Monday, October 01, 2012

Home: A Place for Ideas (Excerpt from "The Missing Alphabet")

About The Missing Alphabet: A Parents’ Guide to Developing Creative Thinking in Kids, by Susan Marcus, Susie Monday, and Cynthia Herbert, PhD

Authored by a team of veteran educator/researchers, The Missing Alphabet is “Creativity 101.” Charting a pragmatic path through the often-misunderstood territory of creativity and the even more mysterious realm of talent, this guide brings parents clear information on creative development, backed up by current brain science. The Missing Alphabet is a colorful field guide chock full of activities and a thoughtful approach to managing creativity in our busy, everyday lives, By outlining why innovation is so important for children, then providing parents hands-on steps they can take to create new understandings for children, it’s like putting on a new pair of glasses!

Excerpt from The Missing Alphabet


Often it seems, we buy into a prepackaged idea about what a home is and what it should look like, an idea sold to us though glossy magazines and TV shows, reinforced by culture and class, limited or expanded by budget, and sometimes, greatly frustrating for everyday life with kids. Our ideas of home are often designed for appearance rather than creative thought and activity.

Here are some tips that give you permission to make your home work for creativity.

Make Space for Collections
Collecting is an essential component of the creative process. Collections can take all manner of shape and form, but for most, some kind of physical (or at least digital) space is essential in order for the collection to nudge our brains into connections and creativity. Consider the following ways to rethink spaces in your home that are conducive to collecting:

1. Where can your child save, share, and catalog his or her collections? Try little pin-boards, wall-sized bulletin boards, collection cubbies, shelves, a pedestal or shadowbox for changing displays, and other special areas.

2. Think digitally. Schedule a photo-sharing night for digital collection reviews, or buy an
inexpensive digital photo frame to share a child’s collection of lines, shapes or colors. Set up an area on the family computer for each person’s photo collection. Take time to make periodic photo books either with your own print-outs or using an online photo book program like Shutterfly or Blurb.

Make Space for Media and Play
As you design your home, choose furnishing for children’s rooms, and organize spaces for your child’s play in the home, pay more attention to what’s really going on -- or to what needs to go on -- rather than to what a decorator might suggest.

1. Themed bedrooms and playrooms may be popular, but make sure the theme has something to do with your child’s imagination. Most kids need a space for messy play, whether outdoors or in. Many children need ways to move differently within their living spaces. Some kids need specialized spaces for tools, for building toys or costumes.

2. Make it easy for you (and your child) to clean up, to keep tools organized, to allow some controlled clutter or materials and media. Can you dedicate a closet to arts and crafts materials? Build an outside cabinet for balls, sports equipment, and outdoor tools? Provide aprons or designate work clothes that your child knows are good for messy work? If space permits, have an outdoor cleanup space for making those messy transitions back into the house -- a mud room, a covered porch with storage, even an outdoor shower.

3. If some home areas need to serve multiple functions (for example, the dining table for study and creative crafts, as well as eating) invent storage, conversion, disposal, and protection systems that make transitions easy. For example, a heavy-duty plastic tablecloth over a felt protector can keep a table surface safe.

4. The digital nation needs some specialized boundaries, too. Many families choose to have a family computer in a space that is easy to monitor for appropriate use. Consider monitoring software or selective blocking depending on your child’s age. Also, take time to discuss and explore the Internet and various websites with your child, developing media literacy skills as you go. On the hard drive, be sure that kids know what software, folders, and documents are appropriate for their use.

Make Space for Minds at Work
Design your child’s room as space for a mind at work. Plan and build it together, keeping these tips in mind:

1. Does your child need room to move and levels to move through? Does he need lots of table space and a wall-mounted roll of three-foot-wide paper for drawing? Does she need a hard surface for building toys and construction sets? Does he need lots of pegs and hangers for a collection of hats and costumes for dramatic play? Should there be a stage? What kind of books and media need to be at hand?

2. Look through school furnishing and school supply catalogs for ideas and resources beyond the department store children’s furnishings. Often, these are less expensive and more durable. Inexpensive possibilities can be found at thrift stores and reclaimed building material outlets.

3. Investigate outdoor options. Whether you have a large yard, a pocket-sized garden space, or just a balcony, investigate the options to fit your child’s imagination and opportunity for invention. What if you invented wind chimes, sun- catchers, a tree house, or a sandbox or sandtable?

Make Space for Sharing Creative Work
Where do you put all the products of a creative mind (or two?) What does your child make and invent? Let’s face it, the refrigerator door-and-magnet-system, while easy to maintain, has a certain limited prestige. Here are some suggestions for honoring creative work, without having to rent a storage unit to save it all:

1. Three words: digital, digital, digital. Take photos, videos, and audio records of work your child does at home, at school, and in other programs and classes. Set a weekly documentation time for taking shots and discarding (most of) the original work. Let your child pick what gets saved into an annual (physical) portfolio. As your child gets older and more skilled with digital media, he or she can select, edit, and make digital records to share.

2. Have a commercial poster print made of a collection of your child’s art -- one poster can reproduce a grid of smaller images of art (scanned or photographed from the original construction paper) or even thumbnail images of a slew of art and inventions. This could be a monthly or a seasonal project. Or for a do-it-yourself version, take and print snapshots of artwork, crop into squares, and tape or glue to a piece of posterboard or foamcore board.

3. Specify a hallway or alcove as the family gallery space. Buy easy-to-use frames and/or shadowboxes in one or several sizes. Change out the art, photos, and artifacts that are displayed monthly or seasonally.

4. Consider using the dinner table as a changing collection exhibition space, with different family members as curators for a night, a week, or once a week for a month.

5. Establish a “museum shelf” in a corner of the house to display the entire family’s best accomplishments for the week.

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