Coloring Outside the Lines

When I was little, I remember studying about Japanese culture in 3rd grade. It was one that my particular teacher was passionate about. She did it every year with her students, so when I found out I was in her class, I was very excited. I was looking forward to it. We studied Japanese history, learned about the tea ceremony and did art projects. That's where the fun ended for me. My teacher was showing the class how to paint bamboo using watercolors. Try as I might, I just couldn't get it right. She had to keep coming back to me over and over and every time I tried, I couldn't get it to look like hers. It was probably at this point that I stopped enjoying creative things and stuck with math and science. I knew when I got something wrong and could figure out why.

Ever since then, I just assumed I wasn't a creative person. When I taught preschool, I vowed I would never make my students feel like I did about my artwork. At least, I didn't want to be the one they thought back on as the "creativity killer." And so I steered clear of mass-produced coloring sheets and just provided art materials for them to goof off with. They had a blast. I oohed and aahed over everything they made and they were so proud of it.

When I started homeschooling my kids, I did the same thing. Janna immediately gravitated towards this type of school. Matthew, not so much. It wasn't active enough for him, I guess. But Janna...she would spend hours just messing around with paint and crayons and markers, drawing tons of pictures. She was so gifted in being able to take raw materials and see potential in them---and then turn them into works of art. Even to this day, her sermon notes at church are beautifully decorated with fancy doodles and swirls.

When she began to outstrip my artistic abilities, I took her to the home of a dear lady from church for some more direct instruction. I could see her really blossom and grow in her confidence. As a quiet girl, this was one way she can really express herself. Her work gave her a lot of pride, and if she was critical about it, it didn't really freeze her from trying again. She was her own judge---and she didn't compare it with anyone else.

Only as I have watched my daughter create have I become willing to try again myself. For creating---whether it be with art or with music---is a reflection of the creativity of God. The ability to push the limits, to "color outside the lines" is something I want for my children to develop. Too often, school is a series of boxes to check off and answers right or wrong. But art and music give my children a chance to experiment, play and see what happens.

When our kids grow up, that is what our world is going to need---people who think creatively, outside the box. I pray that by providing opportunities to dabble with art and music, that they will be able to keep their minds elastic and moldable, so that they can see new ways of tackling problems or meeting needs that they see around them. They may not be the next Michelangelo, but that's worth a pack of markers and the mess of paint.

Part 5 of The Gift of Education