Monday, June 7, 2010

Kids and Creativity Need Time to Grow

This is a story about two little girls, a piece of pink flowered cloth and the luxury of time during the long days of summer vacation.

The story begins at a neighborhood garage sale, (be careful crossing the street) and involved the combining of allowance coins to pay they price of the cloth, and complex negotiations about shared ownership. (Where would the cloth be at night?)

The most difficult thing about the cloth however, was deciding what to do with it. The first idea, quickly discarded, was to turn it into doll clothes. These were not doll playing girls, and besides, sewing those tiny stitches was too hard when the sun was beating down. A trip indoors for a cooling drink resulted in the discovery of a fat pile of many colored yarns; some big-eyed needles and two pair of kid-sized scissors, and inspiration.

They were busy all day. As the light faded, a stack of neat, pink flowered, (almost squares) of carefully embroidered and edged cloths sat on the purple work table under the tree where they worked. That was just the beginning.
During the school year I often write about how teachers and parents and mentors can encourage relationships, encourage learning, stimulate creativity and promote productivity in the classroom and programs for kids. All of my work is based on the hope that kids will be engaged in their learning, connected to their school and community, and fully- involved in activities that they feel passionate about. But now, with summer vacation just beginning, and many parents and organizations scrambling for ways (and dollars) to fill kids’ time, I offer this story about the girls and the cloth as a reminder that there is more than one way to fill a summer day, and, that adults are not the only ones who can (or should) provide kids with fun, diversion and creativity.

So back to the girls: On the following morning, after careful consideration, the now embroidered pink squares were indentified as placemats. And what good are placemats without food to serve on them. So, this was the day that the real work began as an idea for a fantastic party began to take shape. By summer’s end, the girls and their younger siblings (who they coerced into all manner of participation) held a surprise party for their parents, all of whom just happened to be born in September. This grand idea was the core of their summer activities. They planned a ‘great’ dinner, plotted ways to get the food and other things they needed for the meal, shopped with their own money (even collected cans to recycle to earn more), and requested “cooking lessons” so that the food got cooked, and the cake baked.
It didn’t end there. A play was written, and several poems transformed into lyrics for the songs that were offered as the evening’s musical-comedy entertainment. No one knows where the rehearsals took place, but the performance was memorable. As were the gifts, each personalized for the recipient and made by hand (more garage sale finds.) The candles on the (slightly lopsided) cake were dull compared with the light of pride, delight and imagination that lit the eyes of the party-givers.

It is truly hard to say who was richer for the experience, but it is safe to say that a good time was had by all. And to think it all began with a piece of second hand cloth, and the unstructured time of long summer days to see it blossom into whatever it could become.

So, what lessons did I learn that summer?

Give children time - free time - empty as a blank page to be colored by imagination and filled with the discoveries found in their own world - within and outside themselves.

Give children time - to dream, experiment, and discover creatures in the clouds and ants in the grass. Give them unstructured time to play, and just be.

Give children time so that their creativity can flourish, friendships can grow and their ideas can come to full growth.

And, as long as you are still reading, one more tip … give children books - or better still, let them choose their own at the library, at garage sales, and book stores. It may not constitute their idea of free time, but it can’t hurt. After all, they might find patterns for placemats, recipes for cakes, ideas for gifts, stories to tell. or simply the gift of something wonderful to read.

Happy Summer.