Monday, June 11, 2012

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. It is also a reminder that sometimes the best things we can do for kids is not too much …

The story begins at a neighborhood garage sale, (be careful crossing the street), involved the combining of allowance coins to pay the price of the cloth, and included 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 girls’ 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, two pair of kid-sized scissors, and inspiration.

As the mother of one of the girls, I can attest that 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.

I often write about how teachers, parents and mentors can encourage relationships and learning. I suggest ways that they can stimulate creativity and promote productivity in the classroom and programs for kids. I write from an awareness of the many challenges that kids, schools and families are facing in these difficult times, and most of all, I write in the hope that some of the ideas and information I share will help kids be engaged in their learning and fully involved in activities that they feel passionate about. But, with summer vacation just beginning, and many parents and organizations scrambling for ways (and dollars) to fill kids’ time, I want to change gears a little and offer this story about the girls and the cloth as a reminder that, especially in these times when so many kids lead highly scheduled, busy and complex lives, there is more than one way to fill a summer day, and as a reminder, that adults are not the only ones who can (or should) provide kids with fun, diversion and creative opportunities.

So back to the girls:

On the following morning, after careful consideration, the now embroidered pink squares were identified as place-mats. And, it was immediately clear that place-mats this beautiful  belonged on a party table. This was the moment when the real work began and the idea for a grand 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. The party was the core of their summer activities. (And need I mention all the summer learning that came as a result?)

Working together, the girls planned a ‘great’ dinner, plotted ways to get the food and other things they needed for the meal (”without anybody knowing”), 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 performed (and later published! - but that’s still another story), 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 and costumes were 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 were the lessons that I learned 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, discover creatures in the clouds and ants in the grass. Give them unstructured time to play, imagine 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, a few more tips … give children books - or better still, let them choose their own at the library. It may not constitute their idea of free time, but it can’t hurt. After all, they might find patterns for place-mats, recipes for cakes, ideas for gifts, or simply the gift of something wonderful to read.

And of course, give them art supplies. Create a portable art kit that fits into a backpack, or big pocket. Mine, which comes with me everywhere, includes a  variety of pencils (plain and color), an eraser, thin and thick color markers, and a small sketch book. Put it all together in a zip lock bag.  Then, when inspiration strikes, your kids will have the time and the tools to make the most of summer.

Happy Summer.