Ten Tips for teaching Art to your child-for the non-artist parent

If you are a parent who sees artistic potential in your child or children but are at a loss as to how to help them develop their artistic skills further, then this is the article for you.

Tip 1:Believe that it is a basic part of human nature to be creative and that you and your children have every right to be creative because Art is not exclusive. (If you do not believe this yet, then pretend to for your children’s sake!)

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Tip 2:If you have very little formal artistic skills yourself, it’s not a problem. Find one of many great online tutorials that can teach you and your children how to draw. Here are just a few: How to draw a nose, How to draw a Spinosaurus, How to draw a butterfly, How to draw a dragon’s eye

Tip 3: When your child does a piece of art work train yourself not to automatically say ‘Wow, that’s so amazing darling’. Take a look at this fantastic clip called Austin’s butterfly and try giving feedback that actually means something and shows you’ve taken the time to really look at their art.

Tip 4: Keep sketchbooks and date work. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as looking back over art work and seeing how much you’ve improved since the first drawing.

Tip 5: Let children follow their own inspiration! If Jonny loves snakes and you have a snake phobia, you’ll still have to support Jonny when he draws snakes because you don’t want to pass on your fear of snakes. Remember, it’s passion that gets artists through difficult times.

Muhyi snake

Tip 6: Encourage your children to embrace mistakes. So frustrating when they know what they want a drawing to look like and their hands just won’t do it! Learn about Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and the power of using the word ‘yet’. Mistakes are not a catastrophe, they are part of an essential process towards a goal. Your brain develops most when you make a mistake and learn from it, so teach your child to be pleased when they make a marvellous mistake and explain that they are just not quite there yet.

Tip 7: For ways to create fun opportunities for Art linked to story books read this article.

Tip 8: Let your children take photos. Imagine you go to the zoo on a family trip but they’re just too excited to sit and draw any of the animals there. Well that’s where many artists would take several photographs of their favourite animal for later use. On a rainy day you can get the photos up on a computer or ipad and draw from them. Here are some photos my son took when we went to Crocodile world.

 

Tip 9: If you have an ipad or tablet then download Photoeditor. Let your children experiment with editing a photo they took. Art can be digital as well as drawn with pencil and paper. Here are some digitally edited photos done by 7 year olds I’ve worked with.

Tip 10: Get children out and about and do some Art outdoorsLand Art or at a museum.

Here are some pics of Land Art I’ve done with my children.

I hope this gives you some helpful advice to get started and perhaps once you get going you’ll have some inspiring ideas yourself that you’d like me to put up on this post for others to see.

If you have photos you’d like me to share then please send them to a.henckel@hotmail.com and add any short notes or tips you’d like me to add alongside them.

Five Creative Spring Activities To Do With Younger Children

It’s a lovely time to get out and about when there’s a little more sun, a longer day, and a fresh spring feel in the air. Here are some lovely activities to do with young children that cost you next to nothing and encourage them to get off the X-box and start thinking creatively.

1) Go Rambling

Rambling is the name I use in my house for going out walking through rough, country side and getting pretty dirty, muddy and on the odd occasion rather bedraggled and wet.

‘How is that fun?’ I hear you ask: Well actually, we often spend quite a lot of our time preventing our children for getting dirty, muddy etc Rambling can be seen as a time when you completely allow them to enjoy themselves without you controlling their movements and dirt levels. If they temporarily lose their shoe in a muddy puddle and their sock gets soaked-bite your tongue and say ‘Oh well, we’ll change when we get home’.

Maybe you played out side as a child? Perhaps you derived a great deal of pleasure from digging outside, heading off over fields, exploring empty urban landscapes with your mates, playing 40 40 in the woods near your house. These are pleasures our children rarely have the chance to enjoy now, what with the dangers of fast moving traffic and untrustworthy strangers.

What we do when we go rambling. Well, we explore far and wide-they lead and I follow. Sometimes we take a picnic, or hot chocolate and biscuits, we collect natural objects, examine things, photograph things the children find interesting. They climb trees, collect mossy bark, build branch shelters, dig holes, find badger sets and bunny warrens, bird spot with binoculars, make twig and rubber band sling shots, and branch & string bows and arrows, play pooh sticks in streams, collect pond water and keep tadpoles and make up spy game adventures.

What I do when we go rambling. I go along with their weird and wonderful ideas (mostly). I sometimes get bored and Facebook, but mostly I try to stay engaged and use this as a moment to actually engage with the boys on their terms instead of on mine.

They absolutely love it!

2) Make Nettle Soup

Maybe you have nettles in your garden, or a little green down the road or maybe you’re lucky enough to have fields or woods near you. Either way, nettle soup is always a good immune boosting super food to make for your family.

Firstly go out and pick those nettle tops. Go for young new shoots at the top of the plant, these are the most tender and make the best soup. Equip you and your children with rubber gloves, a pair of scissors and a plastic bag. I’m usually in charge of cutting the nettles and the boys find it quite exciting to collect the nettles as I cut them and put them into the bag. They also love scouting on ahead to find really juicy nettle patches to harvest.

A bag of nettles

NB Make sure you collect nettles that are not near cars or a road as they will be full of pollutants. Cut the tender tops, not too far down the tough stem. Check that the area isn’t full of dog’s droppings (obviously). You can find nettles in shaded areas under trees and bushes. Wash them thoroughly and sort out any foreign leaves/bugs.

Washing nettles for soup

Cream of Nettle soup recipe:

I boiled a whole chicken to make a stock then roasted it. I used the stock, 4 cloves, a chopped onion, 2 bay leaves and one big potato in the soup. I boiled these first until the potato was nearly cooked then added the washed nettles for two minutes. Add crushed garlic and blend until smooth. I added low fat creme fraiche to make it creamy but single cream is lovely too. This soup is very similar to spinach soup but a little greener perhaps. It’s full of iron so make sure you consume with orange juice or something high in vitamin C to ensure the iron gets absorbed by everyone’s bodies. Serve with roasted chicken and potatoes and a big salad. Delicious!

Nettle Soup

3) Make a Mini Terrarium

Spring is a nice time to watch things grow so this is a project you could make as big or small as you want. Get your kids to collect interesting pieces of mossy bark, stones, empty snail shells, etc. Collect two empty bottles-I used some clean, old jam jars with the labels cleaned off. You could also use an old unused fish tank, a glass flower vase or something plastic if your kids aren’t good with glass like a clear 2 ltr coke bottle.

Have them put some soil into the bottom of the jar. We found two types of different coloured soil in our garden and they liked to see the strata of the soil in their jar. They then arranged their mossy bark, snail shell and other collected items on the soil in their jar and then planted a plant/seed in the soil as well. I had an old aloes plant that just keeps having babies so I used two of the babies for the boy’s terrariums. You could buy a packet of seeds for as little as 75 pence and use one of them instead.

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For more ideas and bigger projects see these links here and here. For a low maintenance version, use cacti instead and abandon to a forsaken windowsill!

4) Go and Visit a Farm

This can be a cheap option if you research around a bit.  Some farms have spring open days where you can come and visit, pet/feed some baby animals, and buy some produce too or have a tea and cake. Here’s the link to Willowbrook Farm that does just this in Oxfordshire, UK. Other farms ask you to pay a little money but when you consider the day’s fun is cut out with petting and feeding baby animals, playing, exploring and sometimes mucking in with farm activities it’s well worth the pennies. Some farms may also have fruit/veg picking as well which is an added bonus. You can eat as much as you like whilst picking and then buy a punnet/bag of the produce to be polite. My boys love to dig up carrots with a big farmer’s fork. And obviously late spring/early summer’s first strawberries are a delight.

Rectory farm-has a great cafe, bouncy castles on w.e., Free entry, PYO (picking), farm shop. Farmer Gows– baby animals, hay bale treasure hunts, kids activities. Millets Farm Centre-PYO, garden centre, great ice cream, cafe, farm animals, Free entry play ground, sand pit, fields.

Although visiting a farm is not strictly creative in the obvious sense, I believe that providing the experiential information for your child is invaluable for fueling future creative activities. Seeing a baby rabbit, feeling it, holding it and looking into it’s shiny, big, black eyes will give your child that first hand information about a bunny which cannot be obtained through a book. Further creative activities that can stem from a farm visit include writing a story from one of the animal’s point of view, modeling a farm animal from clay, creating a collage using a selection of junk mail cuttings. Why not build a model farm out of different sized junk boxes, lollipop sticks for the fence, clay model animals, cotton wool and toilet paper trees-painted green, glue some sand or tiny stones for the paths and straw for the thatched roof etc. Paint/draw animals in the style of this by Picasso, or Joan Miro’s rooster below.

Rooster by Miro

5) Spring Painting

Just like Ratty in the Wind in the Willows, spring is a great time for a change to our surroundings and one fun way to do this is to paint. There are some cheap and easy ways to change children’s rooms and I will include some here.

Buy a paper lantern (my local Wilkinsons UK do small ones for less than £2) and use a black marker to draw patterns on it. You can all work on it at the same time or take turns doing different jobs. Colour the patterns in in using either acrylic paints or easier still sharpies or felt tip pens. You can create very colourful patterns that look great when you put the light up. There are other things you could do like cut petals out of tissue paper and stick these in a pattern over your paper lantern. You could look at Japanese blossom prints and do your own Japanese inspired lamp shade.

DIY paper lantern decoration

DIY paper lantern decoration

Another way to change the look of a room is to paint furniture. Even painting draw knobs can add a fun and personal touch to a boring set of draws. We did this to all the draw and door knobs in our kitchen. I drew the pattern and the boys painted it, they were quite good and just occasionally I would have to go over the black lines where they had smudged. We used acrylic paints on wooden knobs and then varnished them with several layers of craft varnish.

decorate door knob

If you really wanted to go all out you could paint the walls of their room and let them help, what about a jungle scene? Or maybe buy/make some plain curtains and then fabric paint/spray them? Or tie die them? What about getting two cheap canvasses from a charity shop and have your children do a painting (Mondrian style) that will then go up on their wall as decoration? Sew decorations onto a pillow case to personalize their bed space. Make hangings to stick from the ceiling. Card board birds with paper wings that can hang from string.Try black paper shapes/birds/flowers with small shapes cut out, stick tissue paper over the small shapes on one side to give a stained glass effect. Display these stained glass pieces on the window to catch the spring sunshine.

I hope that these activities inspire and help a few parents to get involved with their children’s creative side. I know it can be hard to find the time to spend with them but remember, very soon they’ll be all grown up!

Mindful Creativity – an exploration

True creativity does not merely take the form of art, drawing, dance and all the other general creative activities that we associate with the word. In fact I have discovered that true creativity and creative thinking can happen daily to every person at any time regardless of their activity. Most activities in life can be a creative act provided that we are living at that moment in the present and not in the past or the future.

I should have been absolutely relaxed and at my full creative potential during this two week Christmas break, but instead I spent it in quiet turmoil worrying about my first day back at work, my up coming interview, what I would cook for the family tomorrow, what uniforms I should buy for the children, how short my holiday was, how I would definitely do absolutely nothing tomorrow so I’d feel like I was on holiday, and so much more. I spent much time in the future and actually missed most of the present. As a result the holiday flashed by, I hardly enjoyed it, and I feel no more prepared for my first day at work or my interview than if I had actually really done nothing but at least enjoyed it.

On top of this I have realized that this holiday was an opportunity to give my two boys some  special attention, some mindful attention, and yet that rarely happened at all. Mindful parenting, I have discovered is where a parent practices living in the present moment whilst dealing with the child in front of them. Being present at that moment with the child (without the previous ideas and criticisms held), and sustaining that attention in the present will then allow the necessary creativity to come through and the parent to deal with the situation in the best way possible.

Creativity and parenting definitely go hand in hand, I know this through experience as I think back to the few times when I was actually present in the moment. Times when I  suggested a tantalizing distraction to engage my fighting sons, or when I’ve been aware enough to sense that their excitable energies were leading to destruction and mayhem and found a creative outlet for that energy through music/percussion/art.  But the big challenge is to uphold this creative parenting and therefore this living in the present through the more stressful and tired days of my life.  I’ve come across an amazing piece of writing about mindful parenting and it suggests twelve top tips. These are taken from an interview where ‘Sarah van Gelder talks with Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn about how the Buddhist concept of mindfulness can help us to see the wholeness and beauty of our children in each moment.’

Twelve Exercises for Mindful Parenting

  1. Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.

  2. Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view; imagine having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?

  3. Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. Work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.

  4. Be mindful of your expectations of your children, and consider whether they are truly in your children’s best interests. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.

  5. Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground where your needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.

  6. When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still. Meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what really needs to be done.

  7. Try embodying silent presence. Listen carefully.

  8. Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. See what is “workable” if you are willing to trust your intuition and best instincts.

  9. Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing, and they demonstrate that you see a situation more clearly, or more from your child’s point of view. But “I’m sorry” loses its meaning if we are always saying it, or if we make regret a habit.

  10. Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.

  11. There are very important times when we need to practice being clear and strong and unequivocal with our children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness and generosity and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid and controlling.

  12. The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves.

The above twelve steps are taken from here, they were written by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn and are part of their book called Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.

Well I’ve spent the last day of my holiday practicing mindfulness, really listening to my children instead of hearing their words but with my mind on other things. It was not always easy to break the habit but it was made easier by the energy of the strong intention I made to practice it. And despite an ill child with a roaring temperature, preparation of school uniforms, making packed lunches, the prospect of the school run and an early morning start I did actually enjoy the day and am not suffering from Sunday blues.

Living in the moment allowed me the space to see certain negative things that I do with the children which I was previously unaware of, I also saw how I treat them differently and how in this particular case it put a lot of pressure upon one of their little shoulders.  To see this and create a new behavior pattern within myself is an important aspect of True creativity. I have come to understand that the urge to create has many more positive uses than simply to make a piece of art work. The creative force can be used throughout every day life whether it be making and presenting beautiful food, redecorating the house, creative parenting, creativity with one’s partner, creativity at work, or creating new and better behaviors.

So why do I avoid living in the now, the present moment. Fear of boredom, the idea that if I don’t think about all the things I need to do then I will forget them, resentment at having to do something constantly for others-where’s time for ME? The idea that I’ll do this thing for you physically but at least I’ve still got my mind to think about whatever I want. Weather all these ideas are foolish I have yet to explore but I’m determined to find out over the next few months. Exactly how I will improve my terrible memory I do not know but perhaps being mindful will help, a big challenge will be to combat boredom.  As for ‘Me’ time, well Exercise no 5 ( above) has put me in my place!

The re discovery of mindfulness is quite exciting for me as it puts creativity at the centre of everything I do resulting in less resentfulness at all the other daily chores and activities that take me away from my art work. How easy will it be to be mindful when the exhaustion of the school term is at its hight I cannot say but I can only try to me mindful even if it is of my own tiredness.

A painting, dance, sculpture, music are all evidence of a creative act but they are only part of the process of creativity. True Creativity has infinite expressions and can be used and expressed at any moment in a person’s life and is accessible when they are living in the moment. Therefore Mindful Creativity is a way of life, a way of being and doing that is far beyond the small remit of a visual or performing artist. I wish to conclude with my favorite  quote, the words of the wise old tortoise in Kung Fu Panda who says

‘You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” Share this quote

A Love Affair With Stories.

Poseidon’s trident, an Olympic medal, a gold leafed treasure box with incantations inside and an illustrated toga. These were some of the things my two boys made at The Story Museum in Oxford over the week end. I have fallen in love with the whole idea of the Story Museum and feel the urge to spread the word.

We attended an artist led, children’s art and craft class with the theme of ancient Greeks where there were approximately ten other children with accompanying adults in a pleasant space industriously making their Greek inspired creations. Francesca Shakespeare, the artist leading the class, initially challenged the children to make artifacts to adorn three Olympic statues she had previously made at the Ashmoleon. This was an excellent way of bringing some unity to what inevitably were very separate groups of children and their adults wandering around in their own ‘Olympian’ worlds with little notice of anybody else.

Here is a group photograph of them all at the end with Francesca Shakespeare (right) and her statues as well. You can see some of the adornments the children have made for her statues, laurel leaf crowns, golden shields, medals, swords and thunder bolts.

At the Story Museum

The museum does lots of work with schools, communities, and run the well known Alice’s Day in Oxford celebrating Lewis Carol’s book Alice in Wonderland.  What I personally love and feel so passionate about is the philosophy of the museum itself, the belief and conviction that through good stories and story telling children can develop and improve  language, life and emotions.

Story telling is an art and to weave a good yarn one needs a good story teller and a good listener. The skill of listening is an important one, and it is something we do less and less of as technology moves on and the lure of visual stimuli engage our attentions. I vividly remember being read to for hours as a child and experiencing the heart break of the poacher trapping and killing Tarka the otter, the anger and horror when Achilles drags the body of Hector around the Trojan wall and the fascination at the skillful baby Hermes making a lyre out of a tortoise shell for his brother Apollo. These were all stories I heard between the ages of five and seven and having no television and long tropical rainy seasons we had many days to wander strange realms whilst still sitting on our sheltered back doorstep.

My own children have been captivated by stories and I can see the positive effect it has on their use of language, speech, literacy, emotional understanding, inference skills, and imagination. All children deserve this and should have the opportunity to be told stories by someone, hopefully some important person in their lives that makes that experience a positive and special one. But if that isn’t the case, then what better place to begin a love affair with stories than at The Story Museum itself.

Tinker Tailer Soldier Sailer…Doctor: Get kids sewing!

My friend related a story to me once of her husband returning from a trip abroad to find his three children sewing. His youngest, a boy and the apple of his eye, had begged his mother to be allowed to join his elder sisters in sewing their own pencil cases, to which she agreed. Upon the father’s arrival, mayhem and madness broke out as devastated, he swiftly removed the needle and thread from his son’s hands and then turned enraged upon his wife.

‘Why is my son sewing?’ he demanded, adding something along the lines of ‘sewing is for girls’!

My friend then gently and respectfully reminded him that if he wanted his son to be a surgeon then sewing skills would come in quite handy. As they would for a sailor mending the sails of his ship, an army officer sewing the badge of his latest promotion onto his uniform and a cobbler mending antique leather goods.

Needless to say the half finished pencil case was quietly returned at a later date when father’s ego felt a little less bruised, and is now a fully functional pencil case to this day.

Sewing is actually a very practical and useful skill that all children regardless of gender should practice not only for the reasons above but also to improve those fine motor skills and hand eye coordination that all help towards good writing. It also extends concentration skills, and teaches children to think practically. It is a transferable skill which can be used to help reduce reuse and recycle-how often have you thrown away a pair of trousers, shirt or socks because of a missing button or a little hole?

Here are some ideas to try of varying degrees of difficulty and adult supervision.

  • Make a P.E. bag for your son/daughter’s school p.e. kit. You could use an old pillow case, cut it down a little and decorate it with fabric paints/pens. Add a simple draw string at the top to keep it closed. Here are some easy tutorials. Alternatively make it from a bit of old cloth, bed sheet, recycled t shirt, pin it together so it is easier for your child and start them off with not too long a bit of thread as they’ll annoy you by getting it into a tangle. Add simple patch pockets, add beads, buttons, poppers, sequins if you like. Felt is very easy to sew and you can pick it up in fabric/craft shops for less than a pound for a little bag-sized square of it. Image
  • Here’s a bag my son is working on. He was so proud of it, especially as his sketch book fits inside perfectly.Image
  • Here he’s sewing on a long pocket for pencils and pens.
  • Keep it simple and decorate a little square of felt with different colour embroidery thread. Use a simple running stitch. My boys started with this and were so so proud of it.
  • Make a glasses case or pencil case. You could fasten it with a little zip if you ‘re feeling brave or else what about some velcro-I’m sure you can find velcro in super stores from the little sewing sections.
  • Try some cross stitch-you’ll have to get the squared cross stitch fabric and some embroidery thread though. (You may find that some cross stitch magazines from WHSmiths may actually have a free sample when you buy the magazine). It’s fun to decorate a little piece of fabric or write a name/message and then cut it out and stick it onto a card for Gran maybe.
  • If you want to go fancy then get t-shirt or skirt and sew on decorations such as ribbons, bows, home made buttons out of fimo, sequins, roses etc. If your in Oxford then here’s the place to get all this haberdashery. This is also a great way to customize a gift for a baby, toddler or anyone really.
  • Make a teddy, for those feeling brave. First cut out the shape of the teddy in felt, then find something soft to stuff inside it-old pillow stuffing, feathers,dry beans/peas. Sew round the outside not too close to the edges with thinned embroidery thread (take out some threads so its only two or three strands thick), but leave a gap to stuff the stuffing into the teddy and then sew up the hole. Decorate teddy and give him bead/googley eyes, a little bow tie out or spotty ribbon and sew his paw pads. Cute idea huh?
  • Easy sock caterpillar. Stuff sock with plastic bags/stuffing and tie the end with rubber band or string. Sew or glue eyes on, sew on felt spots/sequins. Make little felt feet if you want. Embellish as you desire.
  • Sew an easy cape. Obviously this could be a Little Red Riding Hood cape a halloween beast’s cape or what you will. Get a piece of square cloth long enough for a cape and a bit of ribbon (1m). Sew the ribbon on the inside of the cloth about an inch and a half from the top of one of the edges of the square cloth making sure the ribbon sticks out either end so you can tie it round your shoulders. Decorate your cape with fabric pens, paint, sequins, glow in dark paint, plastic spiders etc.ImageImage
  • Here’s a cape we made and decorated.
  • Sew an easy bean bag. Bean bags have gone out of fashion a bit but they’re great for toddlers to learn how to throw and catch (before the frustrating move to a ball where you spend more time fetching the ball than actually playing with it). All you need are squares of scrap cloth. even flannels,    so you need two matching sized squares per bean bag, some dry beans, and sewing materials. sew four sides of the bean bag, turn it inside out (so think about the colours of the fabric so your nicest colours will be on the outside) stuff it with beans-not too many as it should be floppy, and sew up your last side of the square. This lady has an excellent tutorial if you’re still confused. For some good bean bag games visit here.
  • Sew some felt flowers, cut out the petals and the central bit out of different colour felt cloth and sew them together. Make wire stems and arrange them into a little bouquet. (You can find ways of sewing the base of the petals so that they hold in their positions). Or sew them to a bag you’ve made. Or sew them to a piece of backing felt, add a ribbon and tie as a necklace.
  • Sew a felt necklace pendent. Cut out a bib shaped pendent that is the correct size for your child and decorate it with anything you want, beads, sequins, painted pasta, fimo shapes, varnished card shapes. Then sew ribbon to either end of the bib part and tie round the neck.

Hope this article provides some exciting ideas, please feel free to drop me a line.

Exciting ways to get creative with your children-for the tentative parent.

Sketching upon waking

There are many research articles suggesting that spending positive, quality time with our children at home (especially at primary age) directly impacts their attitudes and beliefs in their own capabilities at school. If you’re interested in reading more about this then here are a few articles.

Article 1 Parental involvement in children’s education. Why does it make a difference?

Article 2 Parental involvement in their children’s learning

Quality time put in by fathers, mothers or any other important family member gives  children the opportunity to see, copy and integrate skills that are important on a social, practical and emotional level. Creative activities are a fantastic way to begin some quality interactions with your child and is often an irresistible distraction from the addictive pull of PSP’s, Nintendo, T.V , etc.

In this article I will share some of my ideas (all tried and tested), some useful places to visit, some tips along with great links to online resources.

Get Creative: No 1

  1. Choose a book
  2. Pick a related topic
  3. Choose your focus and skill
  4. Get Creative

Choose an exciting, well written story book suitable to your children’s level of understanding and find a family time where this book gets read everyday (its bed time in our house). Now you’re probably thinking, How’s this creative? Well I’ll explain.

Let’s take The Iron Man and The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes, or The jungle book by Rudyard Kipling. Both books contain excellent language, and vocabulary as well as perfect subject matter to stimulate fantastic art, drama or creative writing.  What I often do with my children is to pick a topic that links in with the current book I’m reading, so for example you could choose topics like recycling, wildlife, pollution, save the planet, reduce, reuse, junk,for The Iron Man/Woman. And for the Jungle book you might choose topics such as forests, jungle animals, India, tigers, traditional peoples.

Once your book and topic are chosen (either by you or by the kids) then you need to decide what you want to get out of this. For me, there are some occasions where I know precious little about our chosen topic so its a chance for the kids and I to learn together. Other times I know that I have a skill, or a particular idea in mind that I want to pass onto the children. And yet other times it is simply another ploy to distract them from the t.v. or from bickering with each other.

Lets imagine that you’ve chosen The Iron Man/Iron Woman, your topic is recycling and your aim is to improve skills in art, creating from imagination, sculpting, painting, cutting and such like. You could then collect all the house hold recyclable junk like cereal boxes, toilet/kitchen rolls, tin cans, milk bottles and lids etc. and build the Iron man out of them and paint him metallic colours. You could make ‘space bat angel dragon’ wings using old black plastic bags, or Iron Woman masks out of old cd’s, wire and cardboard. You could make papier mache half men half fish, or air dry clay painted models of fish and hang them from the ceiling. Go and visit a fish farm and draw the fish there, if you’re in Oxford then here’s a great place to visit. Go and take photos of pollution in a lock, canal or river near you, then make a piece or art work or poster persuading locals not to dump rubbish into it. I know a few local children near me who made posters, laminated them and tied them with string to the fence along my local stream. Also show them this.

All this can be done with any good book at any level and ability. I will suggest some more fantastic books at the end of this article. Just to add one more example for a lower age group lets take a fantastic book like The snail and the whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. (a book appropriate to pre school and foundation year children pictured above). You have topics such as the sea, seaside, whales, snails, sea wildlife, and from these topics can stem all sorts of wonderful art such as painting shells, collecting empty garden snail shells and decorating them with acrylic paint and then varnishing them. Visiting the seaside and collecting objects that can later be put together into a piece or art, or stuck onto a cardboard frame for a picture, making a sand sculpture of sea creatures (remember to photograph them and you can make them in any sand pit), look at Hokusai’s The Great Wave and make your own painting inspired by it. Play them this, a beautiful composition of John Masefield’s Sea Fever.

Get Creative: No 2.

  1. History, Art, Music Drama (and a bit of science too)
  2. Chose the topic
  3. Bring it to life-visits, online links/games, references
  4. Get creative

I did three history topics with my children that worked really well and will share one of them. Although this idea can work with any historical topic of your choice it is obviously most effective if it is adapted to the children’s age, ability and preferences.

My three topics were Castles, the Vikings, and Ancient Egyptians.

Castles hold a fascination for children so it needs little persuasion to capture their interest. I connected it to the battle of Hastings but there are many castles that can be used and many kings, queens and historical events that you could connect to your topic for even more drama. I ‘story told’ ( this is my special term for dramatically retelling a story in an animated way) the battle of Hastings cutting it down to the key events, Of course the most dramatic being that King Harold of England gets an arrow shot in his eye. Naturally here you’ve immediately got the perfect situation for some drama, one child is the Normans, the other child acts out the Saxon army and they have a great big battle using pencil swords and Harold can then rather dramatically die a slow and grueling death upon the living room carpet. Need I mention that your arts and craft’s session is already organized as you will need to make some helmets out of cardboard for your little solders to wear, some cardboard swords wrapped in kitchen foil, some shields with coats of arms for each army, and naturally bows and arrows out of string, garden canes and cardboard. Oh and what about milk-carton horse faces, with knitting wool mane and brown paint.

If you’ve got girls who are far too sensible to launch into full battle with pencils and garden cane bows then take a look at the Bayeux tapestry and try some easy weaving at home using cardboard and knitting wool. Then you can collect some large and small boxes along with cardboard tubes and first design on paper and then make your own cardboard castle. Make sure you all know the important parts of the castle such as the turrets, draw bridge portcullis etc. Why not make a draw bridge that actually works. Maybe make some actual knights that can defend the Queen/King of the castle. Go and visit a castle first to see all the things you need to make. Here is a fantastic cardboard castle . A good blog too. And don’t forget all castles have a well designed flag to tell everyone who’s castle it is.

Here’s a lovely blog all about homemade castles.

Here’s where bit of science comes in. Make a catapult out of lolly sticks and plastic spoons and make the ammunition out of clay, wet tissue and other objects and see which catapult works best with which object. Then investigate what it is that makes the ammunition go further or not and discover the forces behind what makes the catapult work. Here you could challenge older children to actually make a catapult that works using house hold objects or junk such as old spoons/ladle, rubber bands, old picture frame imagination.

Lastly I worked with a class of thirty children last year and we made musical instruments out of junk which we then used to create a series of soundscapes of the battle of Hastings. We made the shakers out of bottles with beans in, tissue boxes with rubber bands round, tins and old cooking pots with pencils and sticks to beat with, bunches of old keys strung together and more. I then set them off with each group working on one bit of the essential part of the story to create a sound scape which they then performed to each other at the end of every session and then to key stage one at the end of term. You can decide together what sort of noises they would hear at each part of the story and then find the instrument that lends itself best to that particular sound. Then put the sounds together in the right order to tell the story.

Places to visit linked with castles, Jousting day at Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, town of Battle, Castles of Great Britain and Ireland.

Web links for castles suitable for children, Castles for kids, Castle interactive learning, Crush the castle game, Bayeux tapestry comes to life

Further ideas. Dragons, George and the Dragon, Mythical castles, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast all have castles in (NOT the Disney version-the proper traditional tales), Jane and the dragon (CBB’s program-well made and beautiful animations), tower of London.

Get Creative: No 3.

  1. Fun and Funky quick ideas-choose one
  2. Acquire your materials
  3. Get creative

For some quick and easy projects requiring less thought than No’s 1 and 2.

  • Get two very large boxes (from super markets, recycling centers), carve an arch in the ends of the boxes with a craft knife so that they become a tunnel through which a child could crawl (you could leave one end un-carved so it becomes a den). Decorate the outside of the boxes. We made ours into a dragon tunnel, we attached cardboard wings using holes and garden wire, a neck and head and toilet paper roll ‘spikes’ along its back. Once painted it served as hours of fun for all the children in our neighborhood from toddlers to eight year olds.
  • Get air dry clay, roll it out flat to about half a cm thick. Impress into the surface found leaves, flowers, twigs, and other interesting textures and then cut sections of the clay and create a clay sculpture. Let it dry and then paint it using acrylic paints. Once the paints are dry you can then varnish it. Mix a little clay with water to make clay ‘glue’, it should be the consistency of soft cheese. When attaching one piece of clay to the other roughen the surfaces a little, apply the ‘glue’ and then press together. This ‘glue’ is properly named slip.

Air dry clay sculpture

Dragon

  • Get ceramic paints and a black ceramic/glass pen along with some old tiles you’re no longer using for DIY and draw and paint on them. Plan it on paper first just to be sure of what you’re doing. There are oven bake paints that makes your ceramic piece dishwasher safe and there are other ones that are air dry only. Here’s some we did inspired by William de Morgan.Boat
  • Collect some bottles with lids, some rubber bands and an old empty frame, and make your own musical instruments. Decorate them with paper and glue, sequins, threads etc. Have a family jamming session.
  • Try body percussion. Create a rhythm using sounds made with your body. experiment with how many interesting sounds you can make with your body and have a jamming session with them. Have a look at this for some inspiration. And this.
  • Lastly, start a sketch book with your kids. Stress to them that the sketch book is for drawings that they are going to take care over.(anything else can be done on scrap paper) Keep an eye on what they do in there, praise them, point out things that could be improved next time. Make sure that they colour pictures done in outline and stress the importance of finishing one picture before moving on to the next. If they cross out a ‘mistake’ then point out that there’s plenty of space next to it to try again and have another go-no need to cross it out. Remember to write the date when you got the sketch book, it may be a treasured memory later on.

I hope this article provides a place to start for some and a little inspiration for others. Please let me know if you have any useful suggestions or resources you know of that I can add.

A few more book suggestions:

Matilda by Roald Dahl, The clever boy and terrible dangerous animal by Idries Shah, The gingerbread man, Goldilocks and the three bears, The rainbow fish by Marcus Pfister, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein, Alice in Wonderland by CS Lewis, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Charley and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl, Grimms’ fairy tales, Beatrix Potter, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

Five great ways to introduce your child to Shakespeare

William ShakespeareAs a child, instead of doing reading practice with early readers like Beatrix Potter and Dr Seuss I was given a large hardback of Shakespeare’s plays and we sat every day at lunch time for an hour and a half and read the plays out loud. My step mother, my father and I would take a part each and read that part for a couple of Scenes or an Act.

Now, when I was young my father and mother never had a television or a play-station to compete with Shakespeare so our little reading session began when I was five and continued till I was about eight years old at which point we had completed all the plays. You may be asking why I wasn’t at school in the middle of the day and the answer is that they educated me at home and reading Shakespeare was the bread and butter of that education.

I am fully aware that these days parents have to compete fiercely with all sorts of addictive technology and so sitting with Shakespeare as a first reader is not practical. However if like me, you appreciate the Great Bard and want to pass just a little of that onto your kids then here’s some ideas that I have tried and tested on my own two boys.

I shall list them in order below and then explain each point in more detail after.

  1. Start with fairy ‘s song from A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 2 Scene 2               (-drama, role play, drawing, fairy, imagination, mythical creatures).
  2. Story tell a little of the fairy part of the story of Midsummer Night’s Dream (leave out the Athenian lovers part) then read dramatically Oberon’s description of the ‘Love in Idleness flower’ and other excerpts. Act 2 Scene 1 and 2. (listening, myth & legend, imagination).
  3. Show Utube clip of Disney’s version of Midsummer Night’s Dream. And show them well chosen Dvd’s. (helps make it fun and child friendly)
  4. Introduce Jaques speech from As you like it Act 2 Scene 7 (-drama, old and young, life/death, time).
  5. Take the children to see their first play. I would probably start with a Midsummer Night’s Dream (although I started with The Tempest when I was 4 and a half years old and loved it).

1) The fairy song from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMND) is a great place to begin as its full of animals, has great visual descriptions of them, is full of charm, magic and mythical creatures. You could approach this in many ways and I used as many as I could think of. I set the scene for my children by story-telling them about Titania who is the beautiful queen of the fairies who is being sung to sleep by her little fairy servants. I then sang the lullaby in a ‘fairy’ voice and the boys just wanted me to sing it over and over. If you dont know the song yourself then there’s a great Utube clip here.

This song can also lead to art projects, such as cutting spiral snakes out of paper/card and painting spots on them and making a felt forked tongue and sticking it on. Hang them from your ceiling. Or science projects such as: what exactly is a blindworm?  Or how do spiders actually make their webs. Or going out in your garden at night and spotting a hedgehog (-we did this). Or keeping a newt as a pet or visiting a pet shop that has a newt to look at. All these projects can be adapted to the age and abilities of your children by making it either less or more complex.

A blindworm (just in case you were curious)

Children love role play and this is a great way to start. You can sing or read the song and as you say each animal your children can pretend to be that animal. Make this as complex or simple as you wish. Make your own costumes, act it out, get them to learn a line or two each, make masks, make puppets. Go for it!

2) My kids are suckers for a great story that’s well told. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fantastic story in itself, all you need is a little familiarity with the story yourself and your best story telling voice. Set the scene by introducing Oberon the noble king of the fairies, then bring in Puck, his mischievous servant. Tell a couple of the tricks Puck plays on poor unwitting humans. (like when he pretends to be a stool and as a large lady sits on him he moves leaving her a sprawling mess on the floor.) Then read the speech beginning “That very time I saw (but thou couldst not)…”

A note on reading Shakespeare to children: when you read do it slowly and with lots of exaggeration and hand movements that explain what it means. When really necessary, add one word after a tricky word that conveys the meaning to them without interrupting the flow. If they interrupt you, finish the bit you’re on and then explain. Children are very good at inferring meaning by how you read something and by your facial expressions so if you understand the passage yourself you may not need to explain too much anyway.

My boys found it fascinating hearing more about Cupid and a leviathan.

And of course they found it very entertaining imagining all the ridiculous creatures that Titania might fall in love with, from a slug to a pig to rather aptly a bottom.

Of course this brings me to the main event which is story-telling the moment when Titania awakes and falls in love with Bottom who has a Donkey’s head instead of a man. (another of Puck’s tricks) You can at this point skip through to Act 3 Scene 2 and read Titania calling to her fairy servants. “‘Peaseblossom! Cobweb! Moth! Mustardseed!” and read on till the end of that Scene.  I read a little more as the boys wanted more, so I went  on until the first sentence of Oberon saying ‘This falls out better than I could devise’ (Act 2 Scene 2)

Here are some links to A Midsummer Night’s Dream art work and music by great artists.

John Anster Firzgerald paintings -some beautiful atmospheric paintings by Victorian artist. Look out for Titania and Bottom

Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream overture Op 21 

3) Walt Disney’s version of A midsummer night’s dream starring Donald and Daffy duck is amusing and that’s all I shall say about that, except that it is perhaps a little light refreshment before your next Shakespeare project. Here it is.

Here is an animated version for kids of A midsummer night’s dream. 

There is a 1999 American film of A midsummer night’s dream which you can buy, its rated PG. Here is more info in it. Here’s somewhere you could buy it.

4) I introduced Jaques speech both to a class of thirty children and to my own two children  and both groups thoroughly enjoyed it. I will describe briefly what I did with my class of thirty first, and then adapt those ideas for a small group.

I introduced my session as a drama lesson and divided them up into groups of seven. I named each group as old man, school boy, baby etc which the children found intriguing and amusing and then allocated each group a section of a large room. I then introduced Shakespeare and asked them to ‘lend me their ears’ which of course they liked doing literally and that got their attention hooked.

I then read the speech beginning ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players:’ (Act 2 Scene 7) The children listened attentively and I then asked them what they though it was about? There were some obvious contributions like “there was a baby” and such like and then one little girl put her hand up and said “its what happens to people”. She hit the nail on the head. This is a class of 6-7 year olds.

They listened again, now they had more of an idea of what it was about and were used to the language. Then I asked each group to work together to create a short drama ending with a freeze frame of a situation involving something about their part of the speech. They came up with all sorts of interesting scenarios: two old irritated grand parents impatient with their noisy grandchildren. A smart young man proposing to his girlfriend (which they found hilarious), some soldiers marching to some mouth trumpets. A group of elderly people dying in hospital. All these were completely the children’s ideas. They took 20 minutes to prepare their frieze frame and then performed them to everyone.

This sort of drama session can easily be done with tiny groups. You and your child/children can each take turns being the next stage and act it out to each other. Or one can read it whilst the other acts it out. Use some props, a satchel, glasses, a wig, walking stick, a nappy, slippers. Get others in your family involved like grandpa, could he play the schoolboy? And the kids play grandpa?

5) Now they should be ready to see a well chosen play by a child friendly theatre company. Its worth checking as there’s nothing worse than a bored child completely put off by drab acting and an overdose of apparently meaningless words.

Here’s an inspiring article from the independent-an eight year old experiences a Shakespeare play.

Link to Royal Shakespeare Company

Link to Globe Theatre 

Link to Creation Theatre in Oxford that does good summer Shakespeare.

I hope that these five tips have given you more confidence in passing on your enthusiasm for Shakespeare in a child friendly way. Do feel free to drop me a line if you have any suggestions, questions or useful links.