I began this blog nearly 100 posts ago (this is post 99, according to WordPress) with a few modest, personal goals. I wanted to document what we did. I wanted a record of what worked and what didn’t work. And I wanted a bit of help with accountability. See, about a year before I began this blog, we finished our basement, which, at my request, includes an art/craft area. We built a big table with lots of storage and an easy, wipe-off surface. The floor is just linoleum, and we had a utility sink installed–mess isn’t a concern. A year later I realized we weren’t using it all that much. We weren’t taking advantage of this great space I’d created.
In October of last year we attended a workshop at Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum entitled “The Artful Family.” I began thinking about how I wanted to use that space and what I could do to accomplish this. I thought perhaps I could leave provocations for when the boys came home from school and began poking around for ideas. In one corner of my head, I sort of hoped I’d find an outline, neatly arranged, available online. But I wasn’t looking for crafts, and I wasn’t looking primarily for ideas for very young children, and I came up more or less empty.
At about the same moment I realized I’d be making much of it up as I went along, I decided to blog about it. I’ve blogged on and off for a long time, and it’s a method of documentation that feels very natural and comfortable to me. Also, because it’s public, it feels more accountable to me. Even if absolutely nobody reads a blog regularly, it’s still out there in the world, and it helped me make this sort of art-making–the kind where we’re all together, exploring, learning, together–a priority. Because just like everyone else, our family juggles–work, school, out-of-school activities, chores, errands, all that stuff that comes along with just life.
My original thought of leaving provocations after school didn’t work. By the time my boys were home, had a snack, and completed homework, I’d be starting dinner, because we have a toddler with an early bedtime, so we eat dinner early too. Not only that, but the boys (and my daughter) quickly came to see these particular art experiences as an activity we did together. Trying to do this after school would just be rushed. I realized we’d need to explore together on weekends and days off from school, and that I’d need to schedule it, to treat it like any other important commitment. This isn’t to say we do things on a schedule; but I try to keep track and make sure we don’t go too long without some sort of art-making together. This blog helps keep me accountable to this goal.
So what have we gained by making art a habit? My toddler (nearly preschool now!) daughter sees painting as a viable activity choice, as much as reading together or building with blocks or any other game we may play together. She will ask to go downstairs and let me know exactly what materials she wants to work with. She has gained fine-motor coordination, color recognition, and confidence in her mark-making, among other things. But it’s more the changes in my older kids that interest me.
My 7yo has always considered himself an artist. In the past nine months, though, he’s become better at planning, thinking ahead, and becoming comfortable with different techniques. My 9yo, I think, is better able to see himself as an artist now than before; he recognizes his strengths. Last summer when we went on vacation I bought sketchbooks for all the kids, which were hardly used. They didn’t want to draw anything. This summer, it was as natural as anything for them to take their sketchbooks to the deCordova Museum and begin drawing. When my husband brings flowers home, the kids ask when they can paint a picture of them. And I suspect, too, that they are more observant, although they have always been the sort of kids who walk slowly, look at their surroundings, and try to really see.
And then there are the benefits to us as a family. This is, primarily, a family activity. I make art right alongside my kids as much as I can–it’s not always easy, because I’m also helping and fetching materials for three kids. I bring my sketchbook places too. My kids see me being creative, both with them and on my own projects. We all have our own projects, but we come together often. And over the past nine months, I’ve felt my own creativity expand as well.
My kids like to read in part because they see their parents reading and we’ve always taken them to the library. My kids write things down in part because they see me jotting notes and typing at the computer. And my kids see themselves as artists in part because I’ve made it a priority to support art-making in our family. This is what art as habit can do, and the first step can be as simple as drawing whatever is at hand.