Coloring Outside the Lines: A Mom’s Eye View of Creativity in Kids

Step into my home and you’ll quickly discover that my family treasures art—from photographs of Colorado Aspens to folk art (a giant pig with the Southern U.S. painted on its hindquarters, adorning the wall of our dining room) to a collage of a honeybee that incorporates actual honeycomb and beeswax (and you clean it with a sock!)

But the art I treasure most is the mixed media from a young local artist, whose creations are bold, inspiring, emotional, and as unique as her tiny fingerprints. The artist is my 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Annie, for whom my husband and I have proudly transformed the largest wall of our kitchen into the Annie Ross Gallery, showcasing her seasonal and non-seasonal work. (I personally feel that handprint turkeys deserve more time in the sun than November alone). My favorite piece is a multi-color snowman, composed of paper plates and cut paper. Known to march to the beat of her own drummer, Annie chose to use the purple “hat” as the snowman’s face and the yellow “mittens” upside down and lower on the snowman, as pockets. Perhaps I will tell my friends that this snowman is Annie’s take on René Magritte’s The Son of Man. What I know for sure is that this snowman is helping my daughter find her voice.

When we foster creativity in our children, we are helping them to develop mentally, socially, and emotionally, grasping both fine motor and problem-solving skills. But too often, we praise the finished product, versus the process. I’ll take it a step back: I am teaching Annie to bake. When we presented our resident taste tester (my husband) with a recent batch of gingerbread cookies, Annie exclaimed, “I wore my apron just like Mom, and I picked the shapes!” The shapes, as it turned out, were a cookie cutter star, the letter A, and a sea lion. When baked, the sea lion looked more like a brontosaurus. Annie was beaming with pride. It was perfect. We praised her for how hard she worked. “Did you have fun baking?” my husband asked.

When we color together, whether on a table-sized sheet of kraft paper or the pages of a line art coloring book, I love to see Annie’s color selections and creative process. One of our favorite books to read together is The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers (and if you haven’t read it, you should–immediately): It’s a battle cry for going off script with crayon art.

Kids don’t need a creative brief in order to express themselves. Give them a canvas (be it a paper plate, a cookie, or a sheet of paper) and some interesting tools, and let them create a masterpiece.

Meg Ross is a Business Development Director, writer, and mom.

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