November 22, 2004

Teach Kids an Artistic Way to Say Thank You

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:07 pm

Three years ago when I started doing Art and About, I wrote a column about making my own thank-you notes. I described how I folded blank pieces of cardstock and used leftover crafting materials to put my unique stamp on each individual thank-you card I wrote. That column remains one of the most commented on pieces I have written, so like any successful form of entertainment, I am writing a sequel. And I believe this is better than the original.

Sometime after my son turned one, I started having his design his own thank-you cards. When he was really little, we did hand and footprints because we found his public couldn’t get enough of those, and since a toddler’s prints are ever growing and changing, it became a nice marker in time for people. As he became adept at working with paints, he would do finger-painted cards, and eventually graduated to using a paintbrush. After passing his second birthday, he decided mixed media represented his artistic voice, and he would create thank-you cards combining paint, crayon, colored pen, oil pastels, and anything else that made a mark on the page. As he learned to use scissors, we got him a set of fancy crafting shears with which he could cut fringes or shapes that rarely fit into a standard stationery envelope, but we sent them nonetheless.

As we approach his fourth birthday later this month, my son has gone full circle back to paints, but now he strives to create representational art. After his third birthday, we switched from having me write the notes to requiring that he dictate his own thank-you message, so now the inside of the card is as special as the outside.

I started my daughter out on the painted thank-you cards when she was eight-months-old, last December. She refused to hold still long enough for a hand or footprint, and latched right on to doing brushwork. As this past year has progressed, she has focused all her attentions on crayons. She has the lightest touch and creates feathery designs with delicate strokes.

This December, my kids are developing their own line of stationery. Using heavily diluted watercolor, my son created rainbow swirls of artistry in colors light enough that the words of the penned notes can be read. My daughter did Crayola abstracts with her signature ginger touch. With the help of Allegro Copy and Print in Lafayette, we are having their names printed on each sheet, like big-person stationery, so they will be all set to write thank-you notes come December 26.

All of this is great, but two of my son’s preschool classmates have created the ultimate thank-you cards, and it is their idea that I really want to share. These sisters illustrated a bunch of thank-you cards and gave them, beautifully wrapped, as a gift to their teacher for her birthday. AND THEN, the teacher used the thank-you cards to write thank-you notes to everyone for the gifts she had received. It’s brilliant!

To me, this idea is the ultimate in the gift that keeps on giving. I see at least three values at work here. The child is immersed in the concept of saying thank-you by creating one-of-a-kind thank-you notes. The child, as the artist, is given an opportunity to creatively express herself. And the child is giving of herself while getting directly involved in the gift-giving process rather than her parent just going out and buying something.

I can’t think of a better way to get our kids profoundly in touch with the true spirit of holiday gift-giving than to do a project like this with them for anyone with whom they exchange gifts. I suspect both giver and receiver will be filled with the joys of the season.

November 9, 2004

Take a turn on the Happy Dance floor

Filed under: Art and About Dance — admin @ 2:47 pm

My husband was taking a continuing education class in Internet security when the topic of The Happy Dance came up. His instructor, a professor at Georgetown University who also does consulting, said that once, out of the corner of his eye, he had seen a computer engineer Happy Dancing after a major breakthrough with a programming problem. The wordless Happy Dance communicated everything anyone needed to know about how the solution was coming along.

For this instructor, Happy Dancing has become one marker of identifying someone who is personally invested in his work, as opposed to someone who is just doing a job. Something like a Happy Dance can tell him about an employee’s personal investment in finding a good result. Happy Dancing is enthusiasm personified. This instructor went on to say that when interviewing job applicants, he will ask them to get up and do their Happy Dance.

As my husband related this story to me, I became intrigued. I had always considered Happy Dancing something done in front of trusted family, friends or co-workers. It didn’t occur to me that one could even Happy Dance on demand in front of a prospective employer, or that one could Happy Dance without the proper emotional trigger.

My husband firmly believes that Happy Dancing is not something to be done on demand, but I admit, a couple of times since this discussion I have  tried to Happy Dance for no particular reason. It’s a little tough to get started, but sort of like method acting, when I conjure a past achievement that led to a Happy Dance, I can get the moves back into my body fairly quickly. And sort of like smile therapy, doing a Happy Dance for no particular reason made me feel happy. Who knows? Maybe perfecting the ability to do a calculated Happy Dance could affect a person’s over health and well-being?

I know you want to get up and try spontaneous Happy Dancing right now, so I’ll wrap this up as quickly as I can.

I am still intrigued by this classroom discussion on a topic that has never come up in any conversation in which I have been a part. I asked my husband if he has seen Happy Dancing in his workplace. He said he has. He has even Happy Danced himself. He works for a bank that staunchly adheres to the traditional corporate environment model you would expect from a bank. Here I have been imagining a lot of starched collars and instead, they are Happy Dancing.

I have worked in several corporate environments, many of which were staffed by very creative individuals. I can’t ever remember seeing a Happy Dance, unless people were dancing behind closed doors or in meetings to which I wasn’t invited. I don’t know if this means anything, but I find it interesting.

What I like best about the Happy Dance discussion is that it has taught me that spontaneous explosions of primal artistic expression are happening everyday in normal, everyday interactions, whether I know about them or not. It seems to be evidence that an artful soul does indeed live within all of us, and sometimes it can even overwhelm us to move to our own groove in celebration of a personal victory, no matter who’s with us or where we’re located at the time. This knowledge alone makes me want to do a Happy Dance.