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Children in Art Museums

February 25th, 2009

In my research in art museums many parents tell me they don’t feel comfortable taking children to the art museum. Their reasons vary. Some don’t feel knowledgeable enough about art and fear looking stupid. Others perceive there is nothing for children to do there and are concerned that either the children will damage something or be bored.

Most art museums offer a variety of enjoyable family programs and that are a good way to become familiar with the museum. Check the museum’s website for the family events schedule. Hint: Sometimes museuum websites hide the family programs under the “Education” tab. In addition, many art museums have interactive family galleries where everyone can have a hands-on, minds-on experience with art. Admittedly some art museums are more “family-friendly” than others but here are a few tips for getting the most out of a visit to any art museum.

1. Be curious. Let go of the idea that you need to be an expert. Children don’t worry about this, they just follow their interests. Keep in mind that typical visitor behavior in art museums is more like haphazard grazing than eating a full meal from start to finish, so let children “graze” according to their interests. Some interests will be momentary and others will be more sustained. Rather than feel you have to answer children’s questions, help them follow up on their own questions, ponder possibilities, and seek answers from someone at the museum, if possible, in books, and online.

2. Visit frequently. A trip to the art museum is not like a vaccination – once you’ve seen it you don’t need it again. Every time you go you discover something else, even if you look at the same art each time. A family museum membership is a good value and allows you to make many short visits, avoiding fatigue, and children wishing they were somewhere else. Visit often enough to feel comfortable there and learn your way around. Children like to feel an ownership of public institutions.

3. Plan ahead and be picky. Many visitors try to see the entire art museum in one visit. If you take repeated shorter visits then each visit can be focused on one part of the museum. Check on the museum’s website for exhibitions and collections on view. Let children participate in planning what to do. Explore the website further because many art museums, such as the Walters Art Museum, have special child-friend interactive sites.

Families in ArtSparks at the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY

4. Seek inspiration. Even if an art museum has no special family gallery or family programs when you visit, experience the museum as an artist might. Bring along sketchbooks (adults need to do this too) and color pencils. Most museums allow sketching in the galleries with pencils but check the policy. When you tire of standing and looking, find a place to sit and sketch. Some museums even allow you to sit on the floor but check that too. If there is a sculpture garden and the weather is nice, that’s a great place to sketch and maybe even have a snack – but remember, no food or drink in the museum galleries.

These are just a few ideas to get you started but there are many more. For example, Australian researcher, Katrina Weier, has good ideas for taking young children to the art museum. as does Erica Loop and Abby Margolis Newman.

The most important thing is to go, relax, and have a good time. So take your inner artist to an art museum!

Thanks for the great photos to Johnnie Utah, hoyasmeg at the High Museum of Art’s Greene Family Gallery in Atlanta, and the Speed Art Museum, ArtSparks in Louisville KY.

Art: An Artifact with Many Purposes

February 23rd, 2009

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Early universities established what faculty considered the four major areas of study: arts, law, medicine, and theology.

Over time, the “arts” evolved to mean more of some things (storytelling, finger-painting) and less of others (stained glass work, cathedral wood carvings), the Latin root for the word “art,” ars, is a base meaning “put together, join, fit.” In any case, the arts are here to stay.

Art can turn the routine of daily life into refreshing adventures in many ways, but three of them are by expressing art as immersion through the imagination or fantasy, art as therapy for healing, and art as community-building engagement in social change. Art can teach us lessons, provoke questions, and help us experience cultures through the lenses of artful eyes.

From the Hogwart Express of Rowling’s Harry Potter to the science fiction of StarTrek to the hobbits’ adventures of J. R. R. Tolkein, it is clear to children (and to the adult’s inner child) that art and fantasy easily partner. In these cases, a continuous thread of stories provided an imersive “reality” that captured millions’ imaginations. However, a child can express one great little story into a singular work of art as well.

Sometimes art is most helpful as a way to heal. Remember the thousands of drawings posted on fences and on Web sites after 9/11? Or children’s drawings from around the world after Princess Diana passed away? Art—storytelling, poetry, music, dance, visual arts, painting, sculpture or other forms of creativity—can serve to help us transform from a difficult experience to a more peaceful one. How? Scientists tell us that art can reduce the experience of stress to one of relaxation. Especially when guided, it can help transform pain into acceptance, sometimes into a work of art.

Art can also be used to build community and, in so doing, help socialize us. As with events around 9/11 or those around Princess Diana, communities came together to share stories, remembrances, and to share their common experience of loss. The art created around these events served as powerful reminders not only of the lost ones but also of possible futures for the surviving ones.

Art can represent evolutionary social issues also.  An example would be the emergence

of art communities around a new social issue—that of  “going green”.

In this case, green art can serve to inspire us about a cleaner future, remind us to

conserve resources, and allow us to understand that we are not alone, that we are one

of many concerned and committed to bring children a cleaner future.

Whether art serves purposes of delightful fantasy, healing, or community engagement,

or just fun, it is one of the elements of a core curriculum that exhibits

individuals’ humanity and talents.  In what way will you use art to move you through

the day today?

Learning from the Artist’s Process

February 18th, 2009

Science and language arts educators increasingly advocate that instruction should reflect the way real scientists and writers work. For example, instead of dry lectures on scientific principles, teachers suggest engaging children in genuine scientific inquiry,  experimenting, and learning content as they solve real problems. Similarly, writing teachers ask students to generate many ideas, select and organize those ideas, then undergo a series of revisions, often keep process portfolios of their work. Admittedly, this is a more difficult way to teach but ultimately more meaningful for students.

In the visual arts, while there are many wonderfully creative ideas for children’s art making, in books and on the internet, these lessons rarely mirror the way real artists work. So why is it important that, when making art, children reflect the ways artists work? Primarily because children can come away from an arts experience misunderstanding artists and the creative process or, worse, feel like failures and ultimately shut out the arts from their lives.

I first noticed this phenomenon when working with emotionally disturbed elementary-aged children. Naively, I thought that art projects would make them happy and relieve stress. Wrong, so wrong. When art materials were scattered onto the floor, chairs flew across the room, and fights broke out, I questioned my premise and became curious.

Here is what I came up with…..A typical art lesson gives children one piece of paper, for example, and one chance to “get it right.” Most art lessons are designed

to be completed in one 45-60 minute class period. Certainly, this is a practical consideration as school art teachers often have an extremely large number of students to serve. However, it is so foreign to the way most artists work.Like writers, artists spend time making sketches or models around an idea that interests them. They try different materials to find the ones that best accomplish their idea before settling on one approach. While children can be resistant to multiple revisions in writing they often like such “do-overs” in art.

It’s about the process.  Like scientists who conduct many experiments around a single problem, artists often work in series, completing variations around a theme until the artists feels she has exhausted the idea for a while. Revisiting, revising and rethinking is part of an authentic creative experience, as is generating many ideas then choosing among competing priorities.

In the end, working like a real artist not only allows children to have an authentic experience, it also teaches them intellectual discipline, perseverance, and creative problem-solving.  These qualities transcend all subjects creating well-rounded individuals for our communities and better learners over all!

Make art like an artist!

Thanks to pmorgan, and ElvertBarnes for the great images!!

What is Visual Literacy?

February 17th, 2009

What is visual literacy? When we have the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from an image, or information presented in the form of an image, it can be said that we have visual literacy. It can also be considered a vision-competency, says John Debes. Many are familiar with the value of linguistic literacy, as found in the printed word through books and journals, but the importance of visual literacy is growing as it delivers information without the need for the print.

When traveling, we see a sign with a bicycle and a red diagonal line through it. As someone who is visually literate, a traveler knows that the sign means something to the effect of “Please do not ride your bicycle here.” Likewise, if we see a sign with the picture of a child and a ball, with no red line through it, we understand it to mean “Children playing; please watch out for them.”

Several 21st century scholars, including Courtney Cazden, Allan Luke, and others advocate for the importance of both linguistic and visual literacies as modalities in the process of meaning-making. Implications, then, for classroom or home-schooling would be to incorporate the written word with visual information to provide a rich teaching and learning environment. For example, one might give kids a picture and asking them to write a caption or an empty cartoon and asking them to fill in the speech balloons to see what kinds of different interpretations emerge.
Exciting fields effective in visual literacy training include art history in all its glory: paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture, even textile design and furniture design. Of particular delight to students in these fields are uses of color, texture, style, shape, size, and form. Who is not visually delighted when confronted with patterns of colors, which convey excitement, cheer, and suggest lively festivities?

In terms of learning tools, one visual tool used in teaching environment is PowerPoint, intended to present information visually. One expert on visual literacy, Edward Tufte, a Yale professor and an expert on the presentation of information graphics, offers us a challenge: Do the slides communicate? His interest focuses on the efficacy of the tool rather than simply the happy opportunity to have the tool.

Thus, visual literacy not only refers to learning through the visual experience but learning useful, helpful, and usable information! It is easier for a student to make meaning when not only information is provided but information that a child can use to make meaning of her or his world.

Learning is delicious in whatever form. In capable teaching hands, linguistic and visual literacy make wonderful partners. For the learner, integrating these with other modalities—such as music—continue to expand learners’ meaning-making capabilities.

Thank you, trinchetto, for the colorful photo of lights!

For the Love of Whimsy & Play

February 12th, 2009

It’s so easy to become overly serious about stimulating children’s creativity and we sometimes forget that it has to be playful and fun if anything is ever to come of it.

So this Valentine’s Day put a love of whimsy and play in service of creativity and imagination. The pervasive sense of whimsy and wit is one of my favorite parts of the Creativity Express program. I still giggle like a small child at the antics of Furnace and Pickle and rejoice at all the messes they get into.

And messes are part of creativity. Do you remember what it felt like to finger paint? Can you recall that delightful squishy-ness of the paint between your fingers? Finger painting is a staple of early children arts experiences. Why, I wonder, do we ever stop?

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo reminds us of how innately creative children are. For example, what young child has not enjoyed the box a toy comes in, often more than the toy itself?

abelle-avery-boxes-square-dec-081

I remember playing in big refrigerator or TV boxes for days and I frequently provided them for my children. They transformed those boxes into many wonderful environments before the cardboard finally collapsed. It seems, in the photos here, that my grandchildren have the same play-inside-and-outside-the-box gene. So instead of chocolate candy, this Valentine’s Day bring home a big interesting box, throw in some big colorful markers, and watch the fun begin.

Steve Gillman cautions adults to not crowd our children in their creative play. Although it usually stems from the best of intentions, we adults can frequently stifle creativity in children by watching too closely, offering unwanted advice, and trying to control the course of the play. Gillman also notes that while all children are naturally creative, adults quickly teach them to judge their creative efforts too harshly.

This doesn’t mean adults should not engage in creative play with children but we do need to be observant and know when to jump in and when to hang back. Perhaps these are a few reasons why, as we grow older, become less connected to the natural creative instinct and more concerned about what others might think of our efforts. After all, artists are just people who still remember how to play.

So if you need some scientific evidence for the value of play and whimsy, check out the research and doctors’ advice suggesting children and adults play more together. Apparently play reduces stress,increases intelligence, and enhances family bonding. Iit’s just a whole lot of fun as well!

So bring out the artist within and make Valentine’s Day a Creative Play Day!

Thanks for the playful photos ~C4Chaos, Annabelle & Avery, and  carf.

Sustaining a Creative Spirit

January 29th, 2009

“Art has been the means of keeping alive the sense of purposes that outrun evidence and of meanings that transcend indurated habit.” John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934).

An artistic or arts based education is well known to have wide reaching impacts on the development of character not to mention physical coordination and mental agility. While it can also be very challenging to integrate such a perspective and commitment in the classroom, the importance of developing a creative spirit and intelligence enables us, as Dewey says to sustain our purpose and meaning when evidence evades us. So how can we keep this spirit alive?

Sometimes it is about building creativity into the very environment and everyday life you inhabit through art on the walls, sculptures, photos, fabrics, and creative tools close at hand so when someone asks to work creatively, there is something for them to work with, be it crayons, clay, paint, feathers, dirt etc. Other times it is about visiting with artists in their studios, taking art lessons with others, going on art walks or visiting museums where you can be exposed to works of art and can engage in some yourself. There are also times to explore the arts alongside other lessons; for example, my students in intercultural communication may focus on a culture and the kinds of art or creative expression that culture uses to communicate its values. In Kenya, for example, the beads women make and wear communicate social status, age, community etc.

But nourishing the creative spirit doesn’t always have to focus on work. Studies now show that recess or play times for children in and out of school prove valuable as this is their time to experiment with creativity and imagination in social interaction with others. Then there are the ‘toys’ or any objects with which we play — and the simpler they are, the more creativity is used in constructing them in multiple forms! Building blocks made of old pieces of off cast wood (even better if the kids have painted them or worked the wood and oiled them up); felt toys sewn by small hands or even handmade felt where kids can see just how wool, soap and hot water do their magic then craft their own special something for someone; or how about creating your own musical instruments, with pots, pans, strings, cardboard and don’t forget the plastic comb wrapped in paper? Chances are good that if you cast your mind back to your own childhood, you will find some very imaginative ways to keep your own creative spirit alive. If you run out of ideas, check out the Invention Playhouse. It’s a true treasure trove for curious and creative minds!

So go ahead, take some time out to create a creative environment to sustain your creative spirit and play…….!

With thanks as always to our artists — Today is a good day, and spinnerin

Rhonda Robinson: Visual literacy for a digital age

January 21st, 2009

 

As promised last week, welcome to Madcap Logic’s second podcast, and this time with our special guest, Dr.Rhonda Robinson from Northern Illinois University. Dr Robinson works with educational technology and assessment as well as teacher training for technology and has spent her career working around ideas of visual learning and literacy.

Originally an English teacher in middle school, Rhonda was very interested in media literacy and language arts and began to pursue media production in

her masters and doctorate degree. Beginning with ‘old media’, Rhonda’s techniques now span into the digital realm, encouraging students to analyze imagery from newspapers and also video, tapping into kids’ (and their teachers’) natural creative abilities.

Rhonda has used our Creativity Express program to teach her masters students color and composition, expanding their practical orientation to consider the aesthetic dimensions of the images they and their students create. Rhonda believes that we learn first through vision but the verbal orientation of schools has privileged verbal learners. Whether or not we have natural inclinations towards art, these skills can be developed over time. Images provide us with an easy door to learning, and it may be that we learn more through them than more literary or verbal texts because we have a reduced resistance to them.

Dr Robinson therefore, believes that visual literacy should complement and supplement other forms of literacy in education to aid diverse learners in the classroom. Teachers of reading in particular, have embraced this entire collection of literacies, as have teachers of science and mathematics. Integrating technology into the classroom, as opposed to having it shut out of the lesson or considered something different, is critical as visual literacy involves not only encoding or the creation of the image but also decoding, that is, how we select meanings for the same image and messages. This is increasingly important in a digital age with our ability to manipulate images!

We hope you enjoy our conversation with Rhonda! There is much to be learned from this fascinating conversation around the renewed importance of art and visual literacy in our contemporary times and its contribution to citizenship.

With thanks to lakewentworth for his art!

Encouraging The Creative Mind: Lessons from Leonardo

January 14th, 2009

It’s tempting to think that our intelligence is measured through our verbal reasoning and mathematical capacities but such a narrow version of intelligence has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary psychology.

Howard Gardner in his work Frames of Mind, believes we have 7 major forms of intelligence.

Here they are, as listed by Michael Gelb, from his work ‘How to think like Leonardo da Vinci’, complete with examples of each intelligence in action:


1. Logical-mathematical
— Stephen Hawkings, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie
2. Verbal-Linguistic — William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Jorge Luis Borges
3. Spatial-Mechanical — Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe
4. Musical — Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic – Muhammad Ali, Martha Graham
6. Interpersonal-Social — Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth I
7. Intrapersonal (Self-Knowledge) — Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa.

Of course, given such a list of intelligences that we possess, intelligence does not/cannot exist solely in your head! Neuro-scientists insist that we are intelligent at our very cellular level, and as a result, the mind-body-spirit separation that occurred over time in history does not serve us well. Moreover, as we get older, our brains are capable of making increasingly more complex new connections if we encourage them to do so. And this is the rub. In order for our intelligences to become developed equally, we must take a holistic approach to their development, only then do we have a chance of becoming, like Leonardo da Vinci, gifted, multi-talented individuals. Renaissance men and women.

Michael Gelb, based on a study of Leonardo and his methods, offers 7 Da Vincian principles to be remembered, developed and applied (across all ages!):

1. Curiosita – a perpetual curiosity and willingness to ask questions, continually learning about the world around you
2. Dimostrazione – the application of knowledge to experience and being willing to learn from mistakes
3. Sensazione – the refinement and development of sensory intelligence, especially sight as a way of enlivening experience
4. Sfumato – to go up in smoke – the willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty
5. Arte/Scienza – whole brain thinking — balancing science and art, logic and imagination
6. Corporalita – the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise
7. Connessione – systemic thinking – the ability to recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of all phenomena.

Renaissance men and women are not restricted to any societal period. Indeed, many people demanding educational reform to create citizens more capable of living and thriving in an interdependent world believe that we need a new form of Renaissance individual for these times. Our current educational systems demand us to specialize, when really, a more general and generous understanding of the holistic nature of our world would serve us better. At the very least, contemporary and future citizens need to be digitally literate as well as globally aware.

In this new year, consider how you can expand your repertoire of intelligences — what would you like to learn this year? what would your kids like to learn? How can you begin to craft a creative mind and life based on Da Vinci’s principles?

With thanks to maven and Dave ‘Coconuts’… for their images!

Art in 2009!

January 5th, 2009

At the end of our beloved 2008, we posted a series of 5 wishes for 2009 — we wanted arts funded, we wanted them in our schools, we wanted them for all (young and old, big and little) and we wanted to hold onto the arts of love and hope.

WOW – that’s a lot to accomplish in one year so we thought we would start with something fundamental – what is Art? Notice the capital letter. I ask this question of you based on my reflections over the last 48 hours — first, my 5 year old and I completed our questionnaire for his well child visit and he was asked to draw a person (I have never seen him do that – he usually does watercolors at school – highly impressionistic, kaleidoscopic whirls of color, with no body parts in sight!). Second, I read on the web that in my country of birth, a major art gallery had had one of its large concrete public walls graffiti-ed (is that a word?) on by the same artist twice in a month. When asked if they would be removing the artist’s poetry, the curator of the museum was disgusted — it was art, an expression of an artist’s love for someone else, how could he remove such an expression of human emotion? Finally, as a writer and as a mother, I was creating a blog, adding images, adding a trailer for a movie about something I was passionate about. Humming away, completely in flow (art as meditation), on my ‘piece of art’, I was completely floored when asked – so what purpose is that serving? Why are you doing that again? Hmmmm art. Art is something difficult to hold onto it seems.

And so I turned to my old friend, wise distributor of words, the dictionary. What is art? I asked it. Here is what it said, imagine a staccato machine-like voice —

” \ˈärt\. Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin art-, ars. Date: 13th century.

1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
2 a: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2)plural : liberal arts b: archaic : learning , scholarship
3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects ; also : works so produced b (1): fine arts (2): one of the fine arts (3): a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful
6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter.”

Righty-o then.

My dictionary friend then added, ” art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power; skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency (OK….); cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing (uh-oh….); artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature (definitely not to be confused with art) whereas craft may imply expertness in workmanship.”

So which one was my son being asked to fulfill in that questionnaire?

Whatever it was, it was different to “a personal, unanalyzable creative power” as suggested by my dictionary friend. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? When we revisit our five wishes we now begin to see them as follows – we want this power funded, we want it sustained in our schools and education (after the word educare, to lead out), we want everyone to possess this power or have access to it and we believe that two of our strongest emotions — love and hope, are its wellsprings. Over the next few months, we will be working some more with this vision of art in this blog and speaking to some fine scholars of visual literacy and active agents in making this power of art available to all, especially encouraging it in our younger generations. We will also explore ways to recover this power in our everyday lives with those big/little/old/young people we love and we will see what kind of thinking, minds and characters emerge as a result.

We look forward to your company on this journey!

With thanks to Denis Collettejbrownell for, well you know, art…..

Let’s start 2009 with Art!

Kids on Computers : When to Start?

December 16th, 2008

During Randy Parker’s Seattle radio interview, the issue of age appropriateness came up.

Yes, we hear stories of eighty-year-olds having a grand old time with Creativity Express, but what about on the other end?  When is a child ready to play with the program?

This can be puzzling. The animated software program suggests ages 7-97. Dr. Toy, which has recognized Creativity Express as one of this year’s “Top 10 Creative Products” suggests 6-12. (Thanks also to Homeschool Blog for an award).

Really, when can kids get the most value out of Creativity Express and other programs? If we say Let’s Start With Art, when do we start?

We probably all know a family (or three!) that are all over tech. The parents are engineers or web developers. The kids are writing code by eight. They design games for each other for fun. But what about the rest of us?

Well know that you are probably not the first to ask. Daniel D. Shade wrote his oft-quoted piece, Developmentally Appropriate Software back in 1991. Some of us weren’t even “launched” then. He developed, with Dr. Susan Haugland, a criteria scale, that measures the value of software programs for kids.

Some of the criteria are obvious.

* Does the software offer clear instructions?
* Age appropriate in terms of realistic concepts?
* Appropriate methods?
* Expanding complexity?  “low entry, high ceiling.”

He also writes, “Please do not think, however, that we have reached the pinnacle of early childhood computer applications. The majority of software produced for early childhood is still drill-and-practice, software improvements continue to center on graphics and sound rather than content.”

So, as we have heard before, in other contexts, content is key. What are kids being asked to do?  Chase things around to groovy sounds and lights? Or is there value in the program?  Frustration or mastery?

Between the ages of 1 and 2, cause and effect makes sense to a child. They also start getting computer basics around now. Be gentle with the keyboard. Don’t sit on it. Don’t throw it. There are games that offer magic by simply touching a key. Since this age group can’t recognize letters, keyboarding is limited to forward and back arrows. Full-on assistance please.
There are programs like Baby Smash that don’t even ask for fingers. My boys loved this one.

At around 3 or 4, your child will start showing readiness for “real” software. Simple stories. Puzzles. No complicated scenarios. No timed games. They need to work at their own pace.
They also still need a helper, since few children are reading at this age. A parent or teacher on hand is a good way to learn.

There is software that supports learning numbers, colors, shapes, letters. It’s also a good age for music and artistic software. Make sure there is a  balance between structured learning, right/wrong stuff, and open play.
It’s all good.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, when used appropriately, technology can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities. Computers are compelling. Colors. Sounds. Little people see us big ones working on computers, they want to do that too. (They want cel phones too, but that’s another story).

The right software programs engage them in creative play, problem solving, some sort of conversation. And control! How cool for them to control pacing. Repeat games as often as they want.

Again! again! again! heard that before?

NAEYC also recommends, “Just as parents continue to read to children who can read themselves, parents and teachers should both participate with children in computer activities and encourage children to use computers on their own and with peers.”

So they are on their own, but they aren’t. Be with them to offer help, encouragement, praise.

In terms of choice, Dr. Hoagland offers these sage words of advice.
“The instructions should be clear and easy to understand and the software should provide the kids with visual prompts and/or a help option they can refer to when needed, minimizing adult supervision. Software should contain no violent objects, characters or activities, and should include positive social values, such as cooperating, sharing, communicating and expressing feelings.   Advertisement is visibly reduced and the children are exposed to concrete representations of objects, sounds and settings that belong to the real world, since children tend to believe without much questioning that what they see and hear is true.”

And there will be merchandise targeting the little people.
There are scaled-down versions of mice that claim to work from ages 2-10.
Or why not just shoot for the whole FunKey Board Fun Mouse Bundle.
And what about a pre-school computer desk, “comfortably fits a child from 2 to 6.” But maybe we don’t need to shell out the big bucks to create our Mini Me.

Dr. Hoagland sums up by saying ” in their early ages, children need to engage in activities that require the use of their hands, hearts, bodies and minds.”

So true. Let’s not make the computer, like the TV, in Stephen Spielberg’s assessment, “the third parent.”

Also, don’t forget to introduce healthy computing habits.

* Posture (Did we all just straighten up?)
* Seat comfort.
* Take breaks to rest the body and eyes.
* No food or drinks within dangerous proximity.
* Clean screen. Just like grownups.

Also, realize that kids will be online more as they age. But don’t worry. That’s a good thing. According to a recent Macarthur Foundation study, it turns out that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online. They are hanging out, but they are also learning. So that’s good, right?

It’s what we do.

So there is no right time to start with art. Just let the little bots play, explore, and see what happens. Years from now, who knows what they will be doing with computers?

But if we help them now, they will help us later, when the latest technology confounds us oldsters.

Photo by machado17

Doctors Agree, Music Is Good For You

December 15th, 2008
              

It’s Holiday season and music fills the air, and our hearts, and our brains, and the malls.

Maybe you want to hear Little Drummer Boy piped into Target as you do the Bounty/dish soap run.

Or maybe you don’t. As Daniel J. Levitin outlines, “Unwanted music in particular is not waterboarding, but it is a kind of torture. Don’t forget, the American military drove Manuel Noriega from his compound by blasting him 24/7 with AC/DC and Van Halen.”

We will explore music again later this week, as we talk to Dave Wish, founder and director of Little Kids Rock. Really talk to him. Our first podcast.

But music truly does make us bright and brilliant and healthy and happy. Juliet Chung’s Wall Street Journal piece, Sound Research, summarizes recent, credible science.

  • A team at Stanford University School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging to view brain activity. Listeners’ noggins showed clear differences during and after having heard 18th-century symphonies. This study, which was published last year in Neuron suggests listening to music helps sustain focus.
  • A Finnish study published in Brain (I know, we all get these publications regularly) showed that “verbal memory and focused attention improved significantly more in stroke patients who listened to their favorite music several hours daily.”
  • Good for the brain. So what about blood? Music is good for that too. Researchers at University of Maryland School of Medicine found the “diameter of the average upper-arm blood vessel expanded by 26% when subjects listened to music they had previously selected for making them feel joyful.” What does this mean? Blood vessels expand when nitric oxide is being released, good for that bad cholesterol, LDL.
  • Mood/motivation? We all know how music can lift us from the blues. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God.” Powerful stuff, this music.
  • A team at Brunel University in England “found that certain music deemed motivational can enhance a recreational athlete’s endurance and increase pleasure while exercising.” Hear the theme track from ‘Rocky’?  ‘Chariots of Fire’? We all do.

Now to each his own on music choice. One person will spend the extra 10 minutes on the treadmill with AC/DC on their IPod. Another person will kick it to Chopin. Someone else rocks to barum-pa-pum-pum.

Whatever works for you. But at least now there’s lots of science to prove that it does work for us all…..on many different levels.

Image thanks to Gaetan Lee

How Artists See

December 11th, 2008

Colleen Carroll knows the value of visual literacy. The mother of three girls and an educator found herself creating the art book that didn’t exist. Actually a series of them.

How Artists See, a popular 12-volume series of art books, was written and designed to teach children about art. But not at all like the boring dusty volumes filled with dates and facts.  Each of these simple books take children through a familiar subject, animals, heroes, feelings, weather, etc. Young readers are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and responses, prompted by everything from cave paintings to contemporary art. The open-ended questions in the book stress individuality, and encourage one’s own. Children relate to various artists, empathize with their feelings, culture, tools, times.  Through this lens, they see how the work came to be.

Carroll, who started college as a photography major, soonwent on to Art History.  She eventually taught sixth-graders in Southern California, and found no visual arts instruction (or music, dance, and drama). That led her to develop an art appreciation curriculum that dovetailed with the world cultures social studies curriculum. The kids loved it.

 But how did all this start?

“One of my earliest memories of art is looking through a monograph on the Italian master, Leonardo da Vinci. The book was a tome: it was absolutely huge and must have weighed 20 pounds. Every so often my father would hoist it off the shelf and let me flip through the pages. While I was too young to read the text, the plates captivated and mesmerized me. The power of the artwork spoke to me and touched my spirit. Even though I didn’t know who made the beautiful pictures, somewhere deep down I knew I was communicating with a genius.”

By creating the series Carroll makes Da Vinci, and other geniuses accessible to the young. As an art educator, Carroll knows firsthand, the importance of the arts.

“Great art is a powerful visual tool that stretches across many barriers: language, class, race, and literacy, to name a few particularly wide ones. Exposing young children to art sparks the imagination, and when shared with a parent, teacher, caregiver or even a peer, promotes dialogue, vocabulary growth, and critical thinking. Introducing young children to art from a broad range of cultures and time periods builds background knowledge and teaches them that there is a bigger world beyond the one that they know. Interacting with art can help young children grasp abstract concepts, such as hope, justice, and courage. In an increasingly visual world, early experiences with looking and talking about art build visual literacy and analytical skills: skills that are becoming more and more important to possess.”

 Sharing art with children is so simple, yet rich. Carroll lives her life like she teaches it.

“When I was completing the research for my new book series, How Artists See, Jr., the time had come to choose the final images for the volume which looks at dogs in art. I had already done the first cut, but was having difficulty selecting from the fifty or so images left on my list. My kindergarten daughter happened to be home from school with a tummy ache, so I asked her to help me. Spreading the prints out on the living room floor I said, ‘Honey, come on down here and pick out your favorite pictures.’ Within minutes she had the prints in a neat stack, her favorites at the top and least favorites at the bottom. Without prompting, she began to tell me why she liked some dogs better than others, and what certain ones looked like to her (critical thinking and evaluation, expressive language). I share this anecdote to illustrate how fun, educational, and easy it is to share art with young children. Their innate curiosity and imagination, paired with rich imagery is, indeed, a potent learning tonic.”

Lucky girls, Carroll’s three.

 “That Leonardo book? It’s now on my bookshelf within arm’s reach of my own children.”

Maybe this holiday is a good time to gift your own family with a special art book. Visit the art section of a local bookstore and let your children explore. See what they find interesting. You might just be surprised.

Design is Everywhere

December 9th, 2008

Check out that monitor you’re looking at? Ever wonder who designed it? Or how about that mouse you’re clicking? The pen sitting on your desk. The desk itself. The clothes you’re wearing, the car you’re driving. Or even still—the seats in your car, all the way down to the springs, in the seat, in the car you’re driving. All designed by someone.

Design is everywhere—we just tend to take it for granted. We really don’t notice how everything is designed, but we’re drawn to the design—either consciously, or subconsciously. We don’t really know why we want the cool new cell phone, or the latest fashions. We just do. It’s all about the design.

Try this test. Take a minute out of your day to pick an object—could be anything, a radio, tv, shampoo bottle, coffee cup, a spoon, a fork—anything. Then consider the design. The shape/contour/materials/color, etc. Then, think about how design ties into that object on multiple levels.

Example: a designer designed the plastic earpiece from the phone on my desk, which required a mold (which required a designer), made by a machine (which required a designer), which has a bunch of crazy parts (which required a designer)…. you get my point. The links become nearly infinite.

Now, consider the power of design, how it influences your life and how it ties in to creativity. Design is everywhere.

Chris Stevenson
Madcap Logic Graphic Designer

This Is Your Brain On Fun

December 3rd, 2008

One way to reach kids, to teach kids, is to engage their imagination, their eyes, ears and senses. Regardless of the subject matter, if children are connected, they are open to receiving incoming info.
Actually, this is true of anyone, young or old, two legs or four.

Dr. Marion Diamond, the first woman on the science faculty at Berkley elaborates in her Response of the Brain to Enrichment.

“In 1874 Charles Darwin mentioned that the brains of domestic rabbits were considerably reduced in bulk in comparison with those from the wild because, as he concluded, these animals did not exert their intellect, instincts, and senses as much as did animals in the wild. However, it was not until the 1960s, that the first controlled studies in animals demonstrated that enriching the environmental condition in which they were confined could alter both the chemistry and anatomy of the cerebral cortex and, in turn, improve the animals’ memory and learning ability.”

So if brain morphology actually changes as a result of experience, wouldn’t we want to expand and vary teaching experiences?

As educator/author, Dee Dickinson writes:

“The human brain is the most complex system on earth, yet it is too often used in schools primarily as a simple device for storage and retrieval of information.” So true, as information is poured out of one human’s mouth, the teacher, sometimes with the sole visual aid of written words, numbers, diagrams on a board. Students are then expected to absorb and repeat data, facts upon command (testing).
Dickenson says, “New neural connections that make it possible for us to learn and remember and problem-solve and create can continue to form throughout life, particularly when human beings are in environments that are positive, nurturing, stimulating and that encourage action and interaction. Such environments are opposite from dull, boring, rigid environments in which students are the passive recipients of information. Well designed arts programs provide just the kinds of environments that Diamond describes.”
Aha, the arts again. Looks like an artistic environment really does encourage children to engage their imaginations, open up to information. Wouldn’t you prefer a brain on fun?

Image courtesy of ParaScubaSailor via Flickr

Creativity is cool…

November 24th, 2008

Ever known/seen someone creative that just blew your mind? Sure you have. It could have been that kid in high school that doodled the super-cool sketches on the back of his/her PeeChee folder during history class. Or the virtuoso musician buddy that made you want to drop all your “ordinary” friends and lock yourself in to a room with your guitar/violin/tuba until the neighbors all moved away. Perhaps it was the lead vocalist in the choir class that got all the applause during the encore. Or the computer programmer that can write pages of code, making a PC jump through hoops. Or the architect with the all the right angles—or the interior designer that can make any room less ordinary with the switcharoo of a couple of pillows. The list goes on and on.

The truth is, witnessing creativity inspires us. It drives us to be better—either with our own inherent abilities or learned skills.

I’ll admit it—I’m hooked on home remodeling shows. Not that have a strong desire to repaint my living room every week, I just like borrowing ideas from the pros. You know, those nifty little ideas that make you think “now why didn’t I think of that?” — “I can build a waterfall headboard out of a coupla bags of rocks, a weekend, and a few 2x4s!” Home Depot here I come!

In my experience, most true creatives are very humble. They either don’t know how good they really are, or they just don’t flaunt it. They are continuously influenced by other individuals/genres/disciplines, and actively seek them out. Which makes me think that most of us really are true creatives. We all have the ability to create, or be creative—and most of us have an innerdesire to inspire others. We just find excuses NOT to be creative. “I don’t have the time.” “I’m not artistic.” “I’m afraid of what other might think.” blah, blah, blah.

For those of you who dare to be creative—thank you for taking the risk and putting yourself and your talent out there to inspire others. For those who hesitate… what are you waiting for? Take the leap—you never know what you mind find. Who knows, you could be the next super-cool doodler/viruoso/architect/computer programmer!

Chris Stevenson
Madcap Logic Graphic Designer

Meet the Players….Randy Parker

November 13th, 2008


Randy Parker, Founder Madcap Logic

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after growing up.”
Pablo Picasso

How many of us start out as creative little beans, slapping colors around, mucking with clay, paste, crayons? Happy. Yet at some point, we start to feel inadequate. Maybe someone said something unkind. Maybe no one said anything at all.

This is one of the reasons Parker created Creativity Express.

“My main goal was to open that back up. Kids are wild, fearless at a young age. Yet at some point, that shuts down.” By using the animated software, kids get to learn about artists, their techniques, their tools, and become artists themselves.
“I contend that everyone has artistic abilities.”

The whole idea started as a museum guide for kids. Parker wanted to create a bridge between museums and schools, he worked with the staff at The National Gallery of Art to develop the program. . Kids would learn about the art in advance, then walk the great halls with enhanced perspective and information. However, the teachers noted the value of the software, in and of itself.  Nothing like it existed, so the project grew into a more structured tool, with a full curriculum. Parker and team brought in the Institute for Learning Innovation. Full on art 101.”I didn’t even know what the word pedagogy meant.” says Parker.
Together they built a fun tool that teaches kids everything art, from Anasazi culture to wax resist technique.
The program also encourages creativity through games and activities.
Everyone should express their inner artist, we are now finding important links between expression and the brain. Yet kids either don’t have opportunities to be creative, or feel like they have to excel, in this go go age.

“We stigmatize ourselves,” says Parker.  “Yet we all have the capability to be creative.”
Parker knows creative. At the helm of Disney’s famed computer animation department, he worked with teams of gifted graphic artists for twelve years. Although his own background was film study, he was immersed in a world of visual literacy.
The studio is known for intense preparation, each film undergoes a 3-4 year process of detailed research. For the film, Mulan, several dozen artists went to China to absorb firsthand, cultural traditions, the landscape, color palettes, quality of light. This depth of experience informs Creativity Express. Parker seeks to hone a child’s senses of observation and context through the software program. One theme running throughout is artists observing other artists, techniques, cultures and emotional states.

The current trend towards arts integrative learning is being welcome by many champions of the whole brain.
“Our education system doesn’t encourage right brain thinking, and that’s a shame.,” says Parker. Think Pink.
“However, I do think there is a wave picking up here,”says Parker, who has witnessed the teachers’ enthusiasm for early creativity.
“I have heard teachers say ‘If we don’t teach kids art in second grade, we’re going to have a really hard time teaching them physics in eleventh grade.’”
Parker agrees –our brains work holistically – the challenge for parents and teachers is how to bring these two capacities back together.
“They are both important, the left brain holds the factoids, the right brain tells it what to do with all that.” says Parker.  “Imagination, it’s more important than knowledge.”

Great Minds….

November 6th, 2008

The Information Age has brought us to an amazing place where we can be anywhere, anytime, with anyone.  Talking, recording, viewing anything. Heady stuff, but what kind of head? According to Daniel Pink, a whole lot of “left brain” got us here, but we need to shift towards “right brain”.

In his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, he outlines a world where right-brain qualities rule.
-inventiveness
-empathy
-meaning

This new model applies to education, careers, life.
In Pink’s view, students and employees are operating within a dated model of needing to please authority figures. External validation mode. From early ages, we have all been conditioned to come up with correct answers, leading to reward. We blindly work hard for a gold star, high grades, a bigger desk, a corner office.  But there is little room for creativity within this model. In fact, in his experience, it can lead to burn out, lack of motivation, worse.

He had been a successful political speechwriter, but found that he somehow lacked motivation. And as he travels around the world conducting interviews and speaking engagements, he spreads the word of self fulfillment through doing what you enjoy. Sound familiar? In my earlier post, Sir Ken Robinson also outlines the many ways the human brain can learn and operate. There is no one right way of learning, teaching, thinking. The key, we seem to be hearing, is to find your own unique self. And embrace it. And as we teach our children, we should allow them to find it as well. Early and often.

In all phases of life, everyone should be encouraged to blossom and thrive. The responsibility lies with the teachers, the employers and of course, the self.

Pink urges us to find out what we enjoy doing. Forget external rewards. “Do what you do because you like it.”

Seek fun. Interesting. Challenging. Meaningful.

Clip and save this recipe for success.

Thanks to Daniel Pink for the image.

Art Smart

November 1st, 2008

One thing on everyone’s minds these days is the role of arts, and children, and are they getting enough. Or in the crunch to meet standards, do we just focus on the old R and R (reading/’rithmetic). Which would be a shame. Research tells us that children exposed early, and often to the arts fare better in tests, careers and life. But sometimes we see arts getting booted pretty low on the priority list. Or off the list.

Some people understand the need for a meaningful arts education.

  • Neuroscientists get it. Training in the arts improves cognition.
  • Teachers get it. Students who participate in the arts have higher test scores and lower drop-out rates.
  • Corporate leaders get it. Terry Semel, past chairman of Warner Bros., said, “Art is central to a civilized society. Kids who create don’t destroy.”

Thinker/writer, Daniel Pink notes that we are at the end of a binary-only thinking era. Students who can think imaginatively, creatively, or “outside the box” will become the most attractive workers for global corporations. Arts education prepares young minds for non-linear thinking.

As the oft-quoted Elizabeth Murfee writes in her 1995, Making a Case for Culture, “Drawing helps writing. Song and poetry make facts memorable. Drama makes history more vivid and real. Creative movement makes processes understandable.”

Socially, arts have proven to be an effective outreach tool to engage youth. Self esteem, cooperation, resilience improves when students have been exposed to the arts.
And lastly, what of the joy and wonder the arts offer the mind and spirit? Arts play a key role in the life of a child.

With thanks for a great image to Nicole Marti

Creativity Express Named to Dr. Toy Top 10 Creative Products for Kids

September 16th, 2008

September 16, 2008

Durango, CO – Representatives from Madcap Logic LLC announced today the popular children’s toy review site DrToy.com has added Madcap Logic’s Creativity Express to a pair of its recommended lists. Creativity Express has been recognized as a “Top 10 Creative Products” as well as a member of 2008’s “Top 100 Best Products for Kids”. The award-winning site www.drtoy.com is a free public service provided by The Institute for Childhood Resources. Dr. Toy was the first website to provide information on the best in children’s and educational products. Dr. Toy also produces the popular online magazine Dr. Toy’s Guide.

Dr. Toy is the moniker of noted child development authority Stevanne Auerbach, PhD. Dr. Auerbach developed the Dr. Toy awards program to recommend safe, affordable, educational and stimulating products and toys for children. Products are evaluated according to several criteria including design, durability, value and fun. Products listed on the Dr. Toy website are typically those exhibiting the highest level of safety, creativity and innovation in the marketplace today.

“Everyone knows that parents and educators don’t buy products based on hype or advertising. Therefore it’s vital to obtain these types of recommendations from major influencers like Dr. Toy,” said Randy Parker, CEO of Madcap Logic. “It’s extremely satisfying to those of us on the Madcap Logic team when industry experts of Dr. Auerbach’s caliber recognize the tremendous impact Creativity Express can have on a child’s life experience .”

About Creativity Express: Creativity Express was created by former animators and production experts from The Walt Disney Company. The Home Edition provides interactive educational software for children ages 7-12 and features a blend of animated movies and interactive activities that teach principles of art and provide tools for creative self expression. The School Edition includes an animated art curriculum and enrichment program with sixteen interactive lessons, student tracking and teacher lesson plans. An online version of Creativity Express is available via subscription.

About Madcap Logic, LLC: Based in Durango, Colorado, Madcap Logic LLC develops fun, innovative educational products to help children achieve a new understanding of the visual world around them. Founded in 2003 by former animators from The Walt Disney Company, Madcap Logic produces the award winning educational software Creativity Express. Creativity Express is educational software for children ages 7-12 featuring a blend of animated movies and interactive activities that teach principles of art and provide tools for creative self expression. Creativity Express was awarded a Seal of Approval from The National Parenting Center in the Fall of 2008.

Creativity Express Awarded the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval

September 4th, 2008

September 4, 2008

Durango, CO – Representatives from Madcap Logic LLC announced today the National Parenting Center has awarded its prestigious Seal of Approval to Creativity Express, educational software for children developed by Madcap Logic. The National Parenting Center employs an independent testing process to analyze and review consumer products marketed to parents and children. Creativity Express was awarded the Seal of Approval from The National Parenting Center in its Fall 2008 Report. The National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval program was introduced in 1990 and provides information regarding a product’s merits based on reviews by volunteer parents and children in a variety of categories.

“At Madcap Logic our passion is to help children become more successful not only in school, but in life by helping expand their creative skills. With Creativity Express, we’ve found a way to really capture a child’s attention and improve their visual literacy. As a result, kids become better problem solvers and more productive, creative people,” said Randy Parker, CEO and founder of Madcap Logic.

Creativity Express was created by former animators and production experts from The Walt Disney Company. The Home Edition provides interactive educational software for children ages 7-12 and features a blend of animated movies and interactive activities that teach principles of art and provide tools for creative self expression. The School Edition includes an animated art curriculum and enrichment program with sixteen interactive lessons, student tracking and teacher lesson plans. An online version of Creativity Express is available via subscription.

The National Parenting Center provides a list of products with the Seal of Approval online at www.tpnc.com. More information about Creativity Express and Madcap Logic LLC is available at www.madcaplogic.com.

About Madcap Logic, LLC: Based in Durango, Colorado, Madcap Logic LLC develops fun, innovative educational products to help children achieve a new understanding of the visual world around them. Founded in 2003 by former animators from The Walt Disney Company, Madcap Logic produces the award winning educational software Creativity Express. Creativity Express is educational software for children ages 7-12 featuring a blend of animated movies and interactive activities that teach principles of art and provide tools for creative self expression. Creativity Express was awarded a Seal of Approval from The National Parenting Center in the Fall of 2008.

Madcap Logic donates to the New York City Dept. of Parks and Recreation

August 23rd, 2008

August 23, 2008

Durango, Colorado – Madcap Logic has given away free licenses of a new type of curriculum package, Creativity Express, to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation After School Programs, as a way of bringing attention to the need of teaching creativity to children. Creativity along with knowledge, has a direct link in developing problem solving skills, a need most experts agree will become increasingly essential in the 21st century.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation manages a network of nearly 30 Computer Resource Centers that offer creative and academic technology programs to over 1200 students during Parks’ free Afterschool program. CRCs aim to bridge the “digital divide” by providing affordable and equitable Internet access and classes that build real-world skills. By bringing technology, career services, academic courses and art programs into communities throughout New York City, CRCs link New Yorkers to opportunities for economic growth and improved quality of life.

Madcap Logic developed Creativity Express software in collaboration with many experts in the educational field. The product teaches children ages 7 and up skills such as critical thinking, visualization and many of the basic tools artists use in their work. The software features hilarious animated characters that lead the way on adventures that help kids explore creativity and imagination. It features hours of challenging activities and both traditional and digital art projects.

According to the Arts Education Partnership and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, studying art improves performance as much as 25% in reading, history and geography. The California Arts Council found that children who study the arts score an average of 44 points higher in math and 59 points higher in verbal skills on their SAT’s.

Founded by former Disney animators, Madcap Logic’s mission is to create products that keep kids emotionally engaged in healthy activities, motivated to learn, and ready to unlock their full potential. Creativity Express Home Edition is now available at Apple Stores nationwide.

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