Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Raising Creative Kids Who Aren't Sedentary Couch Dwellers

[WARNING: Look, I can only say what works for us. I have no idea what might or might not work in your house.
Here's a glimpse into some of our ways
of looking at raising creative kids.]

1. Balance the consuming with creating.

We take a lot in that's been created for us -- TV, films, music, books, video games, youtube channels ... Fine. Some of it has real artistic value. This is the Golden Age of Television after all. (See Salman Rushdie talkin' up TV.) And they've done the research on the collaborative artistry that children learn while gaming (google it). Again, fine.

The problem is that when watching some great TV art or learning the collaboration of gaming, you're not making anything. You're dwelling in other people's worlds handmade for you.

My oldest two boys have done a lot of acting in FSU Films. After a few days on set, they came home and started making films. They had cuts down. They shot things out of order for best effects. They knew when to hold a shot and when to cut it. They added audio effects later. They got a camera upgrade. They made different equipment for the camera to achieve different angles.

As a result, they watch TV and films differently -- more critically, more actively -- as makers. This brings me to 2. Consume actively and critically. I'm fairly sure that this kind of consuming -- with an eye toward making -- activates another part of the brain. (No data provided. I haven't actually done the brain scans.)

So, they can play video games, but they also have to work on designing one. They can watch films but they have to be making them. They can read books but also should be thinking of their own plot lines... Some of my kids like to work in Final Draft, writing screenplays.

To make this happen, it's best to watch things WITH your kids and then talk about them. One summer, I wrote a list of films that the oldest kids had to watch, a smaller list for the third younger child. They watched and then wrote a paragraph about the film. My older kids watched films like: THE GRADUATE, ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND ... We talked about them. They wrote about them. (They then got to pick some films that they wanted to watch that I didn't think had much value, but, hey, a balance.) The films took hold in a deeper way.

HOWEVER IF you only consume and even if you do so pretty actively -- meaning that you're being critical and talking about what you've consumed -- that's only HALF of the picture. Kids should be encouraged to:

3. Develop the critical voice ALONGSIDE the creative voice.

Basically, some of my hardest students to teach creative writing to -- no matter that they're deeply motivated -- are the ones who've read the classics very closely, written critically about them with great precision, and have had some of the most rigorous and wonderful teachers -- but who've not been writing creatively at the same time.

That's crazy, you say. But no, it's not. What's happened, in some cases, is that they've overdeveloped their critical voices and let their creative voices atrophy.

When they start to create, their critical voice -- very loud and strong -- kicks in and tells them exactly why and how their work fails to live up to the promises of great literature.

Trying to jump-start the cells in the creative voice with all of that bullying from the critical voice can be very hard.

(If it CAN be done, however, the benefits are amazing -- in that all of the lesson learned by the masters of the craft are there and can be drawn on.)

4. Give them tools and supplies -- not art projects to be put together.

Yes, you can buy kits that make your kids create fantastic little functional fridge magnets that everyone can be proud of. Don't. Just buy them cool art stuff and let them put it together anyway they see fit. Seriously.

5. Don't praise blindly.

Some of my kids' stuff I love -- a funky off-beat robot, a creepy collage, a certain handmade teapot, a self-portrait -- but there's stuff I don't much like. When I love it, I love it. I frame it. When it's fine and dandy, I say, "Nice work." I don't go gaga for everything. Kids know the difference anyway. As a mother, sometimes it's my job to just boost a kid up. But I don't just go around boosting. I pick my times. I want my kids to create things where I see a glimpse of something that is really and truly of them -- unique, some glimmer of art that was theirs to make. Something essentially themselves. THAT'S when I praise loudly.

6. Like anything -- model it.

Seriously, if you're just sitting there consuming, your kids are more likely to consume. If you make, they're more likely to make. Get into it. This is actually the most important thing that you can do as the parent of a creative kid -- create a home in which creating is important and real.

This means -- my apologies to the tidy and uptight -- giving art space. It means turning over part of the living room to a portrait studio with a sheet as a backdrop. It means letting painted stones dry on newspaper on the dining room table.

At this one house we visited once, my mother spilled a glass of wine on a white linen tablecloth. The family deemed it art and told her to sign it with a Sharpee.

Art can be anywhere. Let it happen. Just give in.