When It’s Your Kid’s Hand Turkey, Things Get Complicated.

For years, I have used some variation of this slide in lectures on the selection of content for an art curriculum.  It has been one way I’ve tried to make obvious the idea that authentic art education goes beyond arts and craft activities that anyone could pull from the Internet.  Projects which result in students’ work all looking about the same as the result of following the same step-by-step procedure.

Though I was a reluctant curator of this menagerie of hand turkeys, I actually find it rather lovely.  With just one example of each breed of bird, it actually demonstrates some level of creativity, variations on a theme.  But a whole class worth of any one of these would have me running faster than you can say tryptophan.

So, while I don’t have any personal memories of making one, I have a history with this Thanksgiving craft tradition.  And so I approached my encounter with Cora’s weeklong obsession with making pressing her hand to paper, tracing around her fingers (as best as a 2 year old can), and declaring her marks “turkey.”

One morning, when I went to pick her up from the day care center at my gym, I found Cora at one of the small tables, drawing.  She excitedly showed me a tracing of her hand that Miss Marty had helped her make, and then showed me how it was done. At first, I wasn’t sure what to say.  There I was, starring straight into the face of one of my art education nemesis.  But how could I deny the pleasure she was feeling at learning a new way to communicate her ideas?  Why bother to mention the fact that Thanksgiving should really be about more than turkeys, or that I’m primarily vegetarian and she doesn’t eat meat either?  Was I really prepared or interested to critique what she did while I was working out as long as she was safe and happy?

The answers to these questions came to me over the next few days and solidified when I saw my daughter’s artwork hanging on public display for the first time.  Knowing that the boys whose work appears above and below hers in the photo below are too young to have possibly drawn the faces on their birds, I love that Cora drew all over hers.  I can see her thinking, and I can hear her narrating her actions, through those lines.  I love that Miss Marty let her make her own marks and that she honored them by hanging them on the wall.  And I love that she’s having opportunities to explore making her mark apart from me.  So, when that turkey comes down from the wall, you can bet I’ll be taking him home and finding a very special place for him.

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3 thoughts on “When It’s Your Kid’s Hand Turkey, Things Get Complicated.

  1. Pingback: Paper Hearts and the History of Art Education | Art Education Outside The lines

  2. This really hits me as a dad. I love how simple things our kids do can help us to think differently or appreciate things in a new light or in a way we’ve forgotten since growing up.

    I know my kids have made hand turkeys at school for years, but I was never very excited by them. This year we accidentally made them meaningful at our house. A few months ago we painted a big chalkboard wall in the house. In November, my daughter (also a vegetarian) traced her hand and made a turkey and within a day the whole wall was covered by turkeys, all different from each other. We all added turkeys with extra fingers, different faces, body types, colors and designs. The first turkey started a new practice of creating these temporary family murals that have no rules.

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