During this wonderful time of year, kids come home from school and playgroups with popsicle stick Christmas ornaments, homemade dreidels, pictures of Santa and many more holiday inspired crafts and works of art. In thinking about how kids can participate in gift giving, making gifts invariably tops the list (since they are relatively devoid of encumbrances like money and the ability to drive a car). But as I look at the internet for ideas of what kids can make, I find myself wondering how to encourage the artistic process to occur naturally rather than prescribing it for them.
Before I get into my “how-tos” and suggestions, I’d like to bring it back to me for a minute. As most adults will attest, they believe themselves to be somewhere on the crafty spectrum; ranging from “I don’t even say the word craft” to “Every piece of furniture in my house has been hot glued,” with another sect being “Why make it when you can buy it?” Sometimes we aspire to be hands-on and crafty. Those of us who appreciate it find ourselves at arts festivals oohing and aahing over the skill, thought and patience that it takes to make something from scratch. I am one of those people. I appreciate it, but often find myself devoid of original ideas, talent and time. So as a middling crafty person, it might be harder for me to think outside the box in encouraging craftiness among kids. This begs the question, how does one promote creativity and self-expression in kids?
1. Even if you’re “bad” at creativity, give it a try
Be kind to yourself about your (failed) attempts to draw a likeness of the family dog. Help your kids to see that making something “ugly” or lopsided is ok. Heck, that’s how you know that it’s handmade: those little artistic quirks.
Try not to shy away from doing some sort of art or project even if you feel a little uneasy about it. How many of us don’t do something because it’s just not our thing. “I’m no good at math,” we say. That way we can be excused if homework gets too hard or if we make a mistake in our subtraction, but that also means that we don’t flex that muscle as often as it would take to get better at it. Artists, crafters, writers and humans in general only get good at things with practice. We don’t see all of the first drafts of Hemingway or the discarded canvases of Van Gogh. They, just like everyone else, had to keep trying to get the product that they wanted. Trying is one of the most important lessons a person can learn.
2. Have appropriate boundaries in place
In my opinion, true creativity and exploration can only come from kids who are in a safe space. If you have to worry about being judged by others, as well as by yourself, then the chance of taking a risk for “art’s sake” is significantly lessened. If kids have to be concerned about looking dumb or feeling dumb because of the work that they’ve done (art or otherwise), then their natural inclination to continue to try it will decrease.
Having boundaries also saves us from avoiding art projects because of the trouble and mess that they make. When kids know the expectations of their behavior (related to the rules of “arting”), they can safely operate within those boundaries. This way we can help to create that safe space for them instead of interfering to correct where they can and cannot paint. Plus we don’t want creativity and artiness to spread to the walls, unless we have commissioned a magic marker mural.
3. Work to see the effort in your kids’ projects, not just the product
Maybe this is a reason that I don’t draw too much anymore, because I’m not “good” at it. Hearing someone say that they could tell I worked hard on something (without being sarcastic) no matter the look of the finished product, might encourage me to continue in my artistic efforts. Hard work can pay off. I can feel proud of the effort and the finished product.
So, how do you tackle homemade and handmade things in your house? How do you inspire creativity? I’d love to know since I feel like I could use a little myself.