Toilet paper Santas. Valentines cards with doilies and red construction paper. Painted stone fridge magnets. What family hasn’t sat together at the craft table, making wonderful projects from whatever scraps we find around the house?
But have you ever thought about what it might be like to collaborate with your kids more seriously? Children are known for thinking miles outside the box but too often we limit their expressions to prefab projects and ideas that start with an end in mind. And on top of that, we find ourselves limited, both by the restrictions of adult life and being out of the habit of imagining.
This month, we’ll look at adult artists who chose to engage in serious creative projects with kids. Although these folks are creative by profession, we can learn a lot about taking a different approach when we undertake collaborative projects with our kids, and apply that learning to our own projects. Diving into the unknown with your little ones can seem scary at first, but the benefits for both you and your children are tremendous and far outweigh the courage it takes to try something really different.
THE POWER OF COLLABORATION
Viewing our children as equal collaborators, as partners, isn’t what we’re used to as parents. Being in charge, setting limits, and giving directions are the typical ways we engage with kids. So why should we try a project where we’re working together, collaborating?
First, our children will inherit a world that is highly connected. With access to cultures around the world, the ability to understand, value, and work with others is essential. Starting out in the family, where earliest relationships form the templates of how kids relate to others later on, is highly beneficial.
Knowing how to learn with others, like children do at daycare and school, is also a necessary skill. Universities are actively seeking out candidates with strong skills like communication, negotiation, teamwork, and cultural competence. Collaboration builds these skills.
Finally, new solutions to increasingly complex problems like climate change require the capacity to collaborate rather than compete. The world is changing so quickly, it’s impossible to know what skill set they might need in the future, other than the capacity to work effectively with others.
Let’s look at three examples where adults chose to collaborate seriously with children and what we can glean from their experiences.
CREATIVE COLLABORATIONS WITH ADULTS AND CHILDREN
Artist and blogger Mica Angela Hendricks, mother of a 4-year-old, had some new art supplies that her daughter wanted to play with. When Mom didn’t want to share, Daughter called her out on it (“If you don’t share, Mommy, I might have to take that sketch pad away.”) Reluctantly, Mom handed over the pad, on which she had drawn a head, the start of what was going to be a portrait. Mom went into another room for a few minutes. When she returned, she found that her daughter had completed the figure, having added a dinosaur’s body.
She was blown away by the result.
The two began to work on a series this way. Mom would do a detailed drawing of a human head and then pass the unfinished pieces along to her daughter, without any preconceived idea or discussion. Inevitably the girl would come up with something completely unusual or unexpected, like a beaver with a necktie, a millipede, a mermaid, and a chrysalis, all with human heads.
In some of the pieces, the daughter would color in areas with markers. After she was finished, Mom would take the picture and finish it up with acrylic paint, adding color, highlights, and texture.
“It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers,” Mica said. “And she LOVED being part of it.”
The main photo above is a piece inspired by this collaboration created by a mother-daughter duo who are part of the JogAlong community. Nadia Dayo Medrano, a nurse in Wichita, took a shot at collaborating with her 5-year-old daughter Mia using this idea as a template. The featured image was their first attempt! Then, Nadia came home the next day to discover Mia had redecorated her room with many new drawings taped up on a wall in her bedroom. Nadia was delighted, saying, “Paint can be fixed, but Mia’s excitement was priceless.”
Another mother-child collaboration is Toronto-based Ruth Oosterman and her 2-year-old daughter, Eve.
A 2-year-old has a different skill set than a 4-year-old, but that doesn’t mean that creativity can’t flourish.
This particular collaboration begins with Eve doing a drawing. Ruth said her daughter is always interested in doing something with art supplies when she sees Ruth working. Ruth waits to join in the project until after Eve is finished working.
Like the artwork of most 2-year-olds, Eve’s drawings are fairly abstract scribbles. But Ruth studies them and tries to see stories and pictures, the way one might do gazing at clouds in the sky.
Then Ruth takes Eve’s drawing and respectfully adds to it, with the goal being creating some kind of recognizable image. Examples include a tree, a lady with a tangle of crazy hair, and a lake surrounded by greenery. She then adds to Eve’s drawing using paint.
“I use watercolor and work quickly,” said Ruth, “letting my imagination and play take root into the painting rather than taking it too seriously. This way I can encourage Eve’s contribution without making it too ‘grown-up’ or overcomplicated.”
Ruth sells the pieces for $35 each and all proceeds go towards an education fund for Eve.
Viewpoints, a Gallery in Maui, invited a group of artists to work with someone who would challenge them outside their comfort zones. Beth, a painter, chose to work with 10-year-old Celina, a former student of hers.
The two created a colorful painting of a girl they imagined together. They began by each making a sketch. Beth took a break to welcome a visitor who dropped by during this work session, and by the time the visitor left, Celina had a detailed sketch they both loved, so they decided to work from that. “She reminds me of someone who really knows what to do,” said Celina, “someone you can trust.”
“We made a lot of decisions together,” said Beth. “If I did some work when (Celina) wasn’t there, I would check in with her, what do you think of this idea, before moving forward.”
What is collaboration? Celina: “Collaboration is when you work together and you trust each other.”
“That process of starting with something unformed, and allowing us to have a conversation with it, then finding the form in it, was very fun,” said Beth. “It just evolved into something that was bigger and better than anything either of us could have ever imagined.”
“We had learned to work together so well that we felt safe, like I would with a seasoned artist, an adult. But Celina brought into the process a playfulness. We danced, we sang (Celina has a fabulous voice), we would speak in Russian accents, lots of things that made it super fun to work together.”
A) Try not to be rigid. If you let go, wonderful things can happen.
B) Allow your child to be an equal in the partnership. Make sure her contributions are valued and as valid as yours. This builds self-confidence and the feeling of being trusted and appreciated for who the child is and her unique creativity.
C) Let go of preconceptions. Not only will you avoid disappointment, you’ll be more open to a result that’s unexpected and often much more exciting than your original vision.
D) Turn criticism to curiosity. Ask your child questions.
E) Avoid judgments, even positive ones. Instead, comment on specifics. What excites you about your child’s work? What do her scribbles make you think of or feel? When you take yourself out of the judge’s role, your child learns to relate to you differently. Similarly, ask your child for his reactions to or feelings about your contributions.
F) Notice where you and your child are different and bring different qualities and skills to the collaboration. Embrace that difference and let your child know you value it.
G) Promote a sense of safety and trust. Allow your child to follow her passion and curiosity without commenting. Listen to all ideas.
H) Take your child’s lead. Being willing to follow can be very inspiring and exciting for him and it can bring in a new dynamic into your connection.
Collaborating with kids brings a deep richness into your relationship. It also helps you both build skills and deepen personal development.
But the best reason to collaborate with your child?
The pure pleasure of shared creation.