Permission to Play: Birthday Parties

Two of the most popular posts on this blog are: SuperMom: DIY Barbie Shoes and A (Few) Photo(s) a (To)Day: We Make Things. Both posts reflect to the DIY ethic we strive to embrace as a family. It’s a foundation of me and Dan’s relationship which dates back ten years to the first kid’s birthday party we planned for George’s 7th birthday.  I was still in grad school, had no kids of my own, and had never hosted a birthday party for a child before. I wanted it to be awesome. I had a subscription to a short-lived Martha Stewart publication – Martha Stewart Kids – which illustrated many of the things Lara Lackey found wrong with Martha’s ideas for kids in her 2002 NAEA presentation “Martha Stewart and Art Education: Is She a Bad Thing?” Step-by-step instructions, overly aestheticized displays of materials which an art educator or parent knows wouldn’t last five minutes around a group of kids, and examples that only an adult could replicate. But the article that’s relevant to this post wasn’t for kids per se, it was for parents. Parents who wanted to throw the best birthday parties on the block.

The section on building a backyard miniature golf course caught my attention. I showed it to Dan and George and they liked it too. Little did I know what I was getting us into.

Dan and I had been dating about ten months and this was the first big project we did together. It tested our skills (mostly Dan’s abilities to build things) and our creativity. We spent a lot of time figuring out a theme for each hole, using as many materials as we could find around the house as inspiration as possible. It was a creative challenge and we learned a lot about one another building through the process.

Dan motorized the windmill and we used baking dishes to create sand and water traps.

This weekend we marked our tenth year of planning birthday parties together with a Harry Potter-themed party for Cora’s sixth birthday. Our schedules are a lot busier than they once were so I did a lot of the initial planning and gathering of supplies. But as we hung out together the night before the party pulling together the potion making station, I was reminded of how much joy and satisfaction we’ve found over the years putting ourselves in the minds of the kids we’d be hosting and imagining how they would play with the prompts we set out for them.

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While the point of the planning was the party, the process was equally important for me and Dan. We laughed as we made up names for the ingredients and shared high fives over one another’s ideas for potion combinations and other activities we’d be setting up. Making birthday parties has provided us an annual opportunity to spend time together, playing around with ideas and materials to create something.

Realistically we probably only have a few more years left of planning parties for children. When the time comes, we’ll have to find some other excuse to pick a theme and plan some fun and games for our own friends.

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Acts of LOVING Kindness

I was out of the house today attending a conference. When I got home, I found these on the kitchen counter.

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Since Cora and I started making Valentine’s last week, I’ve left the materials out on the counter in the hope that the other kids might get inspired. I didn’t expect to Dan to get in on the action. But I probably should have. He’s always loved making little love notes – for birthdays, lunch boxes, for my suitcase on business meetings.

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He told me Cora gave him some directions for his making, including on the card he made for her. Above, you can see she gave him permission to use as many gems as he wanted on her card.

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After dinner the rest of the family spontaneously accepted my Valentine invitation. As always, Cora was mesmerized by her older siblings and stayed up way past her bedtime cutting, gluing, drawing, writing, and singing along to cheesy love songs.

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Rosa got so far into the flow that she didn’t stop working for 2 1/2 hours.  She finished 14 unique cards and is looking forward to sharing them with family and friends.

I believe that actions speak louder than words, greeting cards, and even chocolate. Probably another one of those things that goes back to my Jewish upbringing where we are taught that gemilut hasadim, acts done for others out of love and compassion which tie us together as human beings, are as important as giving charitable contributions of work. We show one another our love through acts of empathy and generosity – from putting the dishes in the dishwasher to taking a moment from our busy lives to knock on a neighbor’s door and see how they’ve been. We show love through our communion.

Having my family in the kitchen all together and crafting tonight was the best Valentine I could have asked for.

Rethinking the Valentine

Okay. I admit it. Valentine’s Day has never meant all that much to me.

It’s not that I’m not romantic or anything like that. But, I have historically thought of it as a market-driven holiday; our love for one another measured by the store-bought cards kids pass around at school and candy conversation hearts which never appealed to me on any level.

Likewise, as an art educator, I put holiday crafts in a category of work not worth the time of serious contemporary art educators. As at this time last year, I just finished a unit on the history of holiday crafts in art education (see Paper Heart and the History of Art Education). My students shared their perspectives on the issue, most suggesting that there isn’t much time for holiday crafting in their artrooms even if they wanted to bring it in. They questioned which holidays would be addressed, could be addressed, in a multicultural classroom. And that they feel misunderstood when administrators expect them to celebrate and decorate for holidays like this. I share their views.

But this year, as Crafty Cora and I got to work on tokens of affection for her classmates, we got to talking about what Valentine’s Day is all about. I found our basic research personally edifying as I grew up with some vague idea that (Saint) Valentine’s day isn’t for Jewish people. It also gave me ideas about how it might be meaningfully addressed in a comprehensive art program – not that I’m arguing it ought to be…

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that, as with Christmas, Valentine’s Day predates the saint for which it is named. According to the History Channel, it started as a fertility holiday known as Lupercalia and, paralleling the social history of romantic relations, morphed into a holiday about romantic love.

Our search uncovered an interview with Valentine collector Nancy Rosin which positions the Valentine as an interesting bit of visual culture. Rosin suggests they are “important as a social chronicle. Personal communication between people…fascinating stories.” Watching her video, I could imagine using Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk with students about the history of romance, the practice of arranged marriage past and present, and the industry of greeting cards (love it or hate it, it’s out there and it’s huge, and a professional venue for artists and illustrators). Rosin shares her knowledge and perspective as a curator about the history of Valentine productions – mass-produced and handmade. I love her notion that the handmade cards bear “the fingerprints of love.”

I had all this in mind as Cora and I got out a big box of papers and started cutting out hearts. She practiced some of the same skills she worked on last year – tracing, cutting, composing, pasting, sewing – and we listened to Motown love songs. A light snow fell outside. It was the perfect weather for crafting.

As we worked, I questioned the benefits of the activity. After a bit of cutting, she passed  that job on to me. After a little gluing she outsourced that as well. Eventually she declared herself in charge of the sewing machine and told me, “How about you do your stuff at that table and I do mine at this table.” And just like, she chose the job she liked best and declared herself the director of our little Valentine factory. She even kept track of how many we’d made on the calculator.

If there is any value left in the notion of holiday arts as motivator for students, I think there could be the start a lesson plan here around the essential question, “Can art be mass produced?”

Mass-production.

Factories.

The Factory.

Andy Warhol.

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New Year’s Day Craft Clean-out

January 1st is all about fresh starts. Inspired by Martha Stewart and self-help gurus of all flavors, for lots of people that means deep cleaning the spaces we fill with junk throughout the year. Today I introduced Crafty Cora to the tradition.

If you’re a classroom teacher working in a choice-based environment, a parent trying to support your children’s creative development at home, or some combination of both, you know that over time supplies get messy. While many people argue that messiness is a sign of creativity, I don’t believe it’s conducive to artistic exploration and productivity over time. Like other professionals, artists need to keep their tools organized so they can find them when they need them.

So, with the hope that organizing Cora’s art supplies would promote her creative development in 2016, we emptied everything out of her four drawer craft cabinet, sorted it, tossed the trash, and reset the stage for new endeavors.

Below is one of the drawers about halfway through our cleanup today. As you can see, it had become a random assortment of rubber stamps, pipe cleaners, cardboard rings, fabric, string, beads, and more.

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It was important to me that Cora help, even if that mostly meant pulling things out of the bins and playing around with them while jamming out to the Beatles on her headphones. That’s what deep cleaning is all about, surveying the content of our clutter, remembering what we have that’s gotten buried, and considering possibilities for the future.

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Here’s where we ended for the day.

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Top to bottom, clockwise from upper left.

Of course, we still have these loose parts left to address tomorrow.

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Because really, the clean-up never ends. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Handmade Holidays: The Next Generation

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Cora’s gift for our dog, Thompson

I’ve been blogging about my family’s handmade holidays for a few years now. It’s provided me space to work through my feelings about Christmas as someone who grew up in a conservative Jewish home (see: Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home, 2012 and Culturally Inappropriate Holiday Crafting, 2013), how to meaningfully engage the teenagers in my life (Holiday Crafting with Teens, 2014), and my relationship with glitter (Holiday Crafting with Preschoolers (and Glitter!), 2014),

As in the past, the days leading up to Christmas this year were filled with crafting activities.

Cora and her buddy Maya made some wrapping paper.

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Rosa made some paperwhite planters, at my request. (She also did some of her own crafting in her room leading me to believe she was my secret Santa. Which turns out is exactly what she wanted me to believe, even though she wasn’t my Santa. She said she was trying to mess with me, and get me prepared for a time when she might have to make something for me in secret. She’s a sneaky one…)

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Cora had some more fun with glue and glitter,

and I got hooked on Borax snowflakes (which are incredibly difficult to photograph).

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Like Rosa, George came up with his own crafting ideas this year. But, unlike his sister, he brought them down into the kitchen to work on with me. His presence was the greatest gift I got. (see Mindfully Foraging Family Time and Holiday Decorations) We spent a solid day and a half together, off and on, as he worked, asked me for advice, and critiqued my holiday music choices (turns out he’s a real traditionalist).

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Wood burning a sign for his dad.

Cora loved watching him paint a blue jay for Grandma. I was so glad they had this time together. It doesn’t happen often enough.

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After nearly a decade, I feel  certain that the future of our family’s handmade holidays is secure. And with that, I wish you and yours a Happy and a Crafty New Year.

Mindfully Foraging Family Time and Holiday Decorations

It’s no secret to those who know me well that I’ve been struggling to connect with the teenagers in my life as of late. I’m about one month into some new experiments, guided in part by The Happiness Project, by which I’m making more fervent attempts to engage them. You might read this as “force them to spend time with me.” That’s basically what it is, but I’m trying my best to prevent them from seeing it that way. (I guess it’s good neither of them actively follow this blog…)

Two weeks ago, they each got to cook dinner with me one night. They decided what we would make and I tried to get be a guide on the side, rather than the master chef. It was good time together, something Rosa and I have done a lot of (see My Step Monster’s Kitchen), just not lately. For George, it seems like a lot of our interactions come down to, “in two years this is all going to be your responsibility,” so you might call this college (or life) prep in the kitchen.

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Thanksgiving day I went out in the garden to gather some herbs. I came in with a fistful of sage, rosemary, time, and parsley. I went around the house with it inviting everyone to take a few deep cleansing breaths. Cora wanted to go out and find more and I suggested we gather some greens and things to decorate the table. Then I thought, we should all go. It was unseasonably warm – thankfully – so it didn’t take too much convincing when I gave Dan and the big kids thirty minutes to get ready for a family walk.

We wandered around the neighborhood for nearly an hour chatting, playing, singing, and foraging. We gathered dried blossoms and branches, berries, and evergreen boughs, pine cones and nuts and came home with an overflowing basket of materials to work with.

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I decided not to do anything with them right away. Instead, we waited for Dan’s mom to arrive. She is a florist so I solicited her to work on arrangements. Rosa helped and it was lovely to see this activity turn intergenerational.

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The finished product was beautiful from every seat at the table, complete with the kitcschy Pilgrims and Native Americans my mother-in-law used to use at her house. We also included a beeswax candle Rosa and I made last year at Christmas-time. (That was part of another one of my concerted efforts to spend time with the teens which I documented in “Holiday Crafting with Teens.”)

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Just after Thanksgiving the latest edition of Rodale’s Organic Life came to the house complete with an article on foraged holiday crafts and decorations. And just like that, I had ideas for next time.

 

RE:Thinking Drawings

Quick follow-up to last week’s post about the thinking drawings of young children.

Cora and I flew home from visiting family this morning. It was raining as we took off and climbed through the clouds and we talked about what that might look like – a plane flying over a cloud filled sky with rain falling down below. I told her I thought it would be a great thing to draw. Her response, “But mommy, I don’t know how to draw a plane.”

I reached into the seat back in front of us and pulled out the safety card. Together, we looked at the photo of a plane on the cover and the diagrams inside. The conversation dissolved into a discussion of the pictographs used to tell passengers what to do in an emergency. I love to deconstruct international symbol systems so I as happy to follow the tangent.

After a few hours of screen time – I graded papers while she played with nearly every app loaded on our iPad – it was landing time. She asked for some paper and markers and started scribbling. After a quick self-portrait, she asked for help drawing a plane. I suggested she start with a large oval – like a hot dog and she was off.

She drew one end rounded and other ended up pointed to which she said, “Oops,” and looked up at me. I told her I thought it looked great that way since the nose of a plane is usually rounded and the tail pointed. Satisfied, she added a few tail fins, then wings, windows, and finally a logo on the wing. And just like that, she made one of her greatest thinking drawing yet. Right in front of me. I was mesmerized.

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At one point she pulled the safety card out again to check some details, but quickly put it back down and drew the parts as she imagined them in her mind’s eye: from her time looking out airport windows in the past, from her Playmobil toy plane, and from our earlier discussion and study of the illustrations.

If you’re as amazed by this process as I am, and you are interested in helping children improve their observational drawing skills by talking about the world they see around them, I recommend Observation Drawing with Children by Nancy Smith and the Drawing Study Group (1997, Teachers College Press). I think I’ve mentioned it before. I’m sure I’ll mention it again.