A journal of creativity with my daughter Grace

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This is my journal the creative ideas I try with my daughter Grace over this school year. I'm posting them so that kids, teachers and parents might be encouraged to try some of them, or be inspired to make up their own. It's to show you I practice what I preach, and hopefully you'll like some of the ideas and pictures of what we try. Grace is four, but things we do could be done with any young child, and the art and music we listen to are certainly useful for any age. Come, join us on our journey! It should be great fun!

Past months:

• November


Monday, November 1

What is that a picture of? Chairs? Nope. Can't you see it? It's a beanstalk! Grace and I have been talking for a week now about Jack and the Beanstalk. It all started with a painting, then it grew to reading it aloud, now I decided we should play it. Needing a third person, we pulled in her older brother, 11, who played along like a trouper. At one point in the story, Grace had to climb this beanstalk to get to the road to the giant's house.

Interestingly, she liked playing the giant more than she did being Jack. I think the hiding and sneaking part of the Jack role was too scary for her. But she loved being the big, loud, ferocious giant.

I remember so well how when I was a kid, I'd build forts and such with furniture. I think I'll do more with this kind of thing in the future.

Tuesday, November 2

Grace and I played what she calls "The Drawing Game". In schools I call it DaVinci's Doodles. She is truly amazing at it. For instance, here's what she made out of a shape I thought for sure she'd make into a butterfly.

So I decided, when she gave me some lines, that one good bunny deserved another. When later I asked her about what this guy was wearing over his eyes, she thought he might be deep-sea diving for what she called "fiery coral". We then brainstormed about how he might be able to get the fiery coral, since it's too hot to hold. She decided a friendly shark could bite it off.

I think drawings like these are a great way to get kids to think about character, then to put those characters into a story.

Sunday, November 7

Meet Mr. Picklenose. He's a sculpture given to me by my good friend, Sculptor David Day. (I've designed his website if you want to see more.) This is where Mr. P usually lives, tucked in among the plants in my studio. Grace and I decided to let him out today to have his own adventures. We took turns doing his voice as we had talks with him.

Here are some of the things he got to today.

He got to wake up in a real bed.

Get dressed fancy.

Play on the computer

We've decided that Mr. Picklenose needs to get out more often. So we'll be taking him outside for his next adventure. Keep an eye open for "Mr. Picklenose's Grand Day Out".

Have a nice lunch.

With dessert!

Tuesday, November 16

Today, we spent time thinking about this painting by Edward Hopper. At first, it didn’t look like there would be much to get our imaginations going. I asked her my basic questions about who these people were, and what they were thinking. We couldn’t get anything going.

Then, I saw the paper on the floor. See it? Just a corner is peeking out. So I asked her what was written on the paper. She said it was a letter, and it said:

“Dear office worker and my dear lady,
Would you come and visit me? David Thread

So I thought I’d expand this by asking if Mr. Thread had a secret. Grace’s answer was interesting. She said, “Maybe a present or a party.” I realized that her only concept of a secret is not telling what we’ve bought for people’s birthdays. She doesn’t really know the whole darker, more threatening world of mystery.
I asked it a different way. “Maybe he had something they want,” I said. “Aha!” replied Grace. “Maybe they want to have a present. Maybe it could be their birthday.” Still determined to get this off the birthday track, I asked, “Could there be something mysterious at Mr. Thread’s house.”
“Footprints!” exclaimed Grace. “Footprints going outside in the garden! Maybe it was David Thread’s pet!”
“Maybe these two people could be detectives,” I offered.
Grace got very excited. “Yeah! How about: someone sneaked up to the door when someone was sleeping. He silently sneaked up to the door, grabbed her teddy bear and he ran out of the door as fast as he could.”
“Whose teddy bear – David Thread’s?”
“No, let’s pretend he has a child. A girl.”
“Who took the bear?”
“Maybe a soldier.”
“Because soldiers are usually mean.”
I wondered about where that last idea came from. Most likely it was from something she watched. Or perhaps Bible stories – if you think about it, there are a number of Jesus stories which have mean soldiers.
We stopped there, but I was really pleased by how much we had mined out of a fairly austere painting. And it all started with observing that small corner of a paper.

Thursday, November 18

Do you see a dog in this map? Grace did. This is her current placemat and during lunch she called out, "Daddy, I see a dog!" When I asked her to show me, she pointed out this island.

I've turned it upside-down and added some facial touches to help those of us with less of an imagination. Can you find it on the map now?

Friday, November 19

Mr. Picklenose's Grand Day Out

Fun in the leaves!

Ready for a drive

A helper with groceries

Reading in the library

Okay, I know I'm close to crossing the line from creative dad into wacko dad. But Grace is loving this character of Mr. Picklenose. It was interesting to me that when I was in the grocery store, not one person looked at me strangely or asked why I had this odd sculpture in the cart. Maybe they were hoping they could find the aisle where I got him!

In the library, I know the librarians well enough -- or should I say they know me well enough -- that I just went in and explained what we were up to. This last picture of me reading aloud to Mr. P was taken by Grace!

Monday, November 22, 2004

We made shape pictures today. We have geometric colored wooden blocks which Grace loves to arrange into pictures of things. The blocks also come with outlines of animals for kids to figure out how to arrange shapes within so as to fill them. But most of the time, she just likes making designs.

The designs we make can be complicated like these:

These are wonderful toys for kids -- simple, with lots of room for creative expression. I hightly recommend them.

Grace and I particularly like making pictures of things. It’s a bit tough, because the shapes are limited. Really, they’re better suited for geometric patterns. But it’s a fun challenge to make something organic out of such mathematical shapes. So today, while she made a “machine that makes sparks”, I tried my hand at a bird.

The upper left shows Grace’s spark machine, and below on the right is a pattern she started, which I added a second layer to. I’m trying to show her that she doesn’t have to think only two-dimensionally, but to “break the plane”. She can build on top, too. It reminds me of the story called Flatland, in which a two-dimensional circle has his mind stretched when he chances upon a character that's a sphere!

Anyway, I added the wings of the bird as a second layer.

Then I decided to make a monkey.

I let Grace name him. At first he was Funny Monkey, but eventually she decided on Funky Monkey – and where she came up with Funky, I have no idea. Soon we were both doing his high, squeaky voice. He became a character in our play during the morning; not that he could move, but he seemed to have no shortage of opinions on what we were doing!

Tuesday, November 23

Yes, I've finally made another in my collection of food art. It's been a long time. I found that once I started doing the lunches as a book idea, then it became work and not just play. But this one was easy to make. She liked everything except the lebanon balogna mouth.

Thursday, November 26 -- Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving! And how thankful that I am that Grace and I can do this exploring of creativity together. What a blessing it is to have her in our lives.

Grace didn’t do this drawing today – she did it days ago – but it’s appropriate to share it today. The stunning thing to me in this picture is that she wrote her name backwards. Why? She answered as explaining the obvious: because he had to say her name pointed that direction!

We prayed this morning and gave thanks to God for things. She said, “Thank you for the birds and for their wings that they can carry themselves through the rising wind.”

Saturday, November 27

This is Treeman. It's the brainchild of Grace's brothers. I gave them the camera at the Christmas Tree Farm while I went to find the guy to cut down the tree. I had hoped they'd use the chance to do something creative, and they did!

Of course, not to be out-done, I made my own creative shot. This picture on the right is what happens when you're not paying attention at a tree farm. When we posed this, the guy who cut down our tree had a look of confusion on his face. I told him we were just thinking through a lawsuit we intended to put together.

Monday, November 29

Paintings are a great place for Grace and I to weave a story. I’m always fascinated at seeing how her “mental library” comes into play when we build a tale. For instance, today, we looked at paintings by Jamie Wyeth. When we came to this one, I asked Grace why this girl was going into the woods. Was there something mysterious?
She answered, “Yes. Footprints.”
I realized we hadn’t yet built much on her mental shelf labeled mysterious. So I changed the question. “Is there something in there she wants to find?”
“Some treasure! Maybe a treasure chest.”
Ah. Yet another cliché. But I decided to work with it.

“Whose treasure.”
“A pirate. Let’s pretend she didn’t have anything golden or good. So she’s trying to find the treasure.”
“Let’s not do a pirate. What kind of animal might have the treasure?”
“A raccoon.”
“Okay.” This was unexpected. I liked that. It was much better than the usual pirate.
“Does the raccoon want to give up the treasure?” A better question wouldn’t have asked for a yes or no answer.
“They could go half-and-half. It could share the treasure with her.”
This was a good time to explain how stories need a problem. As I explained how a problem made a story more interesting, I realized that many picture books have no real conflict. They’re just explaining something, or doing alphabet words, or describing a pleasing situation. So the idea was somewhat new to her.
She interrupted me to tell me that she wanted to call the painting, The Wood’s Path.
“So what was the problem, Grace?”
“I don’t know. You decide.”
At this point I decided that it was time for me to make up a story. I try to get her involved as much as possible, but this was a good opportunity to expand on her range of ideas. So I began to unspool a story as it came to me. This girl’s family had been entrusted the king’s crown for safekeeping. But some robber had taken it and fled into the woods, where he was never seen again. The family had tried to find it, but to no avail. Then one day, a messenger came to tell them the king was to visit and claim his crown. The family panicked, worrying that they’d be thrown into a deep…
“Hole,” said Grace. “Like Jonah was thrown into a hole by his brothers because of his fancy coat.”
“Oh yeah. Joseph.”
I went on. “They’d be thrown into a deep, dark hole as punishment. So the girl decided to go and find the crown. Off she drove into the woods with her horses. She searched and searched, getting down from her wagon and looking through the woods. Finally, she put her head in her hands and cried. But when she opened her eyes, she saw something sparkle in the leaves. It was a jewel!
“She became excited and looked around. There was another, over by the stream! And in the mud by the stream were many footprints, like this…” I drew a picture of a raccoon footprint. As I went on, she kept drawing her own versions of the print.
The story continued, describing how she waited for a long time to see this creature. It finally came out of the woods, all hunched over, holding in its hands something large and round and shiny, which it began to dip in the water. The girl jumped out of the bushes and cried, “Stop you thief!” The raccoon was so startled, it dropped the crown it held into the deep pool.
The girl demanded to know how it got the crown. The raccoon explained that it had scared off the real thief and had been keeping the treasure shiny by washing it every night. The girl then began to worry, not knowing how she would get the crown out of the pool. The raccoon, a wily creature, agreed to get it if she promised to bring him something shiny and pretty from the king. She agreed. The raccoon called to a fish, who agreed to get the crown if the raccoon would stop interrupting his sleep every night with all his washing. The raccoon agreed. So the fish dove down, down, and brought up the crown.
The girl, overjoyed, went back with it to her parents house. When the king came, he didn't know that the crown had been lost in the forest, since it was so clean and sparkling. In gratitude, he showed the girl his twenty rings – two on each finger – and asked her to choose one to keep. She saw a beautiful one with a pale white stone which seemed to shine as though it were wet.
“Ah, “ said the king, nodding. “You have chosen well. This is a moon stone, which catches the shine of the moon on water. It never loses its luster, nor does it ever get a speck of dirt, as long as it catches a glimpse of the moon."
So the girl took it and late that night made her way back to the raccoon, who was thrilled with the ring. And the raccoon never had to wash his treasure again.

After the story was over, Grace illustrated it. Here are two pictures: the fish getting the crown, and the hand of the girl reaching down for it.
I asked her about the bubbles coming out of the back of the fish. She said that was to show that the tail was swishing through the water really fast. I was relieved. What I first thought when I saw it is something I'd like to keep out of her mental library for a while!

November 30

We played a little “I-spy” with a Winslow Homer etching. It was fun to find the little details. As an artist, one puts details into drawings pretty much for one’s own pleasure, not thinking anyone would pour over it and scrutinize even the faintly rendered distant scenes. But Grace and I did with this work. (0nly half of the etching is shown.) It was much fun.

Grace liked laughing at the man with his legs in the air. I spied a crab pinching someone; it took her a while to see it was the boy with his fist raised.

Well, that's it for November. Hope you had some fun reading about our adventures. In summary, here's what we worked with:

• acting out a story
• imaginative drawing
• making an inanimate object into a character
• building a story from a painting
• making geometric patterns and designs
• illustrating our own story
• playing an observation game with an artist's work

We've also read aloud many books and listened to music. Next month, I'll mention music we're listening to, as well as trying new ways to engage Grace's imagination!

On to the December's adventures!

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter

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