It’s Black Friday. What kids’ stuff should I stock up on? — Marian, Minneapolis
With the cat away — my husband was Brit-side getting reacquainted with the Big Ben, the Barbican and Buckingham Palace — my son decided to play! It was little things. He didn’t brush his teeth. Then insisted he had — until I waved a dry toothbrush in front of his face. He made his bed, but left his pj’s on the floor, a cup on his desk, and a book lying in the doorway and took three “asks” before he tidied those up, too. When I suggested he helped finish the vacuuming, he rolled on the floor and played dead.
Quickly the week became themed with the topic of rules: how God has rules (the Ten Commandments); how the Church has rules (sit in the pews and pray when told); and yes, how prisons have rules (I was throwing the rule book as far and fast as I could with this point).
On the fifth night, as my son and I eyed one another cautiously from opposite corners of our boxing ring, he unexpectedly held up a white flag in the shape of a Lego brick. Convivially, he suggested we drop story time in favor of a little creativity, an art project even. I’d never been a Lego fan, but I recognized an olive branch when I saw one.
So I gingerly picked up two little colored pieces and tacked them together. I didn’t have a clue what to make, but as I heard my son rummaging through his Lego bricks and enthusiastically locking one piece to another, I followed suit. We sat together building a sanctuary out of little blue, white, red and green pieces. And as the peacefulness rolled over me and my irritation ebbed away, I discovered inspiration and built myself a racing car!
As I studied my auto-creation, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my son and I were finally moving forward together — accelerating even — after a week of U-turns, speed bumps and red lights. When my son gently leaned over and placed a pink, plastic butterfly in my hand — “It’s nice and girly” — with which to adorn my car, I knew that in that Lego corner of his bedroom we’d made more than progress: We’d experienced a transformation. The magic of art-from-the-heart had soothed our rattled spirits, joined our mother-son soul back together and reminded us that more important than his separation anxiety, and my need for tidy, was our love!
Variety of lessons
Art, whether with glitter and glue, finger paints, fine brushes — or yes, with Legos — teaches kids a variety of lessons. Artist Mark Wagner says art helps kids “improve focus and increase attention, develop hand-eye co-ordination and practice strategic thinking.” Researchers, Dr. Ellen Winner and Dr. Lois Hetland (Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education) found that art helps kids “envision, persist, be playful and learn from mistakes.” And the Minnesota Art Therapy Association sees art as a divine vehicle of healing, through which kids dealing with significant issues can “increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences, enhance cognitive abilities, while enjoying the life-affirming pleasures of (creating).”
For Gertrude Luer, an angel artist and owner of Western Minneapolis’ Abrakadoodle (an after-school, summer and birthday party art camp for kids), art is all these things. Yet at heart, Luer believes the beauty of art class is that it provides kids with a sacred space where they can hang up their irritations and frustrations, their anxieties and differences and can delve into their creative spirits to find themselves again.
Gertrude says: “Painting is my bliss. It’s like prayer or meditation for me and I want my students to experience that bliss, too. Of course, when kids come to class, some are struggling in their personal life and some are struggling at school; but something changes when they start working on their art!
“At first when I explain the project, they lack confidence and question their ability, but as I walk them through, step-by-step, they grow more enthusiastic. When I show them my prototype and explain that they will create something similar or more likely better, they light up. I raise their expectations and that allows them to shake out their wings.
“As they make a start on the project, they become quickly absorbed in what they are creating, so absorbed there is often little chatter. And as they work hard, as they connect with their art, it’s like they shed the issues that have burdened them and they are at one with themselves and their project and they can fly. When the children leave my class, they’re always in a different place. They look and feel grounded, settled and at peace. And that’s magical.”
Freedom to let go
As for me? Though no artist myself, I advocate that no child should be left behind when it comes to art! Why? Our kids grow up in a Western world that cherishes the rational-scientific-left-sided thought process, and dismisses the artistic-creative-intuitive-right-brained side as less important, secondary or frivolous even. And yet, if our kids had the freedom to let go of lists and facts and memorization and multiple choice and were encouraged instead to sit at the table like Renaissance men and embrace both art and science, the creative and the logical, the intuitive and the practical, the passionate and the dispassionate, then our kids would learn they could achieve true alchemy: the meeting of the heart, mind and soul that allows for inspiration, illumination and ultimately, genius. As Albert Einstein himself acknowledged, “The greatest scientists are artists, as well.”
So stock up on sequins and stickers, crayons and crafts, a paint box and sketch pad this November and gift your kids with an artistic Thanksgiving afternoon. And as you watch them create, laugh and play, intuit, express and accomplish, relax, restore and renew, get inspired yourself. Pick up a pen and join in and make this year’s Turkey Day a work of (fine) art!