tired and a tad frustrated that all that playing wasn’t enough. Small children are sponges for attention.

September 22, 2004

We ate breakfast and looked through a Cézanne book. After initial interest, she lost focus. I found this interesting: she likes Impressionist work in general, but was cool to Cézanne. Why? Was it her mood? Was it the way he painted? The subject matter? She likes all kinds of painting – portraits, landscapes, still lifes. But too much of one kind bores her, I think. If I had to pick her favorite, it would be a close race between Van Gogh and Monet.

At lunch, we listened to Isaac Freeman’s Beautiful Stars, a wonderful gospel CD. His deep, rich voice resonated through the downstairs rooms. She wanted to know what he was singing about. She particularly liked the first one I played in which he sang, “Lord, O Lord, I want you to help me… Help me on my journey, oh, help me on my way…” She wanted to know what a journey was. Some of the music was so bouncy, Grace got up after lunch and came in to dance. We jumped around for a while; she laughed delightedly.

September 23, 2004

Over breakfast, I got out my huge Encyclopedia of Mammals. We looked through the first third of the book before she got tired of it. I learned that there is a whole animal family of weasels, and skunks belong to it.

We took a break. She played for a long time by herself with her horses. I was glad to see that she could do imaginative play alone. I just wish I knew what kicked it into gear for her.

After that break, we sat down to draw one of the animals from the book. She chose skunks.

Working carefully with pencil, I showed her how to look at the drawing and try to put on the paper what we saw. Large shapes to small details. She did very well, though she had a hard time reproducing shapes that were outside the simplest. For instance, she could do the oval to make the main part of the body, but couldn’t do the trapezoidal head shape without help.

I showed her how the fur went in a particular direction, and how it helped to turn the page to make it easier to draw strokes all going one way. She caught on quickly. Then we added ground with stones and grass. Finally, she wrote the word “skunk” as we sounded it out.

She took the drawing to her afternoon pre-school, to show it to her teachers. While there, she gave it away to one of the other girls. When I asked her why she had done that, she said (with a tone of patient explanation), "Because I was nice." It's hard to argue with the intent, even though I had hoped to keep the original.

September 24, 2004

We went back to check on our “treasure” hidden in the tree of the park. There we found the treasure scattered in the peaty soil and the walnut “skull” gone. But we carefully reconstructed it, though I told her this was the last time. (I had a mental picture of us waging an ongoing cat-and-mouse struggle with a park squirrel – a squirrel-and-nut game, perhaps?)

On the way there, we found half a walnut shell, chewed neatly, near flat on the open side. We brought it home. After she helped me saw off the round end, we had a neat slice of walnut shell. I let her determine which end was the top – she thought it looked like a face the way she chose -- then drilled a hole in to put in an eyelet. Once we strung through a piece of yarn, she had a necklace.

Earlier, at breakfast, she asked me for music that was new. Brought a warm glow to my heart. So I put on some music by the Senegalese pop composer, Vieux Diop (pronounced Viuh Joe). We got out a map of the world so that she could see where his country was. I thought the music was light and melodic; she thought it was monotonous – saying “it just went on and on.” (But a few days later was asking for the music again!)

I wonder about the elusive elements of the term “kid-friendly”. I think I have a vague feel for it, but I wonder if I could describe it. In part, it’s simplicity: in art, simple shapes, or easily recognized subject matter. In music, it’s simple harmony, rather than the layer dissonance and resolution in 20th century compositions. One might also say clarity. The artist makes his statement in broad strokes or clearly understood lyrics.

This may take some time to unravel.

Monday, September 27, 2004

While Grace was finishing up breakfast, she noticed the three gourds we had bought last week on the table. She picked up the one with thin green stripes.

“What name would you name this gourd?” I asked her.

She thought for a few seconds. “Green Leaf Gourd,” she answered. When asked why, she said that she thought the stripes looked like the long leaves of a spider plant. I was impressed. She had seen the stripes as an object against the lighter green background. The yellow one was simply the “Yellow Bumpy Gourd.” The last one was going to simply be a Dark Leaf Gourd, but I pushed her to think of other ideas. I held it upside down and asked Grace what it looked like. “A maraca!” she said. Then she thought it looked like a balloon. Then, when I spun it, she said it could be the Spinny Wobbly Gourd. I was glad she was able to brainstorm a bit and not get stuck in her first way of seeing.

I then wanted to ask her, “What personality would you give this gourd?”, but I hesitated – not because it’s a strange question (which, I suppose, it is), but because she wouldn’t understand the concept of personality. So I asked her, “If this gourd was a person, what kind of a person would it be?” She started to answer as if she was describing the person – how she would add arms and legs and hair.

I changed the question. “What would he be like? Would he be happy? Nice? Mean? Angry? Sad?” I wasn’t sure if she could make this leap. But she did. The two striped gourds apparently were both angry. It seems that the dark one was a hot-head, and volcano flames could shoot out of its top, which of course, steamed the other striped guord. They didn’t get along.

On the other hand, the yellow one was a cheerful sort. He quickly became named Sunshine Gourd. As we began to play with them, Grace took the roll of Sunshine; she had it negotiate the disagreement between the two that I was voicing. In the end, Sunshine suggested a party – since it just happened, by the stroke of luck, that it was the very same birthday for all three – and when the other two found out they were invited and would be allowed to spin, they quickly forgot their disagreement. We enacted the party, with the wild spinning and even drinking imaginary chocolate milk.

Grace likes to be the peacemaker. It’s a role she clearly enjoys. Problem solving even an imaginary inter-personal conflict calls for a great deal of creativity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

We got out the playdough today. I suggested that we put faces on the gourds. She wasn’t sure what I meant, so I put a party hat on Sunny. She started working on the others. So in the picture, the middle one is mine, the other two are hers – with some help on things like the hat and understanding how the eyes start with white ovals, then the black dots go on top. For the food, I contributed the cake and the cheese doodles; she brought the carrot and the pizza.

The music in the background while we worked was some Chopin, Liszt and when that ran out – steel drum music.

As I look at her gourds, I love the nose and ears on the far left one. Her ideas completely.

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter

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