Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for a multitude of reasons; family, dinner plans, travel, traffic, and family all contribute to The Holiday Headaches. However, nothing is more challenging than being an oversized turkey in your underwear just trying to hide from becoming Thanksgiving dinner.
This was just the challenge that was leveled from Mrs. Lefebvre to her first grade class, and was sent home as a “family homework” assignment [helping with homework!]. My son, Logan, came home on a Thursday and explained to me that we had to come up with a disguise for his paper cutout of Tom The Turkey to help save him from becoming dinner. He further explained that last year all of the first grade students had turned his or her turkey into SpongeBob or Spiderman, and that he had to come up with an idea to help “hide” his turkey.
As we sat down to discuss options, his first idea was to copy the first two ideas that had already been mentioned in the teacher’s homework handout. I challenged him and told him that these ideas have already been taken, and that he would have to come up with his own. He sat for a while and only repeated designs that were discussed in class.
I asked him to think about things that he and I like to do, something that he finds interesting, and told him that he would find his inspiration there (of course it took some time to explain the concept of inspiration!).
Then the light bulb went on…Logan stated, “we are going to make a cowboy costume for Tom!”
Logan began by describing what this costume should look like, and on his artistic command, I cut out a pair of cowboy boots, a vest, and a hat. He watched me spray paint one boot and then took over and finished the rest under careful watch. Using masking tape, we planned where the sky would meet the grass, and again shared in the spray-painting duties.
Once the background dried, Logan’s inspiration really kicked in: He told me that the cowboy would need to be roasting a marshmallow and that we would need to build him a fire. He ran outside to get some sticks and rocks and together we glued them in a circle. He placed the stick in Tom’s hand and ran to get a cotton ball to complete his masterpiece. I was patient as he placed and replaced his rocks, glued his fingers together, and thought about how he could add more. Soon Tom was clothed and looking well disguised.
In my work as an associate principal, I have the privilege of observing some of the most impactful art teachers in the profession. During a recent observation I watched a teacher challenge her students to tell her “What is Art?”
I took a moment to start this conversation with Logan and asked him, to tell me what he thinks art is. He told me that it is “beautiful” and “colorful” and sometimes it is “expensive.” I explained that art sometimes has deeper meaning, and that ordinary things, like a rock, can stand for something else, like the number of kids in your class. I told him it was like a secret meaning and he gets to be the creator…pretty heavy stuff for a 6 year-old! Then he jumped up. He told me that we “needed 17 stars, one for each kid in my class and a crescent moon that would watch over all the stars, that would be Mrs. Lefebvre.”
I think the final product is proof that our art homework was a success, but like art well done there was a deeper meaning to this experience.
The project took patience, listening, and finding new ways to communicate with my son. In the end, I’m not sure who inspired whom, but I know I was reminded of some very important lessons that will be helpful in art and life.
- First – Anyone can be an artist. It does not take a masters’ degree in the arts to create meaning and share ideas.
- Second – It takes patience to allow your little artist to make a mess, take risks, and test theories (and some acetone to remove the glue from the countertop). It took reflection and creativity on dad’s part to incorporate lessons I have learned from talented teachers to help inspire my son. It took courage to test those lessons on my 6 year-old and hope that he would understand.
- Third – Being fully present and disconnected from the interruptions of the digital world truly helped bring out the creative process. It allowed me to enjoy each moment with my son as we worked on this “family homework” As a result, he has created a project with his dad that he is overwhelmingly proud of, and is excited to share with his classmates.
- More importantly, he brought the picture to class on Monday and asked Mrs. Lefebvre when he would get the next “family homework” assignment. I have to admit, I can’t wait to see what “we” can do next!
Article by Dr. Jason Tracy
Jason Tracy is an associate principal at Amity Regional High School. He has served as a school counselor and conducted research focused in the areas of social-emotional development, self-concept, and school climate. He spends his free time engaged in fostering the academic, social, and athletic development of his two young sons.
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