Parent Workshops: Spreading the Word on Creative Confidence

I had the pleasure of doing my first parent workshop this past weekend at a local preschool. While turnout may have been a bit low, as it’s the end of the school year, the parents who came out were fun and engaged. I learned a lot about the process and had a blast sharing my passion for creativity and encouraging creative confidence.

If someone had told me, even a year ago, that I would be hosting creative breaks at the co-working space and standing at the front of a room giving a presentation to parents on growing creative confidence in their kids…I would have laughed. I’m one of the biggest introverts you’ll ever meet. I’ve never been comfortable talking to a crowd…heck, sometimes I’m barely comfortable talking at all. But apparently, passion for a topic can push you beyond the boundaries you thought you had. And I am passionate about creativity.

I consider this the model for my ‘base’ presentation, the introduction to creative confidence and how to encourage creativity at home. I’ve got material and ideas for future presentations, but this is the one I think I could start giving around town. I had positive feedback and I think the overall presentation flowed fairly well. If you’re interested in a general overview of what I talked about, see my presentation slides below:

I’m not going to say that I wasn’t nervous. Getting up in front of people will probably always make me nervous. But once I got started, once I hit my stride with my topic, the nervousness melted away. I made sure to add interactive elements to the presentation, not only talking to the room about creative confidence and making suggestions for how to grow it at home, but walking the crowd through a couple of hands-on activities. This was certainly the most fun part…hopefully for everyone!

I want to show people that bringing creativity into your home doesn’t have to be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Activities that encourage creativity and creative confidence can be simple, can start early, and can grow with your child. I want to show that these same activities work just as well for adults, that these simple acts of creativity can stretch grown-up minds as well.

I certainly hope that I can find more opportunities to bring my message and my passion out into my community. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love brainstorming, coming up with activities and writing blog posts, but nothing is more fun than getting out and actually talking with people, inspiring creativity face-to-face.

I got a great email yesterday about my presentation. It included some pictures of the parent and child trying out my ‘drawing together’ activity. It’s wonderful for me to see my ideas in action!

If you’d like to hear a few excerpts from my presentation, take a look at the video below. M took the video, so it’s a bit choppy, but I’m grateful that she managed to capture the presentation in action.

If you are local and know of any schools or groups that might benefit from a presentation on creative confidence, let me know, or let them know about me!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: When Words and Pictures Collide

Do your kids like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney? My daughter most definitely does. She’s enjoyed them for years. They are not the kind of middle-grade fiction that I would pick up and read myself (I’m not really the target audience), but I have truly enjoyed listening as M has read several of them aloud to me. She thinks they are hilarious and will gladly read them any day of the week. I’d love a little more variety in her reading choice, but she’s reading, so I’m happy.

To me, these books are an awesome bridge between a novel and a graphic novel. This is important, as I’ll be discussing comics and graphic novels in a couple of weeks. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books seem like a great way to start the conversation about the power of storytelling using pictures. Though these books still rely heavily on words to move the story along, the pictures are an extremely important part of the finished product. They help to set the scene and the tone of the books. Without them, the books wouldn’t be nearly as popular or fun to read.

So, lets talk about the illustrations in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They are one of the things I love about this series of books. The pictures are meant to be drawn by Greg himself, a middle-school-aged boy. These drawings are part of the journals that he keeps. They are simple. Nothing fancy, but they add so much to the story. They show us that drawings don’t have to be complicated or incredibly detailed to be worthwhile. We don’t need amazing technical drawing skills to tell our stories through images. Even the simplest pictures in the books have the power to convey so much of what’s going on or how the main characters feel about the action. Take a look at how Jeff Kinney can create simple characters, but show so much emotion on their faces, with little detail.

Quite apart from the illustrations, which I find inspiring in their simplicity, another thing that I enjoy about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is how the author pulled from his own life experience to create the character of Greg Heffley. He used some of his own history to come up with the crazy situations that Greg often finds himself in. Much of the storytelling begins with fairly average day-to-day events in the life of a middle-schooler and his family. Things may go a little out-of-control from there, but we all have these little moments and stories to draw from in our own lives. These books show that even the most mundane parts of our day can be turned into a story, can be made interesting. This is because we can relate. We have those times in our lives, in our days, and we can see ourselves in the characters.

There are many times when I shake my head at Greg’s questionable decision-making. There are many times when I roll my eyes as my daughter cracks up. There are also times when I genuinely laugh, times when I remember how awkward and challenging and funny it was to be a child. I can’t help but like a series of books that can get my daughter interested in reading. I can’t help but appreciate the creativity involved and the inspiration it provides. I also appreciate the vulnerability of sharing one’s own childhood hijinx and mistakes for a laugh.

If you have a reluctant reader, these books are great. If you’re interested in learning how to tell a story using both words and pictures, something longer than a picture book, these are a fantastic starting point. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to turn my attention to graphic novels and comics, a form of storytelling that often relies even more heavily on pictures. So, let’s take a look at how Diary of a Wimpy Kid can get us started, can help us get comfortable using our pictures to add to our stories. Take a look at the books and remind yourself, the pictures don’t have to be anything more than stick figures to get your point across.

Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 Let’s try drawing our families or close friends using the simple style of Jeff Kinney as inspiration. Your drawings won’t look quite like his. You’ll have a style all your own. Just remember to keep it simple. What features of your family members most stand out? What little thing can you add so that others will know who you’ve drawn. Is it a hairstyle? A pair of glasses? After you’ve got your cast of characters, draw them all together in a scene. What’s going on? Is it dinner? An argument? A fun trip to the amusement park? Just draw one simple scene with multiple characters. Add words underneath. These words can tell us a little more about what’s going on in your picture.

Activity #2 Most of the events that occur in Diary of Wimpy Kid are simple and every day moments. Using the characters that you’ve created in the activity above, write a short story about a funny thing that happened in school or a simple moment from your life at home. Use both words and pictures to tell your story. You may not think your life or your family are interesting enough to write about, but everyone’s is. Think of a moment that made you laugh or a moment that you rolled your eyes or thought something was ridiculous. Think of a moment you felt happy or loved. Bring those moments to life with words and simple pictures.

An Introduction to Photography: Looking at Life Through a Lens

I’ve been an amateur photographer for years. When I was a teenager, I got this awesome camera that could take panoramic pictures. I would stand on my hill in my backyard every evening in the summer, waiting to capture that perfect panoramic sunset. I loved the idea that I could imagine the world within a box, that I could see the box when I looked around, even without the camera. I could envision a photograph, point my camera, and hope for a great end-result. This was back when I had to get pictures developed. No instant gratification for me. No realizing that I had taken a terrible picture, deleting it and trying again.

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Photography is a fantastic form of creative expression. It can be used to document life, allow others to see a new perspective, express feelings and desires, capture a moment in time, or act simply as art, beautiful, illuminating or haunting.

Photography can seem like an intimidating hobby to take up. You can spend an absolute fortune on photography equipment. If you do, you’ll probably manage to take some brilliant photos. The thing is, brilliant photos are as much about composition as they are about gear. You don’t need the latest digital SLR camera with amazing lenses to take amazing pictures. All you need is the camera on your phone, or a cheap digital camera. Taking photos is accessible to nearly everyone, and I think everyone should give it a try. You will look at the world differently once you start taking pictures. You see things you never noticed were there, your world will open up, and so will your creative confidence. If you’re intimidated by photography, I hope I can take some of the fear away. It’s a fun way to express yourself and show the world how you view yourself and your surroundings.

Let’s dive in.

I’m not really going to get into a course on photography. I’m not going to spend time on theory and technique here. I just want to get you out into the world taking some pictures. The first thing you can do is start to observe your surroundings on a daily basis. What do you find interesting? What shapes strike your eye? What colors? Do you see interesting shadows? Does the sunlight come through your window at a certain time of day, leaving a magical quality in the air?

After you’ve started observing, you can start constructing a box in your mind. Imagine that your eyes are the viewfinder of your camera (or for those who only use phones, imagine your eyes are the screen on your phone). Box in what you see. Give boundaries to the scene. Ignore your periphery. Once you start taking pictures, this will come naturally. You will start to look at the world as though it were a rectangle. You can see the edges of the picture before you even set up the shot. Don’t worry, this amazing feature of a photographic mind is not permanent. You can turn it off and call it back up when you need it.

Once you’re ready to start taking pictures, I’m going to offer just a few pieces of advice to get you started. First, is the rule of thirds. This has to do with the composition of your photos, the way your subject will be presented within the frame. The rule of thirds is best explained using a visual. In the picture below, you can see the frame broken into a grid. Your main subject will often look best if it is centered on one of the intersecting lines. The middle of the photo is almost never where you want your subject. I promise, this will make a big difference to the quality of your photos.

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Aside from the rule of thirds, I’d recommend getting in closer than you think you might need. I see so many people taking pictures from way too far away. The interest in the subject is lost if there is too much competing background. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal. And don’t be afraid to try different distances and angles. Experimentation leads to discovery…and great photography. Make sure you’ve got the focus on your subject, unless you’re intentionally trying to create a blurred effect. And don’t be afraid to edit your photos using a program on your computer or the basic editing tools on a phone. Play around with the settings and see what you can create.

Now, let’s get to those Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 Find a few subjects that interest you. It may be a flower, a stuffed animal, a piece of food. It doesn’t matter at all. Set your subject up where there is interesting lighting. Nothing too dark and nothing blindingly bright. Try looking with your eyes first, setting up a box in your mind. Then grab your camera and set up a shot. Now, try the same subject, but move closer. Move closer again. Try another angle. Get down low and shoot up at the subject. Try getting above it and looking down. What if you change what’s in the background? Take a series of photos, making small changes between them. See what you like the best. Which images catch your eye. What do you think makes them more interesting than the others. Can you replicate that technique with another subject? Or does another subject call out for a different method entirely?

Activity #2 After you’ve taken some pictures around the house, get outside and experiment with what nature or your city surroundings have to offer. Don’t forget to be observant. Look for things you might normally pass by. Take a series of pictures that represent your home, your town, your favorite spot to hang out.

Activity #3 Now that you’ve got a few pictures under your belt, are there any stories behind the pictures that you took? Is there one shot that’s just begging to have its story told? This can be a true story, based on events surrounding the picture, or a fictional story, inspired by the image itself. Consider using your picture as inspiration to write a short story. It doesn’t have to be any more than a paragraph or two. Look beyond the photograph and see what more there is to tell.

Activity #4 If you’re not in the mood to write, consider telling a story using pictures alone. Take a series of pictures that illustrate a story when looked at in a specific order. Maybe it’s as simple as the story of your day, a photo taken once every hour. Maybe it’s something straight from your imagination, inspired by what you see around you. The possibilities for visual storytelling are endless and it can be great fun to experiment with different ways to present a story, or different stories that can be told from the same series of pictures.

For this one, my husband put together a little photo story featuring a set of separated Matryoshka dolls:

Activity #5 What is your favorite subject? Is there something you enjoy learning about? What are your passions? Can you think of a way to capture those interests in pictures? Can you take a series of photographs that represent who you are? What about a series that represents a member of your family? Could you surprise them with a photo collage all about them?

Here, I asked M to take some pictures that represent her, or things that she loves:

Activity # 6 If you could hang an image on your wall, what would it be? Is there any way you could capture a similar image yourself? Interested in cars? Try shooting a series of tires, headlights and details. Get close. Make the images look abstract. Look for cool colors and interesting features. What about magic or wizardry? Get a little dry ice and some food coloring and whip up a smoking potion to photograph. Do you love to read, like I do? Take pictures of books. Go to a used book store and take pictures of the spines of old books. Snap a picture or two of text from your favorite books. These are just a few examples of ways that you can create your own decoration for your space, using your newfound photography skills. You’ll love having something that you made yourself decorating your walls.

If you take any pictures, let me know.

Share your favorites on the Bonnythings Creative Facebook page! I’d love to see them!

Creative Outlets: A Nearly Infinite Variety

So far, I’ve centered my creative discussion on limited outlets and mediums for growing confidence. I’ve done several posts on storytelling, poetry and visual arts. I’ve focused on the gaining of supplies for pursuits in these specific endeavors. The thing is, and I’ve mentioned this before, writing and visual art are the two forms of creativity that I’m most comfortable with. They are the obvious starting point for me, and they work well as an introduction to creativity and creative confidence for those who feel disconnected from creativity in general, as there are many ways to approach both art and writing. However, there are so many ways in which creativity can manifest and so many forms of creativity to explore. This exploration will help you find the outlets that best work for you, that bring you the most joy and give you the most confidence.

Let’s take a look at some other ways that your creative confidence may prefer to be nurtured. I found this image while reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, and it really got me thinking about the nearly endless variety of ways to be creative and express oneself.

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If you haven’t been inspired yet to try anything creative, perhaps you might consider trying one of these options:

  • web or graphic design

  • fashion design

  • knitting

  • sewing

  • scrapbooking

  • drama

  • architecture

  • hand lettering

  • movie making

  • sculpture

  • photography

  • cooking/food design

  • engineering/inventing

  • ceramics

  • gardening/floral arrangement

  • dance

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I could go on. If there’s something you think might intrigue you, but you wonder if it’s creative enough, it is! Give it a try.

Most tasks require some level of creativity or creative thought to complete. Sometimes, it’s simply harder to see than others. Engaging in creative exercise, even if unrelated to your own field of study or interest, can still grow your creative brain and improve the work that you are already doing. Everything is interconnected.

Personally, I would love to dabble in many of these creative outlets. I know the exploration would improve my other creative work. I probably will try a bunch of new things, and blog about it along the way, hoping to inspire others to give something new a try. However, I can’t possibly try, nor can I appreciate every option that exists for creative expression. If I’m not spending time and blog posts talking about a specific medium or outlet, don’t let that stop you from giving it a try. If you don’t feel creative, if you can’t get your confidence flowing, it may be because you haven’t found the right avenue yet. Keep up with creative exercise. It’s having an impact, even if you can’t see it. But don’t limit yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something intimidating. You never know what might spark that creativity just waiting to burst free.

Last summer, I decided to teach myself to knit. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t trying to expand my creative horizons. I was trying to knit a scarf based on Doctor Who, since my entire family was obsessed with the show at the time. I learned two basic stitches and got knitting. I wanted a scarf for the fall. I picked out some yarn with lovely fall colors. Fall 2018. That scarf is only half finished. Knitting, it turned out, was not a newfound passion. But that’s okay. It was time spent creating, exercising my mind, letting my brain grow as much as relax. It was a foray into something new. That is never a waste. And…I’m determined I’ll have that scarf done. Look for it…Fall 2019!

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In the coming weeks, I’ll be taking on a few of the creative outlets on the list I made above. I’ll be showing you how to get started with photography, looking at how cooking can be creative, and giving hand lettering a try, just for some self-exploration. Eventually, I’ll cover more topics and more ways to express creativity. If I haven’t gotten to the expression that’s right for you, hopefully I will. But don’t wait for me. Try finding it for yourself.

Here’s a brief video of me talking about trying new things. If you try something new, let me know in the comments.

The Power of Creativity For Emotional Health

When I first started writing about creativity and creative confidence, I talked myself through all of the benefits that come from an increase in creative confidence. I wrote an entire post on the reasons why I think creative confidence is important to both society and the individual. I’d like to explore some of those reasons in more depth. I thought I’d start with emotional health.

When we are in touch with our own creative power, when we use that power to create, we contribute to our emotional well-being. Expressing ourselves creatively, thinking creatively, exercises our brain in the same way that a treadmill can exercise our muscles. No one argues with the fact that physical exercise is beneficial to our health. We should look at mental exercise, including creative mental exercise, the same way. In order to be healthy, our brains need a workout.

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Our minds are full of thoughts and feelings. Oftentimes, it is difficult for children to unpack or express all of those emotions. Let’s be honest…it’s not easy for adults either. There are tons of strategies out there to help children and adults handle their emotions and work through their racing thoughts. In our crazy and busy world, we need these strategies more than ever. Though I’m no expert in emotional health, I’ve noticed that a lot of strategies used by professionals involve tapping into creative energy. Doodling, journaling, art, music, poetry and storytelling are all great examples. They are all fantastic ways to express the feelings that are often swirling around in our minds. Getting those feelings from inside of us and down on a page can have a therapeutic effect. We can even access our subconscious thoughts by looking at what we create and thinking about why we created it.

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There are entire areas of therapy and research devoted to the efficacy of art and music therapy. For myself, struggling with anxiety throughout the majority of my adult life, I have seen first-hand the benefits of expressing myself creatively. There is something very cathartic about showing my emotions through art or through writing. It makes me feel less alone in my thinking, less bottled up. There is also something remarkably relaxing about swirling colors along a canvas or coloring meditatively. As long as I’m not working on a deadline, or wracking my brain to find creative inspiration, the act of creating can be one of the most relaxing activities in my life. Just allowing the art or writing to take place, without worrying about where it’s going or what it looks like can be just as beneficial as yoga, mindfulness practice or meditation.

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Music is another therapeutic creative avenue. There are many people who find solace in their music, who express their deepest emotions when they play, sing or compose. Personally, I have never played an instrument, so I don’t know much about that feeling, but I can absolutely believe it. I use music as therapy, but it’s tied to my visual art, rather than the creation of music itself. I find it most relaxing to paint or draw while listening to music. It can certainly be inspirational, affecting the art that I create, but it’s more than that. The music takes me away, it allows my mind to be free of my daily concerns, drawing me further into my creative world, blocking out my worries and the concerns that may be weighing on my mind.

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When we encourage creativity in ourselves, we allow ourselves to breathe, to cope, to exist as an emotional being in the world. When we encourage creativity in children, we help them navigate the world that they are just beginning to explore. When we grow their confidence, show them that they are capable of using their creativity to express their feelings, we give them tools to handle difficulties they may face later in life. When we show children how to harness their creativity, we give them the ability to express their fears, frustrations, pain and joy in a way that they may not be able to communicate otherwise. We show them how to explain themselves and who they are. We give ourselves a glimpse into their minds, allowing us to further understand and help them navigate. We give them coping skills, a way to relax, to let go of the stress of the day and simply make something. It’s a gift we can give to our children. It’s also a gift we can give to ourselves.

Getting Out in the World: My Time Beyond the Blog

Though I love writing this blog and getting my ideas out of my head and down in writing, I absolutely love having the chance to share my creative confidence message with people in my community. It’s so much fun to talk with people about creative confidence and to inspire those around me to give creative projects a try. For most people, the types of projects I put in front of them are out of their comfort zone. It’s a joy to see people willing to try, willing to be vulnerable. Because if you’re not confident in your creativity or your ability to do a specific type of creative work, that’s how you feel, vulnerable. It’s so uplifting to know that people are willing to wade into that vulnerability, even to take the smallest step, allowing me to guide them forward.

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Last Friday, I set myself up at one of our local co-working spots (for the second time) to host a ‘creativity break’. This is a great chance for me to see what kinds of activities inspire people to step outside of their comfort zones and work with me on building confidence. It’s also a fantastic chance for a group of hardworking folks to get a break, to benefit from the relaxation that can come from dipping a brush into a pot of paint and smearing it across the page, or walking through the office with a notepad, writing down random thoughts and observations.

Last time, I had fantastic success with my activity based on Peter H. Reynolds’ Sky Color, which involved asking the participants to paint a sky without using the color blue. I brought that activity for a second time. Only one person participated this time, but he found the activity to be relaxing and I think he did a great job!

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Since it’s National Poetry Month, I thought I would feature a poetry activity this time around. People are quite intimidated by poetry, but I did manage to get a number of folks to grab a little notebook and a pencil and go jabberwalking. If you don’t know what that means, refer to my previous poetry post, wherein I highlighted the fantastic book Jabberwalking, by Juan Felipe Herrara.

I was so excited to see people walking around the floor of the co-working space, pencils drifting across the page, observing their environment. One even came back, poem in hand and exclaimed, “This is so fun!” I managed to convince another very reluctant poet to give it a try. Will he write more poetry in the future? Maybe not, but he certainly left his comfort zone, and that made me so happy.

Lastly, I presented a scribble drawing activity. My daughter provided most of the scribbles, though at least one participant wanted to draw her own. I loved seeing what everyone drew from the nondescript squiggles. It’s like looking at the clouds and finding a picture. It was a fun and simple activity that provided a short creative break. Though most turned the scribbles into something recognizable, my personal favorite submission was a fantastic abstract work.

These ventures out into my community really make me smile. I’m an introverted person. My comfort zone is writing, safely behind a computer screen, but I come a little bit alive when I talk about creativity, when I can stand face to face with people and help them face their fears, help them realize, even just a little, that they’ve got the ability within them.

I’d like to make this visit to the co-working spot a monthly event. I’ll just have to make sure I’ve got plenty of new material to help inspire creativity!

Next month, I’m presenting my very first creative confidence workshop to parents a local preschool. I’ve had a blast putting that presentation together and I can’t wait to share it with the parents. Hopefully I can get a conversation going on the importance of creative confidence and the opportunities that parents have to build that confidence in their kids…and have a great time doing it!

There is much to be gained from blogging and putting my ideas and resources all in one place, a creative confidence reference of sorts. But there is also something incredibly valuable in getting out from behind my computer and working with people face-to-face. That’s when I get the most out of my work. That’s when I find my joy.

Creative Screen Time: A World Of Warcraft Case Study

These days, our children are bombarded by bright colors, flashing images and the constant draw of the screen. It’s hard to get away from. It’s hard to avoid. Children are spending more and more time in front of a television, tablet or computer screen. It’s very easy to dismiss this screen time as a waste, as not adding anything of value to the people we are hoping to raise, the adults we’d like them to become. When my daughter asks me to play a video game, I often balk, thinking of gaming as the ultimate waste of time. This is coming from someone who used to spend hours playing World of Warcraft in my twenties. Bit hypocritical of me, no?

At least, that’s how I used to feel. Lately, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot more going on in her mind while she’s gaming than I thought. I had completely underestimated the value of this kind of play.

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When she was a toddler, and I still played World of Warcraft from time to time, she would sit on my lap and hit the space bar to make the characters jump. As she got older, she liked to play around with the horses and dragons that you could ride around on, exploring the geography and giggling as she dropped a character from an insane height and watched them fall harmlessly into the water.

These days, my daughter is almost 10. She has started playing the game legitimately, making her own characters and taking them on quests. She likes creating new characters more than she enjoys the questing and leveling up and she’s got quite the collection. She enjoys the process of choosing their features, giving them a name, getting to know them.

I sat down with her one day when she was sick. She showed me her characters and proceeded to explain their family histories in great detail. Several of the characters were related. She took me on a tour of the town and showed me all the in-game characters that related to her own. One had left his son and wife in the big city because he needed a job. Another had learned a skill well enough to train others. She was a role model to the rest of her family, including M’s character. She spent ages telling me all about them, stories she had concocted out of her own imagination. How amazing, to see beyond the screen and realize that there’s real creation going on underneath.

Not long after that sick day, M pulled out her writing notebook and started working on a story. Her story, it turned out, was based on her World of Warcraft characters. She had come up with a fascinating cast, each with unique names and detailed backstories. There is a depth to the story that has me wanting to know more. She hasn’t finished writing it yet. Maybe she never will, but I’d love to see where she takes her story, what happens to her characters, and what her imagination can design after being inspired by a video game.

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Just the other day, M decided to throw an impromptu World of Warcraft party for the family on a Saturday night. I had no idea what to expect, what ideas she had swimming around in her head. I actually thought we might just spend the evening playing the game together, but she had other plans. She dragged Dad out to the store and created a menu based on food in the game (sticking well to the budget I had laid out, I might add). She designed games for us to play, based on the different races, cultures and quests in World of Warcraft. By the end of the evening, we were shooting toy arrows at a Dark Iron Dwarf, crawling around on the floor to see who could find the most ‘apples’ and searching for a lost Hippogriff to take to Exodar. I was so impressed with the ideas she came up with in a relatively short amount of time. We had a yummy array of food, creatively chosen, and a lineup of fun games, none of which actually involved a screen. She had taken her screen inspiration and turned it into something we could all do together in our living room.

World of Warcraft has given M so much more than a game to mindlessly play (although I also believe in the benefit of disconnecting for a bit and relaxing into a game world). It has given her inspirations, characters, stories and artwork. In an imaginary world like this one, with vibrant colors, defined cultures and lush landscapes, it’s easy to branch off and start creating ideas of your own. The next time your child is really into a video game or tv show, try to look a little beyond the screen. See if anything else is going on. Maybe you can even encourage them to create within the theme, within the thing they love.

Field Trip: Using Museums To Inspire Our Creative Brains

A few weeks ago, I profiled the creative confidence picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. Did you know that in addition to writing and illustrating his own books, Peter H. Reynolds also illustrates for other authors? He has done the illustrations for multiple picture books written by Susan Verde. One of those books is called The Museum. It’s a fantastic book that follows a young girl through her visit to an art museum. We see the way she feels as she moves from exhibit to exhibit, allowing the different art to change her moods, her thoughts, and even the way she moves her body.

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A visit to a museum can be a powerful lift for our creative confidence, providing ample inspiration and opportunities to exercise the creative centers of our brain. The obvious choice is an art museum, which allows us to study different forms of art, from ancient to modern, from two-dimensional to three-dimensional. An art museum surrounds us with color, emotion and scenes from the past. It’s bound to get your sketching fingers itching to grasp a pencil and work those muscles.

You may find the visuals enticing, but prefer to express the thoughts and feelings that are evoked through your words, rather than images. In that case, you can try jotting down words as you walk through the museum. This can be much like jabberwalking, which I discussed in my post on poetry. Writing down your observations and emotions while walking through an art museum can lead to fantastic poetry…or at the very least, some interesting introspection.

We are lucky enough to have an outdoor sculpture garden and walking path as part of our local art museum. This means that we get the chance to interact with the art. This can make for a fun experience that brings art out of the stuffy museum and right into the playground.

Art museums are not the only museums that can lead to creative exercise. Pretty much any kind of museum, from history to science, can inspire and lead to creative expression. We took a trip to a local science museum to see what kind of creative mischief we could get into. While exploring rooms filled with science and nature, we found plenty of opportunities to practice drawing, write poetry, brainstorm story ideas and work on photography. All of this in one museum!

When we came home from our museum day, we had new sketches to admire, inspiration for future art, a great brainstorm for a story idea about a turtle, fun photos and the beginnings of a poem or two. Not bad for an afternoon on the town.

Below, you’ll find our video all about our museum visits and the creative fun we had:

Don’t have a museum near you? Don’t despair! You can create a museum-like atmosphere right in your home. Dig through your book collection for drawing or writing inspiration. Check out some books from the library on famous paintings, sculpture, dinosaurs…anything you want. Lay the books out like a museum display and have fun looking through the pictures.

The internet is also a fantastic resource. Many museums offer views of some or all of their collections online. My daughter really enjoyed this virtual tour of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. It makes you feel like you’re right there in the museum. You can take a look at some of the Louvre collection online, as well at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are just a few examples. The internet is full of resources to help provide that museum experience when a museum might be hard to come by.

An Intro to the Work of Neil Gaiman: Fortunately, the Milk

It’s time to take a look at another creatively inspirational author. Over the course of time and several posts, I’m going to highlight a few books written by Neil Gaiman. If you are already familiar with Neil Gaiman, you know that he is an author who deftly uses language, tells unique stories and challenges genre norms. He has written a wide variety of books, in theme, tone and audience. He is an author that one can follow from childhood into adulthood. His books are original and exceptionally creative. They are bound to provide great inspiration to those on a creative journey. Pick one…any one…and pay attention to the way he weaves a story, creates characters, and forms expectations, only to turn them upside down.

Since I have already written a few posts on storytelling, I figured I’d begin my look at Neil Gaiman’s writing by focusing on Fortunately, the Milk. This is a middle-grade chapter book that is perfect for elementary-aged kids. It is a ‘then-what-happened?’ kind of story that follows the crazy adventures of a dad who went out to get milk, and it’s a good thing he did. That milk saves the world.

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Fortunately, the Milk is not only a fun read, and an even better read-aloud, it is a great example of storytelling. The book models the storytelling methods of ‘then what?’ and ‘action-reaction’. (I made those terms up. They just sound right to me).

When the dad in the story finds himself on an alien spaceship, he chooses to open a door that says, ‘DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON’. The choice to open the door is an action. The reaction is our ‘then what?’ moment. What happens when he opens that door? It could be anything. Whatever we can imagine, can happen. In this case, the dad falls into the sea and is rescued by pirates. But the question is…then what happens??

This is a fantastic type of storytelling to get anyone started. It focuses on the action, on the next thing to happen, rather than on character development. It’s great for kids to let their imaginations run wild, to focus more on the happenings in the story. Character development doesn’t have to take center stage. Storytelling can start with an idea and follow through with action.

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In Fortunately, the Milk, the children interrupt their father’s storytelling to ask questions, to ponder whether or not their dad actually encountered these crazy circumstances or if, perhaps, he’s just making it all up. The children want their dad’s story to make sense and sometimes, it just doesn’t. That’s another thing I love about this book, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to. It shows that the stories that flow from our imaginations can do just that…flow. We can allow whatever comes up to just be. We have the freedom to follow where the story leads us. Sometimes, we control the story. Sometimes, the story controls us. When the story is in control, it’s magic. Let it take over. See what happens.

In the end, the children in the story look around their kitchen and see inspiration for all the elements of their dad’s story. There’s a book, toys, a calendar on the wall, all related to ideas that popped up in the story. Was the story true? You decide. But don’t forget…inspiration is always around you. Be observant. Look for the story that’s right there in the room with you.


I highly recommend getting your hands on Fortunately, the Milk and reading it with your kids. Adults will likely enjoy the hilarity as well. I sure did, and so did my husband. After you’ve read it (or before, if you’d prefer) give these Gently Guided Activities, inspired by the book, a try:

Activity #1 Let’s give ‘then what?’ storytelling a try! We’ll try telling this story aloud. Start with a simple premise. For example, a boy walked down the street and saw his neighbor’s dog flying. Then what? What does the boy do? What does the dog do? Is anything else strange happening? After each new element, ask the question ‘Then what?’ or ‘What happens next?’ See how far your story can take you. Try looking around your own space or out your own window for inspiration. Ideas are everywhere!

Activity #2 For this one, let’s write a story down. Try writing about yourself from the first-person perspective (I did this.. I did that…). Start with a normal event and then make it extraordinary. ‘My ball rolled down the street. I ran to get it. On my way back, you’ll never guess what happened…’ Make it crazy and unbelievable. Let your imagination go wild. It can be short and sweet or an epic adventure. Don’t forget to ask yourself ‘Then what?’ whenever you get stuck.

Activity #3 If you find it too hard to start from scratch, take a few elements from Fortunately, the Milk and weave your own story. Throw your own character into the mix and see what happens. Maybe you’d like your character to encounter aliens in a hot air balloon or dinosaurs on a pirate ship. What would happen in your version of the story?

Activity #4 Don’t feel like storytelling or writing? Take one of the fantastical ideas from the book or imagine a crazy scenario of your own. Sketch it out. Rather than telling the story through words, tell it using a picture, or a series of pictures. Words are only one way to tell a story. Have fun and let your story colorfully come to life.

If you’re interested, watch me and my daughter give ‘Then What?’ storytelling a try in the video below:

If you read the book or try the activities, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about your creative adventures!

Collaborative Creation: Coloring and Doodle Pages

One aspect of creative confidence that I think is very important is collaboration. For kids to dive into creativity and to put their efforts out into the world, it is helpful for them to have a partner in their pursuits, to see someone else face their own creative vulnerability. When a child sees a parent or older sibling willing to create, accepting of mistakes, taking chances…they are more likely to do so themselves.

This concept works just as well for adults. When embarking on the journey to strengthen your creative confidence, see if you can find a friend, co-worker, significant other or family member to join you on the adventure. You can encourage one another, work together, and draw each other out of your shell. Having someone to cheer you on can make the process so much easier.

Collaboration can take many forms. You can paint a picture together, work to create characters and stories, write or improvise a play. You can go back and forth writing verses of poetry or design a mural for the wall.

Today, I’m going to look at two types of collaborative art that work especially well for children. We have had great success with these activities in our home. They foster a sense of teamwork and grow creative confidence.

The first is the coloring page swap. This has been a favorite of my husband and daughter for years. They each start with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. On that sheet of paper, they draw a picture, something that would be fun to color in. Maybe it’s a plane or a rocket ship. Maybe it’s a bouquet of flowers or a hot air balloon. I find it’s best to each draw something different, to avoid comparison. When they’ve finished drawing, when they’ve added all the detail they’d like, they swap pages. Now it’s time to break out the crayons. M colors Dad’s drawing and Dad colors M’s. When they’re finished, they’ve got two masterpieces that they’ve worked on together. It’s both a confidence building and bonding experience.

The second activity is a collaborative doodle book page. Have you seen doodle books at your local bookstore? They are filled with partly drawn pages and prompts to finish the picture. A page may look something like this:

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The idea is to finish the drawing based on the prompt.

When M was younger, she would blow through those kids menus/drawing pages at restaurants. Trying to avoid a bored child waiting for food, Dad decided to use the back of the page to create doodle book prompts. This soon became and activity they both enjoyed, making doodle prompts for each other, even outside of a restaurant. Here are some examples:

You may think you need to be an artist to create such prompts, but there’s no need. Stick figures are more than enough to provide the necessary inspiration. You can personalize your prompts to make them more fun, adding family members, friends or pets into the mix. Here are some examples:

Working together on creative exercises with a friend or family member can make the process more fun and less intimidating. You’ll create something together, rooting each other on, inspiring each other to create. You’ll grow your confidence and make memories, too.

Still not sure what this process might look like? Check out the video below to see my husband and daughter in action:

The Gently Guided Activities for this post are to try the creative exercises described above. Find a partner and create and swap coloring pages. Create doodle book prompts for each other and see what you each design. Have fun with it. Laugh together.

If you try either of these activities, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or head over to the Facebook page linked on the side to post a picture to the Bonnythings Creative page.

Getting Comfortable With Poetry: Fun With Words

Let’s be honest. Poetry can be intimidating. Most of us might appreciate listening to a good poem or reading a poetry anthology, but how many of us feel comfortable enough to call our own words ‘poetry’? If the idea of writing poetry makes you balk, shiver or want to cry, stick with me. Together, we’ll get you writing some poetry. Will it be good enough for that local poetry slam? Who cares?! Will it represent you and your thoughts, feelings and observations? Absolutely!

I am by no means an accomplished poet. I’m not even a good poet. Most of my poetry lives inside birthday cards given to family and friends. Here is a fine example:

Roses are red.

Daffodils are yellow.

Happy Birthday to you.

You’re a very fine fellow.

Seriously. That’s the kind of poetry I usually write. That doesn’t stop me from loving the idea of poetry, the potential of my words if I don’t criticize, if I just write. My words can illuminate and share my inner feelings. They can cast a light on my joy, contentment, pain and heartache. My words can paint a picture in the mind of what I see, touch, hear and smell. My words can bring to life my experiences, help others understand what it’s like to be me. My words are powerful, and so are yours.

When I taught my daughter to write poetry, I started by reading some of my favorite poetry books. I almost always start anything with a book. One of the books that we read together was Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. Out of Wonder is a fantastic poetry anthology featuring poems about poets.

Watch the video below to hear my thoughts on this book and listen to me recite (probably badly) my favorite poem in the collection:

After getting our start reading poetry, my daughter and I felt ready to try our hand at writing our own poems. I asked M to try mixing her usual words and phrases with what I call ‘poetic language’. These are words that are descriptive, beautiful, colorful. They are words that use language to paint a picture, just as surely as a brush can. Here’s a bit of what she came up with (click to enlarge):

M did really well with poetry. I hesitated. I’ll be honest, I’m still not all that comfortable with poetry, but our attempts, our poetic experiments, really took off when we read Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate. This book is fantastic and so unique. I’ve honestly never read anything like it.

Jabberwalking covers a lot of ground, including autobiographical prose. The main premise, however, is that we can all write. We can all be poets. Herrera suggests having a Jabber journal. This is a handy notebook that you carry with you as you walk, jotting down what you see, hear and feel. You can write however you wish, single words, descriptions, or sketches.

“Your burbles are going to become a Seismic & Crazy Epic Poem!” he writes.

Herrera tells us not to worry about where we’re walking or what we’re looking for. “{T}he Poem, the burble, does not want to know were it’s going or even what it is saying.” And don’t worry about legibility or misspellings. You won’t be able to read everything you wrote. That’s okay! When you get home, decipher what you can. Play around with your words and pictures. You can move things around, like Ramon did in The Word Collector. You can add new words. This is how poetry happens. Have fun with it!

“Give your burbles SHAPE (simply move the words around into fun groups)”

“A Jabberwalking poem […] loves to […] BE FREE”

Obviously, I’m messing with Herrera’s words here. I’m cutting things and paraphrasing. There is no real way to replicate what he’s written, so you just need to read it for yourself. The style and content are totally worth the read (read it aloud, I’d suggest). Everything, from the illustrations to the typography, influences the feel of the book. I think you’ll be inspired to try Jabber journaling and poetry writing for yourself. M keeps a Jabber journal in her backpack and one at home, though she hasn’t been using them as much lately. Time to read the book again, I think!

In the video below, you’ll hear my brief thoughts on Jabberwalking, then go on a Jabberwalk with us. Be prepared…it was windy…and we are not professionals!

Gently Guided Activities

Poetry Activity #1 Check out a few poetry books from the library. Try the two I’ve suggested, or choose whatever strikes your fancy. Read the poems, preferably aloud. Take note of the kinds of words that jump out at you. Jot down words or passages that you particularly like or that inspire you. Could you make a poem by using a series of words that you collect from different poems or books? Write a list of your favorite words from a few different books. Rearrange these words until they sound interesting to you.

Poetry Activity #2 Inspired by the poem I shared from Out of Wonder in the first video, try to write a poem about a normal moment in your day. Observe first and take notes. What do you see, hear and smell when you’re brushing your teeth? What about when you’re eating lunch, out for a walk, waiting for the bus or watching tv? Tell us about it through your words. Write it into a poem. Not happy with what you’ve got? Try moving the words around. Does it sound better or worse? Keep trying.

Poetry Activity #3 Start your own Jabber journal. A small notebook that is easy to carry with you would be best. Start walking and writing. Do this alone, with a friend, or with your child. Don’t worry or think too much. Just write down what stands out, what you notice. Learning to be observant is hugely beneficial as we learn to harness our creativity. The words that you write can be turned into poetry or saved for inspiration. It’s up to you. As Juan Felipe Herrera reminds us in Jabberwalking, it doesn’t matter if you can read every word, it doesn’t matter if you’ve spelled everything correctly, it doesn’t matter if you have words or pictures. Just get your observations down, get them down quickly, before you have time to question your own thought process.

How confident are you with poetry? Share a poem in the comments or on my Bonnythings Creative Facebook page. If you try the activities, I’d love to hear how they go!

More For Even Less: Keeping Your Recyclables

In the last post, I talked about the value of thrifting to build up your creative toolbox. This time, I’m going to take a look at what happens when we keep some of the things we might normally toss into the trash or the recycle bin. I’m going to show you the value of having your own creative recycle bin.

There are a few things you might be thinking. First, why would I want to keep trash? Second, where am I supposed to store this trash? Well, the possibilities for creative projects are nearly endless when it comes to recyclables and trash. And as they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. How much space these things take up is entirely up to you. We have one small cube container filled with recyclables. This gets filled up, used and re-filled. M is never allowed to have more recyclables in the house than can fit in the container. She and I have a somewhat different definition of what fits, but that’s another story.

Check out this video tour of M’s recycle bin:

The addition of recyclables to your toolbox will allow for more three-dimensional exploration, building sculptures, creatures and contraptions. If you have any engineering kits at home, you can mix those with cardboard or plastic to bring these experiments to life. Check out this claw machine that M and her dad made a few years ago. They made this using an engineering kit, an old moving box and a fishing rod.

What else can you do with recycled materials? Pretty much anything. M loves to make spaceships from boxes. They vary in size. She makes them for her stuffed animals, for herself, and even sometimes for her friends. Moving and shipping boxes do take up a lot of room. We have a garage, so we have a place to keep a few boxes at a time. If you don’t have much space, boxes can be collapsed and tucked behind furniture until you’re ready to use them. Last summer, she made a parade float for her stuffed animals to ride on for the Fourth of July.

M has also uses recyclables to make cute creatures and habitats for animals, like her toy T. Rex. Through the years, we’ve saved money on toys by making our own, like this play stove and microwave using an old box and some paper, or a climbing wall for a doll. Some of these creations are large and take up a bit of space. We don’t keep them forever. Most of them end up in the real recycling bin eventually, after we’ve taken a picture to document the work.

These are just a few examples of what can happen when you keep recycled materials in your home. Your creations will likely look nothing like ours. What you choose to keep and how you choose to use what you’ve got will influence what your child creates. Obviously, we use a lot of boxes. M loves boxes. She just brought a random Amazon box home from school with her the other day, for no apparent reason. You and your child may prefer making towers out of yogurt cups or vases out of glass jars. The possibilities really are endless. Try holding on to a few things and see what happens. Mix these recyclables with your basic toolbox supplies, like markers, paint and glue. See what you come up with.

Have you or your child made something cool with reclaimed or recycled materials? Let me know in the comments or post pictures on my Facebook page.

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!