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What’s the Secret to Creativity? Simple Strategies to Raise Creative Children

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

How Parents Can Raise Creative Thinkers in the Face of Elementary and Middle School Social Pressures

It’s proven through government studies that creativity is a valuable asset best developed through the arts. Creativity is known as the fundamental driver of innovation. Art education develops the critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities necessary to create our future innovators. However, it can be quite difficult for parents to retain the adventurous free spirit of early childhood in the face of elementary and middle school social pressures. How can parents raise the next generation of creative thinkers?

Unstructured artwork is characteristic of pre-school and kindergarten age children. They draw stick figures and love to splatter paint with fingers onto huge sheets of paper. Parents enjoy the self-expressive free nature found in their child’s art. Exploration and risk-taking are encouraged, even if the kitchen floor is a disaster and there are two loads of laundry afterwards.

By third grade it’s clear something has changed. Children become much more cautious with their artwork. Looking at class presentations shows heightened conformity and a great degree of similarity across student artwork. Many seem too perfect to be a typical third-grader’s. Children seem a bit embarrassed by their work, and more concerned with approval than enjoyment of the process. Unless parents and teachers step in, children will continue to lose their inborn creative spark.

So what can parents do to nurture creativity into adulthood? Here are four strategies:

  •     Children’s physical ability to color inside the lines is seen as a developmental milestone, thus teaching at an early age that creativity has strict rules and expectations. Relying on coloring books leads to the same conformity. Instead of using structured materials such as coloring books, parents should try sketchbooks to help children find their own source of inspiration and ways to communicate through art.
  •     Peer pressure can influence a child’s artwork the same way it controls what clothes a child wears to school. Our society places high value on creativity, yet children instinctively feel that artwork has to be pretty to be praised. Parents need to be aware of their child’s need for social acceptance, even in art class. Asking about projects can give insight into the amount of peer pressure involved. Try “How is your work different from others in class? Or the same? What do you like / not like about your artwork? What would you do differently next time?” Let you child know that being an individual is important, and that you value an ability to be thinking independently.
  •     School administrators face pressure to keep art as part of the school day in the face of rising budget cuts. However, a comprehensive standards-based art curriculum isn’t just about making clay dinosaurs or painting with acrylics. A true study of the visual arts is cross-curricular, uniquely connecting the “core” course of math, history, language arts and science. As a parent, don’t let art get pushed aside as being a “special”. If your child has art class in school or as part of an afterschool program, find out just what topics are being explored. It’s not just about what they have made in class, it’s about learning to ask questions and explore the relationship between subjects. If you want children with critical thinking skills and better grades, it’s proven that you should start with art.
  •     Art needs to stay fun. It develops self-expression that is free from “right and wrong” test-driven coursework. Art explores the basis of human knowledge about our world and is the best way for children to discover their unique place in it. So keep it fun by taking trips to museums, talking about movies or picture books – really anything visual that creates an emotional response, good or bad. Then think, discuss, and ask “Why?” “What did it mean to you?” “Would you change it?” Not only will you have more quality time with your family, you’ll also be developing critical thinking skills.

Teaching children to ask questions is essential towards their creative development. Art should be a place where children can learn, explore and create without right or wrong answers. By nurturing creativity we develop future innovators. So don’t be afraid to teach children to color outside the lines

Color is Overrated – People Have Forgotten Their Values! Or Have They?

Friday, July 6th, 2012

You may be used to the new “3-D” look of the latest Disney films, but what happened to the old line art that you can see in older Pixar movies, such as ‘Mulan’ and ‘Cinderella’? Well, Pixar is bringing back that look with their new animated short, ‘Paperman’, which is scheduled to be run before their new feature film, ‘Wreck-it Ralph’, in November. It’s not unusual for a short to be attached to another film; Disney and Pixar have been doing the same thing with movies such as ‘Brave’ and ‘Monsters, Inc.’.

The line art look that is going to be used in ‘Paperman’ will combine both the “old” and “new” Disney visual art, using shading to make some things look like forms, but still using traditional hand-drawn animation that will be transferred to their art software. They will also use only values of black and white, so color will not be used at all in this short! This makes value a very important feature, and the animators have to pay close attention to how dark they make the shadows. If one area is too light, it might clash with where the light source is coming from, making it look unrealistic. The irony in the color scheme is that the title of the short is ‘Paperman’ – usually we associate paper with being black and white. Since Disney and Pixar are going back to the basics; maybe you can draw some inspiration from them and get some ideas for artwork! Try using only shades of black and white to draw something; make sure you add in some shadows and shades of grey, not just black and white.

Children in Art Museums

Wednesday, 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.

For the Love of Whimsy & Play

Thursday, 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.

Design is Everywhere

Tuesday, 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

 

Meet the Players….Randy Parker

Thursday, 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.”

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