More For Less: The Value of Thrifting For Supplies

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m very lucky to have several amazing thrift store options in my area that have added a lot to our creative toolbox over the years. I know that not everyone will have access to the same kinds of stores that I have in my area. Whatever you do have, scope it out. You never know what you might come across!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about building your creative toolbox. That post listed out some basic supplies you might want to have on hand to allow for the free exercise of creativity in your home. I promised I would branch out from the basics and give you a few ideas for what you can add to your supplies to give you more creative options. There are entire stores devoted to creative supplies and you could really go crazy in a places like those…and spend a lot of money, too. I certainly have! That said, it is possible to add a wide variety of supplies to your toolbox without breaking the bank. My first secret is thrifting, buying supplies second-hand. Depending on what kind of stores you have in your area, you may find a wide variety of creative tools at a fraction of the cost.

We are lucky enough to have stores in our area that specialize in craft and building supplies. We can find all kinds of things to use for creative projects. Even in thrift stores that don’t carry much in the way of paints, paper, yarn or stamps, you may find project pieces to re-purpose, like frames, vases or even small pieces of furniture.

Interested in taking a tour of our thrift stores with us? Check out the video below. We had fun wandering around seeing what we could find:

(As an aside, I have got to figure out how to make my video thumbnails look less ridiculous!)

I find thrifting especially useful if there’s a new skill you’d like to learn or something you’d like to test out. Maybe you don’t want to spend a lot on supplies for something you’re not sure you or your child will enjoy. Knitting is a great example. I can usually find knitting supplies at at least two of my local thrift stores. Buying a pair of knitting needles and a bit of yarn is a small investment. If you try it out and love it, you can continue knitting with recycled craft material, or head over to that huge craft store and stock up on the latest trends.

When M wanted to try finger knitting, we picked up yarn at the thrift store. When she wanted to start a sewing business, we got all of the fabric for handmade shopping bags from the thrift store. See that neat looking breakfast tray in the picture below? M and my husband made that out of an old cabinet door for me one Mother’s Day past.

We recently started experimenting with using old books in our art pieces. We haven’t gotten too far yet, but we like the look. Books are readily available in most thrift shops. Look for titles that you enjoy. Keep them for reading, or turn them into your next masterpiece.

I’ve also found thrifting to be a fantastic way to create unique Halloween costumes. I re-purposed a dress for M’s Lucille Ball costume and I made this Professor Snape costume almost exclusively using thrift shop components (except for the fabric for the cape and the wand I made from a stick in the yard). We used random finds from the ReStore to make a TARDIS console for M’s Doctor Who birthday party last year. There are just so many ways that thrifted pieces can make their way into your creative life.

Supplies that you gather from thrift shops don’t have to take up too much space. M has a couple of bins filled with random bits from the ReStore and a tool kit. These inspire her when she’s in the mood to tinker. Things like fabric are tucked away on a shelf in the linen closet. You may find that some thrift store finds are immediately used, the project idea already formed.

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Next week, I’m going to explore another great way to stock up your tool box without spending much money. Stay tuned!

Do you have fun thrift stores in your area? Let me know in the comments.

Now what? Creating an inspiration journal

Several years ago, my husband gave my daughter and me each a binder filled with notebook paper, graphing paper, plastic dividers and no instructions. On the front of the binders, he had drawn a little figure and the words ‘Inspiration Keeper’. At the time, I had no inspiration to speak of and no idea what to do with this empty binder full of paper. To be honest, it was intimidating.

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I may have been lost among the blank pages, but my daughter wasn’t. She knew exactly what to do with her ‘Inspiration Keeper’. M loves bright colors, rainbows and cute things…so many cute things. These are the things that inspire her, the things that get her excited, bring her to her happy place and stir her creativity. For a while, she had been asking us to take pictures of random things she wanted to remember. A cute stuffed animal at the store. A cute mascot in an ad for frozen ice pops. An interesting pattern on a pair of pants or a design on a t-shirt. We had been collecting these pictures on our phones, not realizing that they were more than a waste of space. They were her inspiration. After my husband bought her the binder, she realized she now had a place to store all of these pictures. She had a place to hold her inspiration. We printed out a bunch of these pictures and she started carefully gluing them onto the blank pages.

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Unlike my daughter, I found a less visual approach for my inspiration keeper. I used the blank pages to write. I went further than inspiration, I started writing whole chapters of my novels, using the notebook as a place to store my most recent writing, before transferring it to the computer. Even though we went in different directions, the journals have still led to inspired creation and allowed us to store little gems for later.

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An inspiration journal is a great idea for both kids and adults. The best part is, there is no right way to keep one. A binder, like my daughter’s, with pictures pasted to the pages is one way. This allows my very visual child to keep all the images she can’t fit inside her head close at hand. If you’re more inclined to writing, keeping a lined journal, perhaps small enough to fit in your pocket, is great for jotting down words and ideas when they pop into your head. You could put up a bulletin board filled with inspiring pictures, shapes, textures or words. Perhaps you’d rather have a playlist of music that inspires you. A folder on your phone or computer can hold visual inspiration that doesn’t even require you to have a physical journal. These are all different ways of achieving the same thing, keeping inspiration at your fingertips and helping you remember the things that bring you joy or spark your creativity.

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Don’t just save inspiration that you think you can replicate. Save a picture that you know you’ll never be able to draw, but you think is gorgeous. Save those quotes you love from authors you know you’ll never be able to match. The idea is to gather together the things that move you.

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I think you can guess what the Gently Guided Activity will be for this one. Put together your own inspiration collection. It doesn’t matter where you keep it, what it looks like or what you put in it. Start collecting slowly. There’s no need to fill an entire inspiration journal, or fill your phone with inspiring pictures from Google, in one day. Just take some time to look around your environment. Notice the things that make you smile or capture your attention. Notice colors, patterns or particular words that you like. Take pictures of video game scenes or write quotes from the latest novel you’re devouring. Whatever inspires you, keep it, jot it down, hold it close. Don’t judge. From this inspiration, your creativity can flow. When you don’t know what to do, when you don’t have any ideas, look to your inspiration journal to give you a little push.

Storytelling With Children: Lessons from the Pre-K Crowd

Last week, I had the joy of heading to a local preschool to share some of my creative lessons and energy (the same preschool my daughter attended five years ago, which is always super fun). I was invited to speak with a room full of eager five-year-olds on the topic of books and writing. While I may not be a published author, I have written and illustrated several books for my daughter, I love writing, and I’m certainly no stranger to the concepts of idea generation, creativity and encouragement.

I enjoyed talking with the kids about writing. I read one of my own books and showed them the process of illustration. They kept me on my toes with questions, both related and completely divergent from the topic-at-hand. The best part, though, always comes after the presentation. When I finish talking to everyone as a group, and giving them a general picture of storytelling, that’s when I work with the kids in a small group. That’s when I get to talk to them one-on-one. Together, we create characters and take them on a fantastic journey.

Creating a character or story out of thin air is a difficult task for most people, especially when there isn’t much time. I always try to get kids to create a character that is new, fresh from their imagination. Some children find this easy, immediately locking on to a character type, drawing it and giving it a name. Not used to storytelling, others rely on characters they have seen in stories before, generally from books or television.

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So, what if a child just refuses to come up with an original character? Is all lost in the creative exercise? Nope. Creativity is never ‘all or nothing’. One little guy really wanted to use Spongebob as his character. Two others insisted on PJ Masks. The characters may not have been original, but our ensuing discussion certainly was. Together, we took those characters and imagined them outside of their normal environment. They flew spaceships, scaled mountains and faced an active volcano. By moving the characters around and changing their scene, we were able to talk about how these characters would act and react. The kids were able to use their imaginations, even though they started with an existing character. Creativity at work!

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Most schools, even preschools, like to have written work. They like to have a worksheet, something they can use to document and point to, when asked what has been achieved. I understand that. It makes sense. I created a worksheet for the kids to write about and draw their characters. The important work, however, the stuff that really gets them thinking, is in the conversation. You can’t document it. You shouldn’t, not in its formative stages. It only gets in the way of drawing out that imagination.

The key here is not in writing. It’s not in the forming of letters. It’s not even in the drawing of the characters in bright and varied color (more on that in a minute). It’s the storytelling. It’s learning to use our minds to create. The words, the pictures, they come after our minds have been at work. The true key is conversation. It’s asking a child to think through an idea, form it, flesh it out. The secret is encouragement. Lots and lots of encouragement.

I love to have conversations with kids. I love to pull their ideas out of their heads when they are convinced they don’t have any. I love the look on their faces when they realize they’ve done it, when they see that they are capable.

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If you have a hesitant storyteller at home, absolutely feel free to start off with a character that they already know and love. Ask them what that character would do in different or wild scenarios. Get them to think about how the setting might change the action. It isn’t necessary to write down every thought. Listen. Ask questions. Find out what comes next. Throw a monkey wrench into their story and see if they run with it, see where it takes them. Is everything going just a little too well for that dinosaur eating plants at its favorite tree? What happens if the dinosaur suddenly finds itself standing by a volcano? What happens if the dinosaur meets a dog? There are endless possibilities.

As part of the worksheet that I put together, each child was asked to draw their new character. Interestingly, though some of the children struggled with creating original characters and storytelling, every single one of them drew a picture without prompting, complaint or judgement. Not a single one looked at me with concern. No one said, “I can’t draw.”

Five must be a golden age. Children of that age have developed the motor skills to draw, are full of ideas that they aren’t yet comfortable expressing through the written word, and have not yet hit the self-consciousness of age. They are less likely to judge their drawings skills against their peers. They are simply expressing themselves. Before long, such confidence disappears. Let’s work to fight against that slide. Let’s work to lift them up, to grow that confidence. It doesn’t have to slip away.

Need help getting started? Head over to my first post on storytelling and check out the Gently Guided Activity.

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 2

Last week, I introduced you to the creativity-themed picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. I discussed The Dot and Ish, looking at how they relate to creative confidence and providing a few activities based on those books.

Today, I’m finishing up my look at this series. I’ll be talking about two more in this collection, Sky Color and The Word Collector.

Check out the video below to see my take on these beautiful books:

First, we’ll take a look at Sky Color. You guys, this is my favorite of all of the books in Peter Reynolds’ collection. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be the gorgeous and inspiring illustrations, it could be the theme of looking beyond the ordinary. Whatever the reason, I love this book and I hope that you will, too.

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This one is about Marisol, a confident little artist. She’s so confident, she actually shares her artwork with those around her, supporting what she believes in and spreading happiness. She even encourages her friends to do the same, to get in touch with their own creativity.

Marisol is so excited to work on a mural with her classmates. She enthusiastically volunteers to paint the sky, only to realize that there is no blue paint. What’s a girl to do? How can she paint the sky without blue?

In the end, Marisol realizes that blue is not the only sky color. There are so many ways to paint the sky. She breaks out of the box, looking at things from a new perspective. This is something that we all need to do, from time to time. Even the most creative among us need to look through a new lens, think beyond the ordinary or expected way of doing things. Marisol shows us how to break free from convention and trust ourselves to create.

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I absolutely love The Word Collector because it takes a step away from art as a creative medium and focuses on words. It takes a look at how we use them, how we can create with them, and how to harness their power. In The Word Collector, we follow a little boy named Jerome. Unlike his peers, who collect things like stamps or comic books, Jerome collects words. He finds them in books, in conversation, everywhere he looks. He collects them in notebooks and boxes and carefully organizes them. He loves his words.

Everything changes when Jerome is carrying his word collection and he trips. His words go flying, landing completely out of order. This could be a disaster, but it reveals something amazing! Jerome realizes he can put his words together. He can use them to make sentences, poetry, stories. He sees the power of his words when directed toward others. His love of words grows once he realizes their versatility. One day, he climbs to the top of a hill and lets his words go. He shares them with the world, which makes him happier than he can imagine.

Words are powerful things. They can express our innermost thoughts. They can describe our feelings and experiences. They can help others to understand our point of view. Words can hurt. Words can heal. They are a powerful way to express yourself. Stringing them together, whether to tell a story, speak a truth, describe beauty or pull on the heart strings, gives us creative power. Our words are meant to be shared. It’s important for children to know that we are interested in their words. Start a conversation. Ask questions. Find out what words inspire them. Listen.


This week, I have a number of Gently Guided Activities for Sky Color and just a few for The Word Collector. If words are more your thing, don’t despair! I have more word-based activities coming up in future posts. Those activities will connect right back to the themes touched upon in The Word Collector.

Sky Color Activity #1 When I brought my activities to the co-working space, this one was the most popular. Can you make the sky without the color blue? I have put together a template that you can print out. Color the sky any way you want. Crayons, colored pencils, paint … but don’t use blue! Think about the many ways you can color a sky without blue. Will you choose something realistic, like a sunset or a cloudy day? Or, will you use your imagination, coming up with something we’ve never seen?

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Sky Color Activity #2 At the beginning of the book, Marisol uses her creativity to make others happy. She shares her work, knowing the power it can have. Try making a card or writing a poem to brighten someone’s day. Think about what images or words might make someone happy.

Sky Color Activity #3 Draw a picture that deliberately changes an important color. What about making the sun blue? Or the grass pink? Does changing the color change how the picture makes you feel?

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Sky Color Activity #4 It’s not all about art. Write a poem about the sky. Take several days to jot down ideas as the sky changes over different times of the day and different weather conditions. What colors do you see? How do you feel? Are there shapes in the clouds? What does the sky make you think about? Write down whole sentences or just a few words at time. After you’ve been at it for a few days, take your favorite lines or words and string them together to create a poem.

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Sky Color Activity #5 Let’s give collaborative art a try. This would work well for groups as small as two and as large as you’ve got. Get a big piece or a roll of paper. Sketch a design and create a mural. Everyone gets to draw and color part of it. How do your individual styles go together? How do their differences add to the overall look? Need ideas? Perhaps a jungle or savanna scene with lots of animals. You could go under the sea or up into space. Pick a theme and let everyone come up with something to add.

The Word Collector Activity #1 Jerome creates poetry by stringing together his words. Get a notebook to jot down words that you like, interesting words that you hear, words to describe your feelings or your observations of the world around you. Try stringing some words together, even if they don’t make sense. Don’t like what you’ve got? Try moving them around. Put the end at the beginning and the beginning at the end. Keep moving and changing the words until you’re satisfied.

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The Word Collector Activity #2 Create a list of some of your favorite words. Draw them. Some will be harder than others. Is it a feeling? You can still draw it. What color does it make you think of? Smooth lines or jagged? If your word is abstract, your drawing might be, too! Remember the lessons from last week and try to be satisfied with -ish.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. If you try any of the activities, I’d love to hear about it. Head on over to the Bonnythings Creative Facebook page to post pictures of your creations!

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 1

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I love to read. I always have a stack of books waiting on the table next to the couch. And another stack on my bedside table. I get excited to dive into a story or learn something new from a great piece of non-fiction. I spend way too much time at the library (I even volunteer there). Books, literature and art are my creative comfort zone. I’ll be trying to stretch out of that comfort zone, just as you probably will, but you’ll have to bear with me at the beginning. I’m going to start with a lot of activities that center on books. It’s what I know best. It’s my creative instinct.

This week and next, I’m going to highlight the work of Peter H. Reynolds, and I’m so excited! He has a series of absolutely amazing picture books that center around creative confidence. Many of his characters have lost their creative confidence, for one reason or another. They must seek out that confidence and work to grow it. Peter Reynolds’ books are beautifully illustrated. You may find the artistry alone enough to inspire you, but make sure that you stay for the story!

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Some of you are likely already familiar with the books, particularly if you have children. If you’ve never read them, you’re in for a treat. They are amazing books to inspire kids, but I think they may be even more important for adults, with messages we all need to hear. Think you’ve lost your creativity? Think you never had any in the first place? Take a journey with Marisol, Vashti, Ramon and Jerome. You may change your mind. It’s never too late to learn from the experiences of the characters in these books.

I’m going to feature four of Peter Reynolds’ books over the course of two posts. Today, let’s take a look at The Dot and Ish.

In the following video, I’ll introduce you to the concepts and characters that fill the pages of these two beautiful books on finding and taking ownership of your creativity. Brevity is not a strength of mine (something else to work on)! If you have a few minutes, watch the video below:

 The Dot is a story about a girl who believes she cannot draw and refuses to complete her art project. Vashti is a great representation of the many kids and adults who feel they are incapable of expressing themselves through art. The teacher asks Vashti to make a mark, so she does. The turning point for Vashti is her acknowledgment that she does indeed have something to say, even if that something is a small dot. After signing the artwork, taking ownership of it, and seeing it framed and validated by her teacher, Vashti realizes that she has done something special and she challenges herself to do it better. She creates dot after dot, eventually filling a gallery with them, just like a bonafide artist.

The takeaway here, for me, is the importance of validation. Going back to my post on ensuring a safe emotional space for creativity, creative confidence grows when effort is acknowledged and celebrated. If a child thinks no one is paying attention, that no one cares about what they have to say or what they can create, they will stop wanting to create at all. Everyone needs to feel heard, needs someone to lift them up, to kickstart their confidence by validating their effort.

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 Now, let’s take a look at another book in Peter Reynolds’ collection, Ish. Perhaps, you feel like your art, your writing, your photography, your…whatever, isn’t good enough. If so, it may be time to consider what standard you’re trying to live up to. Ish will make you think about what happens when we abandon the quest for perfection. What if we appreciate what we can do, rather than always looking at what we lack?

Ish is the story of a boy name Ramon. Ramon is a big fan of drawing and he thinks he’s quite good at it, until is confidence is completely knocked down by a few simple words from his brother. As we’ve already noted, confidence is very fragile. Ramon tries and tries to make his drawings look perfect and he’s about to give up on art altogether, when he realizes he has a fan in his little sister. She’s been taking his art, the pieces he’s rejected, thrown on the floor, and she’s been hanging them in her room. It is in this moment, when once again we see a character validated, that he realizes perfection isn’t the goal. His own interpretation of an object, a person, a feeling, is enough. Ish is enough. And in that feeling of ‘good enough’, he finds his freedom.

I love this story. It shows how easily creative confidence can be torn away, but it also shows the flip-side. It shows that confidence can be built back up. It can be built by one person showing an interest. It can be built by simply changing the bar. What if our own style, our own interpretation is just as good as someone else’s? What if that perfection we’re always striving for is actually preventing us from hearing our own voice?

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 Now it’s time for our Gently Guided Activities. I’ve got a few for today. Let’s start with The Dot.

The Dot Activity #1: I’m going to start with a fairly simple activity to go along with The Dot, and it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. Draw a dot. Paint a dot. Get a dot down on the page any way that you want. Now, look at your dot and ask yourself if you can do it better. How? Would bigger be better? More colorful? Should you use your hands? A pencil? What if you didn’t use a dot at all? Maybe dots aren’t your thing. Maybe your dot is actually a square. Or a triangle. Whatever simple shape you choose, make a few of them. Sign them. This is a beginning. Own it.

The Dot Activity #2: Let’s try turning a dot, a line, a squiggle, a series of shapes into something more. This was one of my favorite activities to do with my daughter when she was younger. She’d mark up a page with wavy lines and then find the picture in the lines. She’d add to it, make it something more than a squiggle. It’s like finding shapes in the clouds. Below is an example. Can you see the random lines that became the painting? Can you see what was added later, to bring it alive?

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The Dot Activity # 3: Check out a book about art from the library or do a quick internet search to find artists who used shapes in their artwork. The work of Wassily Kandinsky is a great example. Check out the pointillism movement and look at how Georges Seurat created entire scenes from small dots. Look at the way that an artist may start with something as simple as a dot and end up with something so much more. Try out one of these styles for yourself.

Ish Activity #1: Get a notebook or a sketchbook for your child. Better yet, get one for yourself, too! If you don’t have a notebook, staple together a small stack of plain paper. Let’s call this your Ish journal. Learn to draw, doodle or write like Ramon. Pick objects around your house or neighborhood and draw. Don’t strive for perfection. Sign each drawing and give it a name. Did you draw a cup? Name your art ‘Cup-ish’. Feel like writing a poem or a short story? Go for it. Just let it be -ish. Don’t over-think what you’re doing. Consider decorating the cover of your journal with a nice -ish drawing. Add color. Don’t add color. Use paint. Whatever you want, go for it!

I took an Ish activity to a local co-working spot and had a blast watching the adults in the room draw. It’s amazing how much harder it is for adults to accept -ish.

 Ish Activity #2: A big part of both stories is the validation of the young artist. Hang up some art or writing. Frame it and hang it on the wall. Use clothespins to hang art from a string. Use a magnetic surface or cork board. You can even create a portable gallery out of a cardboard box. We used this box that I had turned into a puppet theatre when my daughter was small. She turned the backside into her own gallery. We could fold it up and put it away when we needed the space or leave it out so that she could proudly display her latest creations.

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I hope you have fun exploring the creative concepts of these books. Take ownership. Validate. Let perfection go. As Miss Frizzle would say, ‘Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!’

Interested in a few of my mistakes? Watch the video below for some outtakes. Video-making is new for me! There’s always room to grow.

Tell me a story: Exercise your storytelling mind

I had planned to center my first activity post around some of my favorite creativity-themed books. A sick kiddo put a monkey wrench in that plan and I haven’t been able to pull it all together. That post will have to wait. Instead, I’m going to start with the concept of storytelling.   

As long as I can remember, we’ve had a pretty set bedtime routine for our daughter. It hasn’t changed much over the last eight years or so, since she was old enough to engage in the storytelling process. We alternate nights, my husband going through the routine one night, me the next. The routine looks something like this…she gets all comfy in her PJs, teeth and hair brushed, and she crawls into bed. We read books together and then we turn off the light. That’s when the books are put away and the real fun begins. That’s when she tells us a story.

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She doesn’t just pull a story out of thin air. That’s tough. Most people, even the most creatively-inclined, would have difficulty doing that every single night. We all have ideas floating around in our heads, but to pull them out on command is a challenge. Instead of leaving her to her own devices, we each give her one thing to add to her story. Nightly storytelling at our house goes a little something like this:

“Tell me a story about an elephant and cotton candy.”

It’s a prompt. A very simple prompt, with lots of room to grow. From there, she weaves her story, which almost always starts like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a little donkey named Eeyore and he lived with his best friend M. One day, M and Eeyore were playing with their friend Ellie, the elephant.”

M, Eeyore and their friend of the day are usually off to the beach, M’s happy place, though the location does change from time to time. As they hang out at the beach, the other story element will get thrown in to the mix:

“They decided to sell cotton candy. They made all kinds of flavors.”

And she’ll go through all the different possible colors and flavors, painting a beautiful rainbow of cotton candy and a bright-colored booth along the beach selling their creations.

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Other nights, there may be a castle involved, or a dragon. The dragons are always friendly. Even though there is a theme to her stories and certain things don’t change from night to night, she’s always coming up with something new, some way to connect the two ideas that she’s been given. The variety is in the details. She’s been doing this for so long, that she has no trouble telling these stories. They can go on rather long some nights…especially on nights when I’m tired and ready for bed myself!

Now that you know a little bit out our storytelling routine, I’m going to introduce the Gently Guided Activity. This is what I’m calling the mental exercises I’m setting forth for our creative brains. These are activities with parameters, but nothing that inhibits the flow of creativity, nothing that forces you into a box. There will often be many ways of achieving the goal of a Gently Guided Activity, allowing you to choose the medium or outlet that appeals to you or your child most. I’m not throwing you into the deep end of the creative pool. I’m giving you water wings and helping you float until you can swim through these amazing waters on your own.

A Gently Guided Activity for Storytelling: Find a time during the day to introduce your child to storytelling. It doesn’t have to be bedtime. Maybe you’re looking for good dinnertime conversation. Maybe it’s a fun idea to add to your morning routine. Pick a time and give your child two things to throw into a story. Listen. See what they come up with. Write it down, if you’d like. Do this a few times. It doesn’t have to be daily but give them practice. Storytelling gets easier, the more you do it. Flex that muscle.

Adults, this is a great one for you, too! Give yourself a prompt (or work on the same one as your child). Two things that don’t necessarily go together. Think of a story in your mind or write it down. It can be anything from a few sentences to a few pages. Just let the ideas flow, whether you think they’re good or not. Don’t judge, just practice.

If you feel up to it, you could always add sketches to your story. Or maybe you’d rather not tell a story at all. Maybe you’d rather use the prompt to write a poem or a song. Feel free to take the ideas from any Gently Guided Activity and adapt them to your own interests.

I’ll give a few prompts to get you started:

A turtle and pizza

A lion and a paint brush

A castle and a penguin

A lizard and a book

A caterpillar and ballet

A chest full of gold and a dog

A surf board and a piano

A train and a microscope

A box and an elephant

A hand print and a map

A tire swing and a stained-glass window

Have fun telling stories and let me know how it goes!

A Safe Space to Create: Building Your Environment

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you’ve started with some basic supplies, or already had supplies sitting around your house. Perhaps you don’t quite know what to do with them. Perhaps they’re sitting around collecting dust. In order for your supplies to get some decent use, you’re going to need a space to use them.

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I realize that not everyone is going to have a dedicated space in their home set aside simply for creative exploits. I’m an artist, and lucky enough to have a small bedroom in our house that serves as my studio. With big windows providing plenty of natural light, it’s a fantastic space meant only for art, writing and waiting around for inspiration. As such, I don’t mind if it’s a mess and I have long since given up worrying about the state of the carpet. If you can’t have a space like this, dedicated and completely open to experiments and mess-making, what do you do?

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Look around your home. Do you have a small corner of a room that could take a table or desk meant for art or writing? If you can’t set aside part of a room, could you use a room at certain times of the day, or when inspiration strikes? Could you turn your kitchen table into an art studio for an hour or two? What about the mess? Do you balk at using paint because you fear for the safety of your table, floor or wall? It’s very important to find a space that can get a little messy. Mess goes with the territory of art and creation. There isn’t much getting around that, though I have a couple of suggestions that might help.

If you are looking to create a nook or corner of your space to leave open for art and other creative pursuits, think about getting a small table or surface from a thrift store, something that you don’t spend much money on, don’t care much about and don’t mind getting a little messy. Put the table in the corner that you’ve set aside and consider getting a small area rug to go beneath the table to protect the floor from spills. You could cover the wall above the table with something inspirational, like a cork board filled with your kids’ art, pieces of interesting pattered fabric, or quotes from your favorite books. If you prefer a cleaner look, hang some framed art, either your own, your kids’ or your favorite artist.

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If you can’t dedicate a space and would rather set up temporary art zones, I highly recommend investing in a drop cloth. These are readily available at paint and hardware stores. There are all kinds and they range in price. If you can afford it, I would suggest going for a canvas drop cloth. They will last…forever. They roll out and roll back up easily, and can be quite compact to store. I have two of them. I have used them for about eight years. They are a mess and they are beautiful. Every mark on them is a record of what we’ve done over the years. If I’m worried about the floor, I’ll lay these out. If I’m worried about a tabletop, I’ll lay them over the surface. If you want something less expensive or waterproof (which canvas is not), you can go for a plastic or plastic-lined cloth. These will really protect against spills, though they may not last as long. Whatever type you go for, putting down a little protection for your floors and surfaces will make you less uptight as your children experiment with form and color.

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Weather-permitting, you can really keep the mess out of your house by using any available outdoor space. Be it a garage, a patio, or a sidewalk, creating outside can be very freeing, opening up your creative mind to different possibilities. We love to color with sidewalk chalk and have painted our white vinyl fence with washable paint. A clipboard, sketchbook or journal can be brought outside easily and an easel can allow for painting the landscape around you, whatever it may be. Just the act of being outdoors, with or without creative material, will impact your muse, as you take in the sights and sounds.

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Make sure that your children are aware of the appropriate space(s) you’ve opened to creativity and then keep those supplies handy. Depending on the age of your child, you’ll want certain, but perhaps not all, supplies within reach. That way, your child can seek out the supplies when they feel inspired, giving them agency in their own creative endeavors. You know your child best and you’ll have a pretty good sense of what you feel comfortable allowing access to.


Now, I’m going to shift gears. There is another aspect to establishing a safe creative space in your home, and it’s just as important as the physical location I’ve talked about above. You will need to hold a safe emotional space for children to create. (This is just as important for adults. Be kind to yourselves. Allow yourselves room to grow, without judgement). Creative confidence is tenuous and extremely easily lost. It needs to be built up and encouraged. Parents, often with the best of intentions, can derail that confidence. Let me show you how.

I have spent countless hours over the years attending artistic and creative programs with my daughter. I have witnessed parent after parent cringe at their child’s creation, make loving, though misguided suggestions for how to fix it, even taking the project from their child and ‘improving’ it or micromanaging each detail from the sideline. I have seen children look to their parents before making creative decisions or look to them after making a decision, awaiting final approval. The result of this parental intervention is obvious when children are removed from the influence of their parents. I have witnessed an entire room full of elementary-aged children balk at a creative challenge, asking as a group for something easier, less thought-provoking. I have worked with children as young as three on basic creative writing skills who have insisted that they can’t imagine a character to build a story around. That they are not creative. And I find it shocking every time. These same children, with a little encouragement, almost always come up with something interesting. Whether they believe it or not, they are creative.

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In order to grow and nurture creative confidence in children, we must stop judging their creativity. Unless we are teaching them a specific skill or technique (which obviously necessitates a degree of involvement and guided improvement), we must stop making suggestions and taking over their projects. I’m not going to say this is easy. I’m not going to tell you that I’ve never made a suggestion to my daughter, that I’ve never cringed or had to literally bite my tongue to stop myself from telling her that mixing all the paint together and slathering it on a canvas looks…terrible. Nobody is perfect and allowing your children to create without judgment is truly a challenge. But it’s a necessary challenge. It’s how they grow. They are proud of what they create, even if we can’t see the visual merit. They need a safe emotional space to experiment, to grow, to find their own voices. What they see as beautiful may not be the same as what we see. It may grow and evolve, or we may never see eye to eye. What’s important is that they feel safe enough in their home environment to express themselves. Allow this expression to be free.

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Now, go forth and find that safe creative space for yourselves. Determine what it looks like for your family. Invite yourselves to the table.

Building a Creative Toolbox: The Essential Elements

When we’re ready to get started growing creative confidence in our kids and ourselves, access to creative supplies is crucial. The only way to flex that creative muscle is to exercise it. As with our bodies, where it’s easy to go overboard and spend too much money on physical fitness classes and equipment, you may think that collecting creative supplies will be expensive and out of your budget. It doesn’t have to be.

Opening a creative space in your life doesn’t have to break the bank. You can start, and indeed continue, with just some basic supplies.

What does a basic creative tool chest look like? Let’s compile a list of those starting supplies.

1.       Pencils. You probably already have these at home. Most of us, especially those with kids, keep pencils in the house for schoolwork. The amazing thing about the unassuming pencil is its multi-functionality. This is a basic tool for writing and drawing. Think you need special pencils for sketching and drawing? You don’t. I did all of my early sketching and learning to draw with a simple #2 pencil that I used for school. You can certainly buy nice, and relatively inexpensive sketching pencils, but they aren’t necessary. You can get great results with the most basic pencil. Use this same versatile pencil for writing stories or poetry. So many great ideas can form on the tip of a pencil.

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2.       Paper. This is an obvious extension from the pencil. You can’t do much with a pencil unless you have some paper. This can be anything from notebook paper to a small journal for writing, jotting down ideas, creating epic stories. Computer paper or a sketchpad will work great for drawing, sketching, painting, making collages, whatever strikes your fancy. Construction paper is an inexpensive way to throw color into the mix and works great for practicing cutting and gluing skills with younger children. Generally speaking, paper is a small investment and you can probably keep a variety available to work with.

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3.       Crayons, markers or colored pencils. It’s always great to be able to add some color to a work of art. Starting with one of these simple, yet colorful, supplies will add another dimension to your creative space. What you decide to start with will depend on who’s using it. Small children work well with crayons. Markers add bold color. I personally love colored pencils, the way they blend and add varied texture.

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4.       Scissors. You’ll definitely want to be able to cut and you may already have this essential tool lying around your home. As a bonus, practicing with scissors is a great way for small children to develop fine motor skills. This is another tool that is inexpensive, but imperative. Unless you’ve got a very young child, be sure to get a pair of scissors with decent cutting power, to avoid the frustration of having a tool that can’t get the job done.

5.       Glue and tape. Both are necessary tools for creation. Glue is great for everything from making a collage to building a recycled contraption. Again, the type of the glue you decide to keep in stock will depend on the age of who is using it. If you’re afraid of a mess, a glue stick is a good start, though limited in its application. There are great washable glues, as a bridge between a glue stick and a more permanent glue solution. Tape is also great for sticking things down. Clear tape, masking tape and double-sided tape all have their uses.

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6.       Paint. I suppose this one is debatable as a necessity, but it’s fun to have around and opens the door to a lot of experimentation and creation. I can’t imagine my creative toolbox without it. Paint not only adds color, but it introduces blending, mixing, swirling, dripping. Paint adds a dimension that you can’t get from the other supplies I’ve listed. Worried about the mess? I understand. Start with washable paints for small children. They are inexpensive and less of a risk, for the mess-averse. When you think your family is ready, get some cheap acrylic craft paint to add to the mix. They aren’t washable, but come in pretty much any amazing color you could want.

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7. Books. I find books an essential toolbox element. This doesn’t mean that you have to invest a lot of money in a collection of creative references. There are many resources available at the library (a place where I spend a lot of time), or online if you don’t have access to a library. These books can cover any subject you desire. I get most of my inspiration from art books, poetry collections and well-written literature. Maybe you will find inspiration in books about interior design, architecture, music or photography.

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This is just a quick list of the first items you should keep around the house to encourage creation. If you start with these supplies, you’ll have a basic toolbox to get started. You can go forward from there, adding pieces to your own toolbox that inspire you and your family. I’ll talk about additional supplies in a later post, as well as how to maximize your creative toolbox with minimal financial investment. For now, you’ve got a place to start.

Check out the video below to see some of the supplies we keep around our house, including a few that go beyond the basic. This will give you a feel for how you might expand, once you’re ready to dive in further.

What is creative confidence...and why should we care?

Okay, so I laid it out in my first post. I want to teach creative confidence. But what is creative confidence? And why is it important?

Creative confidence, as I see it, is the understanding within ourselves that we are capable of creativity. It is the ability to take that understanding and transform it into any number of creative pursuits and thinking. It’s the power to recognize that we have something unique to offer, that we can approach a problem or a project from a new perspective.

If we were to ask the average child at the end of elementary school whether they consider themselves creative, I suspect most would say no. The number of adults who believe themselves lacking in creativity is most definitely higher. Somewhere along the way, from early childhood to adulthood, creative confidence erodes. In some cases, it disappears entirely.

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To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little about myself and my creative journey. A typically introverted child, I had friends, but I could easily spend hours alone in my room. I enjoyed writing and drawing pictures. Though I had no special talent, I loved to create. I have fond memories of pouring white glue out onto my desk, mixing food coloring into it and creating fantastic colored-glue sculptures and paintings.

By high school, though, I had largely lost touch with my creativity. I tried to sketch, never managing to produce a decent likeness of the subject. My lack of technical skill began to eat away at my confidence. For years, I shied away from creative pursuits, believing I had nothing to offer.

In my twenties, while studying for a degree in political science, I began quilting and I allowed myself to put pencil to paper and draw again. These creative outlets helped me escape from the drudgery of my academic pursuits. My drawing instinct had improved, my output much better than the last time I had tried. I designed my own quilts, mixing and matching colors and shapes. Still, if someone had asked, I would have insisted that I lacked basic creativity.

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When I met my husband, not long after graduating from university and heading out into the workplace, he noted my framed sketches, my sewing and my penchant for photography. He called me creative. I scoffed. Where’s the creativity in snapping a few photographs, I’d argue, or sketching from a photo that already exists? Nothing original came from my own mind, I’d say. Undeterred, he’d smile and call me creative once more.

I didn’t start believing in my creative power until after my daughter was born and thirty years of my life had passed. I began to work on mosaics and paintings, finally creating original designs and realizing that my creativity had lived within me throughout my life. In fact, everything that I had done previously had been creative, despite my insistence otherwise. The ability to look through a camera lens and see what needs to be captured, the nerve to study someone’s face, a picture snapped during a fleeting moment, and recreate it with the delicate or strong strokes of a pencil, the vision to see a bunch of fabric and turn it into something warm and beautiful. All of this takes creative energy, creative nerve.

My own creative confidence had eroded over time, worn down by the minimal attention given to creative outlets in school, the feeling that creativity could not lead to a proper career path, and the idea that an absence of technical and learned skill must equate to a lack of creativity. I had always been creative. I think my husband smiled when he insisted on it, over and over, knowing that one day, in my own time, I’d realize he’d been right.

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So, I rediscovered my creative spark, but what’s the point? Why should we care about creative confidence? What can it give to us, to our children, to the world? Why bother?

Creativity is not just about the creation of art, music, stories or poetry. Creativity is thinking independently. It is problem-solving and innovation. It is the aspect of human nature that has allowed us to advance and evolve as a society. Creativity is invention. Creativity is expression. Creativity is freedom.

In disciplines not typically described as creative, such as the sciences, creative thought is critically important in leading to innovations and breakthroughs. Someone’s got to be thinking outside the box to cure a disease or imagine a theoretical multi-verse. Science largely deals in facts, but sometimes it takes a creative thinker to guide the way toward new facts. If we want to raise the next generation of inventors, innovators and change-makers, we must allow them to think independently and access their creative energy. From that energy flows change.

If that isn’t enough, consider the impact of creative expression on our understanding of human history. Art and artifacts from our past give us insight into historical events, belief systems and psychology. Architecture shows us how others lived and what they valued. History is not just the study of the past, it is ongoing, happening now. What will we leave for generations ahead of us to discover?

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Beyond a living history, how can creative expression, words or images that illustrate a worldview or experience, shape our interactions today? Music, art and writing can help us understand one another in ways that basic facts cannot. These forms of expression can transcend language and cultural barriers, speaking directly to the heart. They connect us, show us the ways in which we are different, as well as the ways in which we are the same. This connection is vital, in a world increasingly intertwined.  

That all seems like enough, but is there more? Are there any other reasons to value creativity, to nurture it and help it grow? What if creativity contributes nothing to the world at large, but increases our own happiness, sense of well-being and calm? Many of us live busy, hectic lives. Some have found that pulling out a notebook and journaling, coloring meditatively or doodling can bring a small sense of peace into that busy lifestyle. Tapping into creativity doesn’t have to change the world to be important.

It only has to change one person.

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A Brand New Project: Bonnythings Creative Gets Its Start

So, I’m starting something new. I’m calling it Bonnythings Creative…a kind of extension of Bonnythings Studio.

What’s it all about, my exciting new endeavor, these words I’ve written and hope others will read?

I’ve had an idea swimming around in my head for nearly a year. A beautiful, but daunting, idea. It’s a course…or a blog…or a series of activities. I’m still a little fuzzy on the details. One thing is for sure, it’s a journey, and I’m about to embark. Here’s my mission:

I want to teach, build and grow creative confidence.

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Let me elaborate. I want to encourage children and adults to tap into their creative side, to realize their potential. Think you don’t have a creative side? I beg to differ. I want to prove that creativity is innate in nearly everyone, it just gets worn down, hard to access and atrophied from disuse. I want to inspire people to stand up, stretch their creative muscle and get it moving again.

I mulled the idea over, I wrote mini-lessons and activities, I jotted down notes and made a few videos. Still, I continued to balk at getting going.

“I don’t know where to start,” I’d say.

“It’s not quite ready,” I’d mumble.

“It’s not good enough,” I’d whisper.

I watched my own confidence falter. I fell into the trap. The idea that if you can’t do something just right, it’s not worth doing at all. The notion that we must present a finished product, rather than growing with our audience, learning as we all go.

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I lolled around in this trap for months, letting my ideas wilt, letting pages of notes collect dust in the closet, wondering why I had even bothered in the first place. Until my daughter nudged my ideas back out into the light. Until she unknowingly set me back on my path with four simple words.

“I hate art class.”

Now, I’ve heard these words before, but somehow, as we were walking home from school the other day, these four words lit a fire under me. She hates art class. My talented, creative, art-loving kid hates art class. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, but her complaints shed light on her dissatisfaction. These are the same complaints she’s had since starting her public-school career nearly five years ago. The art teacher tells them they’re not doing it right (What??). She tells them not to add their personal stamp to a piece (Why not??). She tells them something is too big, too small, or not the right color (Seriously??). And every time I hear these stories, I cringe. They’re not teaching art, they’re teaching students to follow instructions and stick to the rules. If you’re going to tell children what color they can use for a leaf, or a flower, or a castle, you might as well just plunk them down in front of a paint-by-numbers set and call it a day. That’s how you kill creativity.

Art is a form of self-expression. It’s a way of putting forth your own personal world-view, experiences, dreams, pain, or vision for the future. It is not meant to be uniform. It is meant to be unique. That beautiful self-expression that should be nurtured and grown is being stymied in my daughter’s art classroom, and spaces just like it around the world. Some of her fellow students already believe that they are not good at art, that they are not creative…at nine or ten years old. Some may have felt that way for a while.

By telling a child that they are doing art ‘wrong’, they learn to believe that their self-expression is not valued, that the way they see the world is not valid, and that they are not creative. The already muddy waters between artistic talent and creativity are even muddier when one is young and can’t see the difference between wielding creativity and displaying artistic technique. Because, let’s be clear, the two are not the same. It is very possible to be extremely creative, but lack intrinsic artistic talent, impressive writing skills, or an ear for music. Sure, there are people who are born with a natural aptitude for a creative outlet, but most of us have to learn. Like anything else, you can learn technique with time and practice. The same can be said for creativity itself. With time, practice, and a safe space to explore, creativity flourishes.

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Though I consider myself an artist, I could never hope to teach artistic technique. I don’t have the skills. But creative confidence, I can teach. The nerve to put pen to paper, I can teach. The belief that we all have something to say, and can say it creatively, I can teach. I can help children discover their creative voices, exercise their creative minds, hold on to their natural creative curiosity. I can help parents nurture the creative voice within their children, and perhaps discover some of their own lost creativity along the way. I haven’t got it all figured out yet. I don’t have an outline. I never finished the plan. If I keep telling myself I’ll work on it tomorrow, if I keep saying I’ll wait until I’ve got it all together, it’ll never happen. I just need to dive in, and so do you. Let’s sink or swim together. Let’s get creative!