Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Flower Challenge

Tinkerlab is an awesome blog about fostering creativity and hanging out with kids doing cool stuff. I've come to rely on Rachelle's fun activities and inspiration, as well as enjoying her perspective. This mommyblog thing is a delicate line to walk- how to write passionately about your beliefs and children without coming off as judgmental about other perspectives or styles; how to talk honestly about the good and the bad, the mistakes and the failures; how not to fall into the trap of bloggy narcissism; how to write about the good stuff without causing others to hateread your blog and doubt your words. Tinkerlab is a keeper, walking that line with a grace and an enthusiasm  that I find infectious.

One of the awesome community-building projects she does over there are her Creativity Challenges, in which she invites other parents to write and link to creative projects related to the theme of the challenge. Unlike the types of projects I typically blog about, these challenges should be child-driven; that is, that the children should initiate and follow through with their own creativity, rather than participate in an activity that the parent/teacher designs and sets up. I love the idea of child-driven work, and my kids certainly do a ton of it on their own, but I seldom set up "invitations" as many child-driven parents do. I prefer, because of my own temperament and the pressure of working from home with no child care, to do slightly more structured work, activities, and then let them children take it wherever they want. I haven't taken part in the previous challenges partly because I imagined that if I tried just setting them loose on a totally child-driven challenge, that they would go in opposite directions and want me to follow- a pretty common problem in raising twins! But on the way home, as we were talking about flowers and root systems, I decided to go for it and join in on the Flower Challenge.

I explained the idea behind the challenge, and at first Anya did not want to do it because she thought the word challenge meant it would be a competition. She's not naturally averse to competition, in fact, both of them are so fiercely competitive that any whiff of there being a winner and a loser and there is sure to be a knockdown drag-out fight- Anya has learned that to maintain her awesome relationship with Alex, they need to just stop competing. I wonder if her dad and uncles will ever learn that! But when I re-framed it as a challenge for her mind to think of cool creative fun projects to do with flowers, she got on board. We talked a little about how they could think of learning experiments to do or questions to ask and try to solve about flowers, or they could gather flowers and do something with them, or they could make flowers out of something else. They decided to gather flowers, and Anya wanted to decorate our windows with them, while Alex wanted to attach the flowers to a piece of paper and paint a scene to go with them.

I asked Anya how she would like to attach the flowers to the window- we couldn't use contact paper because the flowers she were quite large, and she first wanted to use glue or starch, as we had with tissue paper window decorations in the past. Eventually she decided on tape, so I got her set up with some packing tape and left her to work on it while I helped Alex get his paint set up.

Alex arranged his plant bits on his paper and started gluing them, then painting in the scene, then gluing, then painting and so on. Alex is a kid who imagines all kinds of wild scenarios and is usually the driving force behind the complex imaginary games they play, and who spends hours designing and taping together robots made from the recycling, and who will dictate ten page stories to me every chance he gets. So I was surprised to see that he decided to create a very naturalistic scene where the bits of plants were representative of whole plants. The only exception is the dandelion puff as a storm cloud, which may have been influenced by me commenting on a similarity the other day. He's been fascinated with rainbows since we saw two different double rainbows on our drive home from Upper Michigan last week, so he created a sunny and rainy day, but then didn't want to paint a rainbow because he was worried he wouldn't be able to do it without ruining the rest of the picture that he was so pleased with. Kind of a bummer of a feeling, but I didn't want to push him as he seemed to drop it quickly and move on (which is rare for my ruminative son!). I will probably do a more focused project on rainbows, and hope that builds some confidence for painting them.

Alex's Sunny and Rainy Day

Anya came over while Alex was working, and decided that his project looked like more fun, so he gave her some of his collected flowers, and she went out with me to pick some more. She started with a large flat dandelion leaf and immediately declared that it was the grassy hill. This was also surprising, since Anya is often a very literal kid, and I fully expected her to glue the flowers down and paint a vase to hold them. She was playing with a magenta bloom, looking at it from different angles and seemed unsure of what to do next. I asked if it looked like anything and she decided it was a fairy skirt. Once she had that decided, she was eager to go hunt for some petals to be the wings and a round flower to be the head. I let her pick two fresh iris petals, despite the usual picking ban on my favorite flowers, because I knew how perfect they would be as wings- see, I kind of suck at child-driven... I just want to get in there and do it with them! She glued them in herself, and I took myself over to Alex so I wouldn't be tempted to interfere with her vision for the fairy.

Fairy Seeing Flowers She's Never Seen Before by Anya

It ended up being a really fun project, and I love it when my assumptions about the kids are challenged!

1 comment:

rachelle | tinkerlab said...

Gasp! Darcy, this is such a beautiful post (and not just because you said all those flattering things about me, although that was really nice too). It's been a while since I've read a description of a child's art making that digs deep and truly documents the process. Without a lot of pictures of each step of the project, I could clearly envision what was going on with your kids' thinking and making. And it was so fun to read! Also, I wanted to point out that while there is a fair amount of pure child-driven art in my house, it's not the case all the time. And on top of that, I encourage parents or caregivers to step in and join the challenge if the mood strikes. So there you go! I'm so glad you dove in and look forward to having you join me next time.