BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
Mastering the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic alone won’t fully prepare your child for the world ahead. Success is more readily available if they not only know a lot, but learn how to solve problems. Creative, critical thinkers are those who seek inventive strategies to solve enduring problems.
One of the most effective ways to help your children think more critically and creatively is exposing them to the arts. Allowing your children to express themselves dramatically, musically, and visually will push them to seek new ways of analyzing old information in order to create new answers. Because the arts are not a major part of most school curricula, parents need to provide their children with authentic creative experiences. Here are a few activities.
Enable your child’s dramatic expression by having him or her recite poetry in a fun and theatrical way. Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends is a collection of silly poems that your elementary school children will enjoy. Your middle school and high school kids, meanwhile, can take pleasure in reading the more mature poems found in Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade. Read one of the poems from these books with your child, discussing which sentences or phrases call for more emphasis and dramatic expression. Then have your child memorize the poem and practice saying it aloud with expression. Finally, have your child recite the poem during a family reunion or your own family talent show.
Billboard currently categorizes song titles in over 20 different genres of music. How many are your children familiar with? If he or she can only name artists from one or two music genres because they listen only to 107.5, consider diversifying their musical interests. Expose them to genres like new age, smooth jazz, and regional Mexican. Doing so may not only allow your child to appreciate a variety of musical styles, it may also enable them to better hold a conversation with individuals from other cultures.
Take your child’s music appreciation a step further and allow them to practice a musical instrument. Many schools have music programs that teach children how to read and play music. Research Chicago Public Schools and charter schools in your area to determine which ones offer such a program. You can also buy instruments from stores like Walmart and Target that come equipped with instructional materials. For less money, pick up a used instrument from a thrift store and download free teaching tools from the Web that your child can use.
So your child has no interest in turning his stick figures into Picasso-like paintings? You can still provide him or her with visual art experiences. Head to the Art Institute of Chicago, where art from various cultures is represented. There, you and your child can see paintings, photographs and sculptures from both American and international artists. The Art Institute is free for children under 14, but has free admission for all ages on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. It is a wonderful place for an after-school family outing.
If your child is interested in applying what he or she learns from the Art Institute, encourage their motivation by making them photographers. A cheap and fun way to turn your child into the next Gordon Parks is getting a disposable camera and a subject. For example, your child can use the subject “spring” to shoot images of the season (e.g., flowers, sunny landscapes and individuals cleaning). Then develop the pictures and have your child place them in a photo album. Ask your child to write a description for each image, explaining how the photo relates to spring, below each picture. Using the camera in this way allows your child to view a subject from a different perspective, just like the artwork they may view at the Art Institute.
Stretch your children’s thinking past the core subject areas by enhancing your child’s artistic expression and helping them become more creative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers.
China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.