Thursday, March 14, 2013

Supporting my Budding Artist

Clara comes home from school, proudly pulling out her artwork out of her school bag. There are pages full of her designs: smiley faces, dragons, girls with long hair, boys wearing dresses, stars, suns, flowers, and swirls tumbling off the page as they literally tumble out of her bag. There are also nearly microscopic, cut-out cirlces and shapes which sprinkle the floor like confetti. Her fine motor skills seem to be right on track, since on the back of each of these teeny, tiny shapes she has managed to write in the smallest of letters the following: TO MAMA LOVE CLARA or TO PAPA LOVE CLARA or sometimes even TO CLARA LOVE CLARA.

It has taken me several years to create a workflow that supports my little artist while managing, displaying, and preserving the prolific amount of work she produces. Here are some of my top suggestions if you have a child who loves art at home.

1. Set up an Art station
I borrowed this idea from my sister. She spends a lot of time cooking in the kitchen and she was looking for an activity to keep her daughter occupied while in the kitchen. She set up a small table with a watercolor station for her daughter who was then two years old. I loved the idea when I visited, and so when I got home I created a similar setup.

There are watercolors, markers, crayons, stickers, and paper always available at the table. Clara doesn't need to ask me to get anything for her. She is able to use the art station at any time- no need to ask for permission. She likes being able to create art independently. Clara uses the art station probably every day. I would show you a photo, but one side effect of the child-centered activity is that it is perpetually in a state of disarray- papers and all of the above items I mentioned scattered everywhere. Although it is a mess, it is also a place that is meant just for Clara, and it is one of her favorite places to be in the house.

2. Portable Art Case.
One of our very favorite tools that has helped to support Clara's artistic interest is a portable art carry case that she got from a friend for her birthday last year. It is a simple concept: a plastic carrying case with a clipboard front and inside there is room for many pieces of paper as well as pens, crayons, or markers. For most of last summer, she carried this everywhere. She still likes to bring it in the car so that she can draw on the way to school.
Something that made it even more special was that Clara's case was personalized with her own name. You can find the case at Mrs. Monogram for $21 with personalization. If you don't care about getting your child's name on it, you can find the Dexas Clipcase on Amazon for $10.99. This is the most well used item in Clara's life out of all of her toys and art supplies... if you have a budding artist in your family, I highly recommend it!

3. Managing the paperflow of a prolific artist
It is a joy to see the passion that Clara has for expressing herself visually. It is also one of the biggest housekeeping challenges I have to keep up with the volume of artwork she produces. At the very minimum, I would estimate, she produces at least five pages of artwork per day. That's 35 pages a week, and 1,820 pages a year... and I think she actually makes even more that!

I come from a family of savers. I think my mom probably still has nearly every piece of artwork that I ever made. I have a colleague who said that her kitchen is decorated with the childhood artwork of her now teen children, and that she would never ever throw out anything they produced. I think it sounds nice in theory to keep every piece of art that is produced, but I don't know how I could physically contain everything that Clara produces without renting out a storage unit.

So, we have come to some compromises at our house. When Clara opens her bag, we go through it together and pick the most special pieces to keep. We recycle the rest. When Clara was younger, I initially did this step by myself, but I always thought about the story of my niece who found some of her artwork in the recycling bin that my sister had secretly put there. My niece came to my sister with tears in her eyes, holding up her drawing, and asking, "How did my beautiful art end up in the recycling bin?" With that story in my mind, I tried to involve Clara from an early age about making decisions about what art to keep so that there she would find no surprises in the recycling bin.

4. Taking photos of the artist with her work
This is one of my favorite methods to preserve Clara's work because it helps me to remember just how old she was when she created each piece. I love seeing proud Clara holding up her various artistic creations. I created a folder in iPhoto for "Clara's Art." I peruse my iPhoto folders much more frequently than I look at any hard copy folders, and so it is an easy way for me to quickly scan her work. I wish I remembered to do this more of the time.

Two-year-old Clara and her Halloween creations.

Clara designed a picture of the doll she wanted to create and then sewed it in art class last summer.

5. Displaying the artwork
One of the best ways I found to display Clara's artwork is in a kid's L'il DaVinci frame. I bought a standard 81/2 x 11 frame from Amazon. I like the frames because they are easy to open and they have room for about 50 pieces of paper, so you can easily add and rotate through your child's favorite images.

There are a few additional ideas I would like to try for displaying and preserving Clara's art. I like this idea of a clothespin wall for easily rotating favorite artwork. I think a binder with plastic sleeves would be a good way to preserve and review art over time.

I hope these tips help you to support any young artists in your house. Do you have any other tips to share?


Saturday, March 9, 2013


About once a month or so, I can’t think of anything better than having a pajama day. A day where I stay home all day and enjoy the life of leisure... in my pajamas. It seems that I passed  along this desire to Clara, and she has internalized the joys of a pajama day at an exponential level. If she had her choice, I think it’s possible that ten days out of a given month might be pajama days.

The most natural cause of pajama days at our house is a snow day. We have
had many weather-related cancellations this year and thus many opportunities for Clara’s favorite kind of day. Seven days off of school just for Hurricane Sandy, and several snow days since. Yesterday, we had a snow day that turned out to be a rather mild day. The roads were clear enough to have easily driven somewhere starting at around 10am.

I already had my quota of pajama days this month, and so I was eager to get out of the house and do something with this unexpected open time. Instead, our day went like this:

8am: Clara watches two episodes of “Curious George” on Netflix. She predictably asks, “please, please, please, can I watch one more, just one one one ONE more episode, pleeaaaassseeee?” Netflix is only allowed occasionally in our house as it is, and two episodes is the limit, so I say no (and then I cringe just a little bit inside because if we are in the house for the rest of the day it means that I am the sole entertainment!)

9am: Clara puts on a theatrical show for me and her stuffed dog. This is a multi-media performance involving many “levels” and the show is “paused” regularly for her to set up a new scene. I am fascinated at how the video game lingo has morphed its way into the performance. She gives me a piece of paper with many circles, x’s and different colors on it. When I press something on the paper, she changes the actions in the performance. It feels very meta and modern.

10am: We play tic-tac-toe and connect the dots. I’m still trying to teach her how to win at tic-tac-toe. She doesn’t quite get it. I win every game. She gets pouty. Should I let her win? I ask her if she wants me to ler her win. She says no, but she's sad that she didn't win all by herself. We stop playing. 

10:30am: I suggest that we go to the Aquarium. She loves the Aquarium. I figure this will surely convince her. “No,” she says, “I want to stay in my pajamas ALL day.”

10:45am: The next game we play is something we have never done before... a role play/acting out of “Dora the Explorer.” Clara is Dora, and her dolls are the other characters. I’m Swiper, and since I have only seen the show once or twice I’m not up-to-date with all of Swiper’s actions. I’m supposed to hide, then appear from behind an object, bounce up and down while making a snorting noise... and then steal one of Dora’s toys, and then hide it, and then get caught and then say, “oh man!”

Writing the steps down, it doesn’t seem so hard, but somehow, I messed up the order of the steps nearly every time, much to Clara’s exasperation. Somehow we ended up wearing silly sunglasses, hats, necklaces, and tutus, even though I don’t think that’s part of official Dora uniform. We laughed our way through it all.

Yes, Clara wears a sweater as her pajamas in the winter.

noon: We eat lunch, and Clara promises that after lunch, she will go to the Aquarium.

After lunch, Clara says she doesn’t want to go out after all. I ask why. She says she really doesn’t like getting dressed. I try to determine if she doesn’t like the process of getting dressed or the feeling of being in her clothes. There is never a clear answer to this question, but even when I offer to help her get dressed, she asserts cheerfully and clearly, “no, I don’t want your help getting dressed. I like being in my pajamas ALL day.” At least she's consistent.

1pm: I checked my email, and coincidentally, I get an email from a close friend who lives halfway across the country who happened to comment on the frustrated feeling of a day at home with no mission or purpose. She said for her to feel happy, there has to be a purpose to the day, even if just to "go to Target and organize the sock drawer." While I relish in a pajama day once in a while, this email reminded me that I, too, start to feel antsy after too much unstructured time.

2pm: I try one more time... tempting Clara with one of her favorite treats: chocolate!

“Would you like to go out and get a hot chocolate?,” I ask with a tone of anticipation and excitement.

She is too smart for me. “Hot chocolate sounds good, but we can have that at home. Let’s make some here,” she quickly responds.

It was clear I was not going to win this debate if even chocolate would not lure Clara out of the house. 

At this point, I stopped trying- my daughter was loving this day too much to nudge her out of the house. I filled two mugs with hot chocolate- marshmallows and whipped cream for her, whipped cream for mine. We spent the rest of the day baking, doing arts and crafts, and accepting the pleasures of a pajama day.