Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Participated in a Homeschool Creative Arts Fair

Last August I was at a planning meeting for a local homeschool support group when one member presented an idea, it was a twist on an existing program the group runs. The group is a classical method homeschool support group. The group has a monthly presentation event, which they call the Kids Forum. Usually at the Forum, homeschooled students stand in front of the group and make a presentation of some work that they’ve done in the course of their homeschooling studies. This ranges from playing a piece on the piano or guitar, reading a research paper aloud, reciting a poem that was memorized, or talking about a topic and showing illustrations on a presentation board. The new proposal was to have a Creative Arts Fair which would be run more like a typical Science Fair but would showcase items not as conducive to the typical Forum: poetry, handcrafts, and artwork. Each student would have half of a table to display their creations. The mother offered to plan and run the event and the decision was made to go forward with that new event.

I signed my boys up immediately. I thought it sounded like a great idea. Let me say also that we usually do not participate in the monthly Kids Forum as both of my boys resist public speaking. In the past we had issues with a conflict with nap time and we still have a conflict with it overlapping into our Cub Scout meeting time. Since both my husband and I are Den Leaders we can’t just blow off Scouts for our children that day---we have to be there. It is a real stretch to attend the Forum, get home, eat something and get out the door to get to the Scout meeting on time.

As the Creative Art Fair approached I began to dread having signed up. To be honest at that point my kids had not been making much art. They didn’t have much new to show. I have not been using the art instruction curriculum which I did purchase as it always falls off the schedule at the end of the day. So the things my kids create are just for fun. Also my boys have not taken formal art classes or attended any ‘art camps’. I then figured that some time before the Forum we’d spend some time making some stuff.

September and October were about adjusting to the new homeschooling year and worries of the health of my dying father-in-law. November was spent grieving his passing. As it is for everyone, December was a busy month with holiday prep, and there was no time for making art. January began with a trip to Maine to visit my grandmother then buckling down and getting back to homeschooling lessons. February continued to be busy and then I realized, whoops, we had not spent any time making anything to show at the Fair, and it was just days away. I did not want to do a mad dash project in the last few days, thinking that would be insane and stupid, and anyway, we had plans all weekend and were not home anyhow so it was impossible.

The week before the Forum I was getting nervous. I imagined kids showing work on par with professional artists. I knew some of them take art classes with professional artists and I figured they’d show spectacular work. I worried that my own kid’s creations would pale in comparison. I considered backing out, knowing it was full and that there was a waiting list, knowing someone else would be happy to get our two spots. But I didn’t. Since my kids don’t even like the Forum, I had not even told them about it, so if I backed out my kids would not even have known about it. I decided not to back out, and I finally broke the news to them just days before. They were not so thrilled but they didn’t complain. I told them that they would have control over what was shown. I’d not force them to show any of their work that they didn’t want shown.

I didn’t take this so seriously, after I got over worrying about my kids being judged or being embarrassed if their work was inferior compared to the other kids. I didn’t think much about what to show. It was not until the night before and the day of, that I went around the house and gathered up items that they made in the past. In fact I had planned to also bring some detailed unique LEGO creations but I forgot them. And I was disappointed that both boys refused to allow their drawings to be shown, out of embarrassment that they were not ‘good enough’. They think that all drawings should look like a photograph and be perfect; they give themselves no leeway for the fact that they are young children. And as an adult I can say that some of their drawings are just fine. In the end we had less things to display than I had planned on.

We headed out to the Forum. I didn’t have a display board, I just laid the items on the table and I did make up a few cards to explain what some of the items were. This is what they showed. (I forgot my camera so only have my friend’s photos to share.) I will also share that I didn’t make my kids dress up in fancy clothes. A part of me wanted them to look great like that but I allowed them to just wear their normal clothes that they were wearing that day. As it turned out most of the kids there were wearing casual clothes too.

Older son:
A walking stick he hand carved and stained and finished
An acrylic painting he completed for a church competition with a challenge theme
Model of Earth showing geological layers made of polymer clay (he made this on his own not forced by me as an assignment)
Small items made from polymer clay
A pottery piece (plate) he painted upon (factory made piece which he decorated)
Pinewood Derby cars from three events, designed, carved and painted by him
Comic book, story written in collaboration with another homeschooled boy, illustrated and written b the other boy and then hand colored by my son

Photo above: older son's display
(I don't have a photo of my younger son's display.)

Younger son:
A pottery piece (a mug) he painted upon (factory made piece which he decorated)
Small things made out of polymer clay, including beads
Two Pinewood Derby cars, designed, carved and painted by him
Chalk pastel drawing of a landscape

When I saw two children with LEGO creations I realized we had forgotten our LEGOs. Oh well.

The Fair was organized so that the students would rotate, at times sitting at their station and greeting visitors and being available to speak to and ask questions of. It was rotated in a way so that all the students had enough time to go around and see everything. Perhaps the best part was that each student had an envelope at their station where people could write notes and leave it for the children to take home. In that way praise could be left if the student was not at their station to hear it directly. I spent some time writing notes to children and if the child had sibling I made sure to leave a note for that child also. I didn’t want one sibling coming off as getting more praise than another. (This ended up not being done by all as my younger son got one note and my older son got seven. I could tell this was uncomfortable for my younger son.)

My whole fear of my kids stuff not being good enough was all for naught. In the end I realized that my kids had a decent range of different projects. They had some art forms that other children did not have, and the fact that they had a variety of things left me feeling that my boys are creative after all. While we have not spent time doing paid formal lessons as some of the other children have, I realized my kids have dabbled in various mediums and that they are doing ‘just fine’, great in fact.

My fear of my children’s work coming off as inferior quickly faded. The show was not either a way for me to ‘show off’ my children’s work, like bragging. Believe me if it was I would have had them do special projects just for the Fair and I would even have made a presentation board to make it look better. The reality is since most of my boys’ work was three dimensional the board would not have worked anyway. Their heavy paintings also would not have hung on the foam core display board either so there was no choice about laying those flat. My boy’s work was what it was, a true reflection of what they do for fun and creative play, dabbling in various mediums and doing what they want.

I was very impressed with the range of items shown by the other students. There were all different things around the room and it was so inspiring.

Here is a sampling of the type of things shown, a partial listing:

Victorian Valentines and poetry written by a 10 year old girl
Photographs shown on a slideshow format on a laptop, photos taken with a digital SLR and altered digitally, by a 13 year old boy
Large selection of knitting, finished projects and works in progress by a 16 year old girl
Clothing for an American Girl doll designed by a girl (about eight years old) and sewn by her mother
Matisse inspired collage including some very unique modern items like an iPod and a Mac laptop by an eleven year old boy
Watercolor paintings of flowers by a nine year old girl
Poetry by a nine year old boy
Large selection of hand drawings, paintings and chalk pastels by a ten year old girl (she watches no television and makes art for one hour every evening instead)
Paper bag masks made by a seven year old girl
Recreation of a scene from a Star Wars movie in LEGO (very detailed) by a twelve year old boy
A medieval scene in LEGO created by a nine year old boy
Model of the solar system made of colored beeswax by an eleven year old boy
Detailed pencil drawings of medieval scenes by an eight year old boy
Detailed pencil drawings and watercolor paintings by an eleven year old boy
Photos taken with a zoom lens of birds at the family’s feeder, fourteen year old boy
Watercolor paintings of birds at the feeder, nine year old boy
Paintings of a pet beta fish and of a snake, three year old boy

Other items:

Paper Mache sculpture
Hand made dolls out of cloth
Decorated plates
Miniature LEGO house made by a girl
Masks from paper Mache, decorated
Three dimensional watermelon wedge made of Paper Mache
Poetry about nature
Acrylic paintings
Lots of collage

Such Great Art!

I was so impressed by what I saw. I really enjoyed seeing how the children all had their unique perspective on things. One boy loved turtles, his mother told me, so he had several turtle paintings that I’d frame and display! The bright colors in a painting of a red, fire-breathing dragon was so excellent I’d copy that onto a transfer and put it on the front of a shirt! Seeing the collages of things like a skiing scene, made by a girl who I know loves to ski, and the unique items selected to make Matisse inspired collage were just precious. The poetry written by the children was amazing, really descriptive words were used and they were all so impressive. One girl put down her watercolor flowers, and I tried to boost her up by explaining that watercolor is tricky and takes patience and that her works were lovely. I really, really enjoyed seeing all the art that everyone made.

I was speaking to a mother, who works as a public school teacher, about her two son’s artwork. She explained this is their first year of homeschooling, after being in public schools until now (they are in 4th and 6th grade homeschool now). They finally left the schools due to unhappiness with the academic rigor of the public schools in the town. She said when they went to select work to show at the Fair she was surprised at the large quantity of work that they had done just since September. She said that less time away at school and no homework to do allowed them to have more time to create. Seeing all their stuff gathered up at home she realized for the first time how much they had actually made just in these last five months and she was surprised (and happy). On their own they had experimented in various mediums and crated a wide variety of work. She said that in the past at school they would come away with mostly canned projects, with the teacher telling the students what to make and each step and how to do it. Then they would have an art show and show one piece from each student, chosen almost at random. That school boasts of its rich art program but the parents now think it is weak compared to what the boys are doing all by themselves at home with just materials and time on their hands.

My children ended up enjoying showing what they made too. They received oral compliments and written compliments. They were not embarrassed to show what they had. They had fun seeing their friends. My boys were happy that they went to the Fair and didn’t want to leave. The time flew by and I couldn’t believe that we had been there nearly two hours.

I think the event was a success and I hope the group does it next year.

I highly encourage all homeschool groups to do a Creative Arts Fair show, it is a wonderful experience.

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