As a mom of small children, Alison Sherwood says YES to Mess and Mayhem.
Not only does she enjoy creating and capturing memories for friends, she makes art for, about, and with her kids. She doesn’t dictate the outcome but engages them in the process, even working alongside them. Their mediums and tools encompass everything from crayons and tissue paper to paintbrushes and blow dryers.
First, a little background on the kids . . .
Mara (4) has always been an eager artist, while Corban (6) was slow to warm up until starting kindergarten this past fall. Suddenly, he went from reluctant drawer to making a beeline to the table after school to finish a project. The development of fine motor skills and doing art with peers was key for him. Now all three kids are enthusiastic artists. At age three, most projects don’t hold Haddon’s attention as long as the other two, but he will spend an hour playing with play dough.
What projects have been kid-inspired?
- a doughnut piñata for Mara’s fourth birthday last year
- a grandma-grandson letter writing kit for my mother-in-law to correspond with Corban throughout the year
- a DIY pop art using family photos from an idea on Pinterest. I followed the process in that video but used Photoshop to edit the photos instead of a scanner
Where do you get your ideas for the kids’ own projects?
Alison: I think my childhood definitely influenced my creativity. My mom always had fun birthday parties for us, sewed our Halloween costumes, and did all sorts of crafts. I remember making a gingerbread house from candy hearts for my Valentine box in first grade. Most kids had a paper bag or a wrapped shoebox for their cards!
Most of my creativity comes out when I’m playing with my kids. I purchased a simple homeschool preschool curriculum that I use for ideas. It keeps them engaged and teaches age-appropriate skills. Each week focuses on a letter and suggests books and activities.
I usually take the simplest suggestions for art projects
and do them with my 3- and 4-year-olds,
modifying to use what we have on hand.
A recent example: we made paper hats and decorated them. The curriculum suggested gluing fake flowers onto cheap hats, but instead we just made folded newspaper hats and decorated them with stickers and markers. It was so simple but we all got into it.
For parties, inspiration comes from the everyday joys in our lives. Birthday parties are themed around my kids’ current loves. From there, I search the Internet—including Pinterest—to get my ideas flowing.
We’ve started doing a Kiwi Crate each month. It’s a subscription box that sends a themed set of art/science DIY projects each month, with all the supplies and directions included. It lets them do projects that are a little fancier, like making a stethoscope that really works. The parent doesn’t have to do any prep work or planning. There’s an art-based version for younger kids called Koala Crate, also a great experience.
If my kids are doing an art project, I usually do it myself alongside them. It’s more fun for me and it also encourages them.
I’m a huge proponent of parents doing art
alongside their kids.
Why should the kids have all the fun?
Here’s an example of how being annoyed at old crayons was the impetus for a project! Rather than throwing them away…
I was annoyed by all the broken crayons and cheapo crayons in our crayon basket so decided to get rid of them by melting them on a canvas. The kids helped peel them (for a while) and arrange them. I hot-glued them to the canvas. The kids were eager to help melt them. It was fun, but a little messy with the wax blowing.
Ultimately though, if art stops being fun,
we just move on to something else.
There are times when I push my kids to persevere
even when it’s not easy,
and times when I just let it go.
It’s a balancing act and I admit I don’t always know
what the right approach is, but that’s OK.
How do you encourage the kids’ artistic process over the product?
Alison: I think with more open-ended projects, like just painting whatever they feel like painting, they enjoy the process even more than the final product. When there’s a specific goal in mind, like drawing a certain scene or building something useful, I know they are often impatient to get to the end, but I still think the process is what makes it exciting for them.
I have to admit, I struggle with letting go of control sometimes when it comes to creative projects with my kids.
Kids don’t always do things the way I think they should,
and it’s tempting to jump in and “correct” them.
Sometimes it’s beneficial to make suggestions,
if it helps open up new ideas for them,
but I think it’s important to give them
their own space to do as they please,
even if it’s not what I would do.
That’s another reason doing it side-by-side with them is helpful—to keep me from taking over their projects with my own ideas!
Any tips for others who want to encourage their kids’ creativity?
- Have most of the art supplies easily accessible. My kids get out paper, scissors, markers, colored pencils, play dough, stamps, and stickers on their own. Paint I try to control a bit more for obvious reasons.
- Respond to “why” questions by asking, “Why do you think?” Sometimes they know the answer, or have a theory. It’s fun to see what creative answer they come up with.
- Resist the urge to tell them they’re playing with something the wrong way. As long as it’s not destructive, is there really a wrong way to play with a toy or game?
- Ask them to title their artwork.
- Do art with them.
- Open a picture book or show a famous painting for them to create their own interpretation. Sometimes we all need a little inspiration to think outside of our comfort zones.
- Mix it up. Sometimes we try new mediums like sunprint paper, oil pastels, or scratch art paper.
- Get up and dance! I’m thankful for voice-command speakers (like Amazon Echo), which make it so easy to listen to music at home. It sparks dance parties and sing-alongs and general creative inspiration.
I love seeing their reaction when they hear a new style of music or a song they’ve never heard. They often get to choose the music (lots of VBS songs, Frozen, and Daniel Tiger). I also introduce them to old Broadway songs or Christian rap. Their faces light up as they process the new, wonderful sounds. Mara especially seems to get inspired by this, and will go off into her own world dancing or performing for us.
Check out Alison’s website “The Next Big Adventure”, Current adventure: Parenthood. She documents her family life, including their adoption of Haddon. It’s also packed full of DIY costumes and other crafts, home decor, Etsy, and themed parties: alisherwood.com.
Inspired yet? Tell me how!