Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Creativity Lessons from Paper Crowns and Small Heads

Every so often, I get a lesson that reminds me that I don't always know as much as I think I do.  I'm happiest when that lesson is not the brutal kind, like the lesson I got last night.

When I was asked to lead the Arts and Crafts sessions at Vacation Bible School, the director told me that she'd already ordered paper crowns for the kids to decorate.  My first thought:  good, that takes care of one night.

But then I thought about the fact that the crowns were ready-made and mass produced.  I fretted that the activity would take all of 5 minutes.  I worried that the children would find it stupid.

Last night, at the end of the night, as I looked at a sea of paper crown on small heads, each of the decorated differently and exquisitely, I thought about my fears and how much I worry about all the wrong things.

Most of the children loved decorating the crowns.  The very youngest were more interested in drawing on their hands with markers, but happily, it mostly washed off. 

I set out a variety of decorations:  the plastic jewels that came with the crowns, all sorts of sparkly materials, feathers, stick on foam shapes, and pipe cleaners.  I put out markers and crayons.  I let everybody make their own creative decisions.

Some children wove pipe cleaners through the crowns in interesting ways.  About half the children were interested in adding glittery bits to the crowns.  I saw children making sophisticated decisions about negative space and color, although I'm sure they wouldn't word it that way.

The crowns didn't seem to want to go from flat to crown shaped.  The tab on one end didn't fit into the other side.  But it was nothing a stapler couldn't handle.  Of course, I quickly realized that I needed to be the one who did the stapling.  Very few children had that kind of manual dexterity--plus, we only had a limited number of staples, and I wanted to make sure they lasted.

I failed to learn one of the arts and crafts lessons that my nephew should have taught me:  always travel with lots of tape.

As always, I'm interested in how the children respond to these experiences.  Many of them went into that deep state that we might call "flow."  Most of them seemed pleased with their crowns.  No one asked for an additional crown or to start over.  Only one or two children seemed displeased with their efforts, but I encouraged them to keep going to see what would emerge--at the end, no one crumpled up their paper crown to throw in the trash.

As with last year, it was the teenagers who seemed most critical.  Luckily, they didn't turn their venom on the works of others, just on their own work, which is heartbreaking enough.  How do we learn to be so hateful towards our creative offspring?

I know all the answers.  I know that it's a tough culture we live in, one that constantly beams messages of unworthiness at us.

Here again is a reason why I feel that Vacation Bible School is vitally important, and it's why I participate, even though I have no children.  I want to provide an alternative voice, one who says, "What a neat creation!"

As creative types, it's one of our most important missions, to model that good behavior for generations coming up behind us.  It's vitally important that we keep creating, even though we live in a culture that tries to convince us to quit or not to try.  It's vitally important that we commit to our creativity.

And, as VBS shows, if we can find a supportive creative community, we're more likely to be able to sustain our efforts.  

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