Lessons from Dr. Seuss

All across America, kids love Dr. Seuss. I'd like to share a true story about him, about how he got started – not the now-famous difficulties he had getting his first book published; let’s go farther back to his childhood, to something that helped to shape little Ted Geisel into the genius of Dr. Seuss.

It started with a park. Next to his home in Springfield, MA, was the 500-acre Forest Park. And to his delight, a zoo was added to the park. Soon after, Ted’s father was elected to the board of the zoo, so on Sundays and holidays the two of them would wander behind the scenes, watching animals up close. Frequently, Ted would stop to sketch them. Towards supper, they’d stroll home to show his drawings to his mother and sister. His sister would often laugh at how oddly distorted his doodled creatures were.

Gripping tale, eh? But this unassuming little anecdote has much to teach us about encouraging creativity in children.

1. Bring your kids along. In our busy lives, we often have to choose between our interests and our children’s needs. Sometimes, they can overlap. In the Geisel family, the father’s involvement in the zoo overlapped his son’s desire to see and draw animals. In my life, I have pulled my boys into my love of old movies, among other things. Not only do we enjoy the shared time, our imaginations are fed wonderful stories and images.

2. Have a sketchbook handy. This applies to more than just art. Most creative people have notebooks they carry around to jot down ideas and thoughts that leap into mind. I keep a small pad and a pen in whatever jacket I’m wearing.

3. Slow down to really see. You can’t sketch animals from a moving car. It took the leisurely pace of a lazy afternoon for young Ted to capture the creatures in his unique style. When on an outing with kids, be prepared to linger over things that interest them.

4. Older sisters don’t make the best art critics.

Little experiences can build great imaginations. Take the Doctor’s advice: “Oh the thinks you can think if only you try!”

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter