Exercise your creativity this summer

Since it’s Memorial Day, Artini is going to stray off the path a bit today.  Let’s talk about summer fun.  That’s all we want to think abut, right?

I’m moved to write about summer because one of my favorite bookstores had a post this morning that promoted the wonderful workbooks they just got in – favorites of teachers who didn’t want students to “lose their skills” over the summer.

Yes, I have read the research that shows that students lose skills over the summer months. Some studies show that students score worse on a standardized test in the fall than they did on the same test the previous spring (horrors!).  Most experts agree that students can lose between 2 and 3 years of grade level equivalency in math skills over the summer. The biggest loss, it seems, is in computational or factual knowledge. College students are not unaffected — one study I read claimed that students lose about 80% of what was presented in a course shortly after they finish the final exam (in my case, most of the rest disappeared when I sold my textbook back to the bookstore).

This seems to me to be missing the point.  Of course, my educational philosophy is not centered around retaining facts.  It’s centered around teaching skills like critical thinking, curiosity and creativity — and those are things that (a) don’t disappear over the summer and (b) are more fun to practice.

Summer is a time for fun, yes.  It’s a time for long, lazy days – when you can get them.  But it’s also a time to exercise other areas of their brains than you often have the chance to do during the rest of the year.  Let kids be creative this summer, and allow yourself to be creative too.  Creativity and curiosity are a part of play, and an essential part of human development.  Here are some thoughts.

Read.  This mainstay of summer is, in my mind, the only schoolwork activity that is worth it.  Kids (and adults!) have more time to read in the summer, and they can read things they like.  Make a weekly library trip.  Pull out some old favorites.  Reward kids with a Kindle book.  Do nightly chapter reading.  Start a Big Book.

Take pictures. Don’t just take pictures of people standing in front of things on your vacation. Take pretty pictures.  Take pictures of interesting shapes, unusual things, pretty flowers, beautiful sunsets.  Learn some simple photo editing skills to play with your photos. Let the kids have the camera too.

Collect stuff.  Rocks. Sea shells. Antique buttons. Unloved stuff from garage sales and thrift shops that can be made over into new stuff (for a wonderful video on how one woman is remaking old Bratz dolls into “real girl” dolls by taking off their makeup with nail polish remover and practical shoes out of Play-doh, click here).

Create a craft area.  It doesn’t have to be just for your kids, although that works.  But setting aside a table or desk and stocking it with pencils, pens, markers, paper and whatever else you like gives you permission to use that space for creative play.

Make up stories. Use dolls, stuffed animals or toys as starting places for adventures.  Write them down and illustrate them.  Have a “round the table” collective story time where each person starts where the other person left off.  Google “writing prompts” and select one at random.

Learn to do something.  Take a drawing class.  Have someone teach you to knit or crochet. Investigate Zentangling (AKA purposeful doodling). Scour Pinterest for ideas.

Create fan art. Okay, all right, I know you AND the kids are going to sit on the couch and binge watch favorite shows or play video games.  Turn it into a creative exercise by creating art based on what you saw.

As for me, I’m ready.  I’ve got a couple of books with creativity prompts (642 Things to Draw, 642 Things to Write About), a half-empty sketch book, new felting supplies, and a mountain of yarn.  Off I go.

Happy summer!

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About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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One Response to Exercise your creativity this summer

  1. thanks for the nice article Ellen. Before the summer is out, let me leave one more source of inspiration-visit a museum or gallery. There are several in Northeastern Wisconsin that provide a refuge and refreshed point of view. Make it a Labor Day trip to launch a creative school year by taking in the creative world around you.

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