Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Other Love

  When I was a child (about 4 years old) I had two very distinct goals that I wanted to achieve in my life. They were my 2 loves. The first was to live life as an artist; writing, illustrating and creating artwork in general. I've pretty well covered this in previous posts. The other is yet to be shared.

  For some reason I got it into my head that learning was supposed to be fun! I suppose I got this from my father and mother who somehow taught me to read by the time I was 4. It probably had something to do with the well-written and beautifully illustrated stories which they read aloud, and the memorable trips to the library which seemed full of treasure just waiting to be discovered. It may have been the sense of wonder fostered by trips to magnificent parks with vast lawns of green and lush foliage in which mysterious creatures (like the wondrous "Walking Stick") could be found.

  Whatever the reason, I definitely thought learning was fun. Unfortunately, when I went to first grade at the age of 4 (kindergarten was skipped because I could read) I found, to my great disappointment, that school was NOT fun! I clearly recall walking around the playground with a scowl on my face (not the best way to encourage friendly overtures) thinking that this was all wrong, that learning should be fun, and when I grew up I was going to make it be fun! I imagined thinking up some new and wonderful way of teaching (the exact method was a bit blurry). The whole world would use it and every kid everywhere would have FUN! The weird thing was (well, apart from being 4 and thinking that way) I pictured myself doing this by the time I was in 1st Grade! Apparently, I thought all I needed to accomplish this was a year to work on it!

  That was possibly the first unrealistic target I set for myself (riding a black horse with a white mane and tail to school is another) and it wouldn't be the last. Alas, I'm still working on that!

  Anyway, although I obviously didn't make that target, it was an idea that followed me around, niggling me from some little-used portion of my brain. As an adult it resurfaced and resulted in various activities that I found very fulfilling. One of the first was becoming involved in the PTA at my girls' Elementary School. I was appointed the "Cultural Arts" Chairperson. Such a grand title! Basically, I was given the opportunity to create events and activities that brought the Arts into the lives of all of the children at the school! What could be better? I embraced it enthusiastically!

  One of my all-time favorite events was the "Arts and Crafts Fair". Although there was a little gallery, this was not just a showcase of artwork that the children made, oh no! This was a hands-on, make it on the spot explosion of creativity! Here are some of the Craft Stations we had set up in the "Multi-purpose Room" (otherwise known as the gymnasium);

1. Drawing on T-shirts; We had baskets of fabric markers in as many colors as I could find. I sent out numerous notices leading up to the fair, reminding everyone to bring their T-shirts and/or tennis shoes, but just in case someone forgot, I also had special paper available to make transfers. Volunteers had cut out pieces of cardboard to put inside the shirts and stretch them out. There were no rules, other than my all-time favorites of putting the cap back on a marker before taking another and no making fun of anyone's work!

2. Mask Making; This was a station where the kids could decorate pre-cut mask shapes. Volunteers spent several nights cutting paper plates in half and then cutting out almond shaped eye-holes. The table was laden with markers, feathers, beads, rhinestones, lace. fringe, pom-poms etc! Also many bottles of "Tacky Glue", a nice kid-friendly crafter's glue.

3. Cookie Decorating; Only 2 moms worked to bake literally hundreds of giant sugar cookies! Each child got one on a paper plate. We had plastic ketchup-type squeeze bottles filled with many colors of icing, and plastic tubs of sprinkles and shaped candy pieces (such as stars and hearts). I guess no one had concerns about too much sugar back then! Hey, it was a "special occasion"!

4. Found Object Sculpture; My personal favorite. We collected all kinds of "junk" for weeks beforehand. The parents donated everything. Before setting it out we went through it, made sure anything we put out was safe, and sorted it according to categories. Every child got a Styrofoam base and circled the table helping themselves to whatever caught their fancy. Bottles of good ol' Tacky Glue were placed at intervals around the table. There was also a few long tables where kids could set their sculptures to dry and display. It was a Super Recycling Project! I especially liked the ones made out of old toys.

5. Music Making; A few very imaginative parents built all sorts of funky percussion and string instruments out of cans, cylindrical oatmeal containers, varying levels water in bottles, and what-have-you. A very noisy station! In fact, making as much noise as you wished was encouraged! This station was set up in a room of it's own because we wanted kids to be as loud as they wanted without anyone shushing them.

6. Cooperative Mural; This consisted of a very long and wide piece of butcher type drawing paper taped up along an entire wall. Markers were provided at intervals and anyone could "draw on the wall". I think there might have been a theme, but I doubt anyone enforced it!

  These are all I could remember. There may have been a few more. We had a very active PTA and great Parent Volunteers - there's no way I could have pulled this off by myself! When the night arrived, it was pandemonium - but in a good way! It was extremely loud, but the noise was happy! Kids were running all around, going from station to station engaging in the activities. I remember taking turns manning the T-shirt table, the Mask-making, the Cookie Decorating and the Found Objects stations. It was SO MUCH FUN!

  And I have had so much fun re-living that experience that I'm afraid I've gotten a bit long-winded! So I'll end here and save the rest of this tale of my other love for another day (or two). Once again, thank you for visiting and listening. If you have had a similar experience or a favorite fun craft for kids that you'd like to share, please feel freeeee to leave a comment!