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Why Creativity Classes?

It is my belief that creative people make the world go round. Creativity is the essence of all new ideas, nonstandard approaches, and groundbreaking innovations. Childhood is the best time to inspire human creativity. By regularly exposing children to works of art and classical music as well as helping kids to process their experiences through games, crafts, and dramatic play, adults have an opportunity to cultivate their creativity. Let the creativity blossom!

NEW! My Creativity Tools

Let’s Celebrate Spring With Vivaldi!

Yes, the spring is finally here! Our children can spend more time outside after being cooped up in houses during the long winter. Don’t you just love spring air? And gentle crocuses and snowdrops pushing their pretty heads through the soil? Everything is so full of vitality and exuberance! Just like Vivaldi’s music in his Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, Spring (La primavera). More widely this timeless piece of music is known as being a part of four Vivaldi’s violin concerti The Four Seasons. And this is a perfect piece to use for introducing your young one to classical music.

Here are some of the activities you can do with Vivaldi’s Spring:

  • Talk with your child about spring, then listen and enjoy the music together!
  • Try guessing together, while listening, what some fragments of music remind you off: singing of birds, rain, thunderstorm, etc. You can check out sonnets supposedly written by Vivaldi to get some ideas.
  • Move together with the music, pretend doing different things related to spring with the music.
  • Read children’s books before or after listening to Vivaldi’s Spring. For younger readers I recommend The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day by Jessica Courtney-Tickle. Older readers might enjoy the story behind Vivaldi’s creation of Four Seasons. For that purpose I love Anna Celenza’s book Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
  • For even dipper immersion into Vivaldi’s world, listen to  Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery by Classical Kids CDs. Can’t praise enough this magical story that will make Vivaldi and his world so much closer to young students. For kids ages 6+.

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

More Awesome Books Introducing Young Kids to Art and Artists

There are so many books introducing young kids to art and artists. Not all of them are created equal, though. Some look like they have promise, but in reality they just fall short of being moving for young readers. So, how does one chose the art book for a young child? Here are a few things to consider.

Here are a few things to consider.

  • Your child’s age
  • Your own expectations
  • Whether or not your child had previous experience with fine art

Of course, in any age you can simply show to a child an artwork and observe her reactions. You can talk to your kid about the subjects, feelings, colors, shapes, etc. In that case, you don’t need any special art book; your favorite “grown-up” book with artworks’ reproductions will serve this purpose quite well.

But what if you want to introduce your child to the world of fine art with children’s book? What if your child is still pretty young, like 3-4 years old? I would ask myself, first, what do I want to accomplish? Do I want my child visually remember the art work? Do I expect her to remember artists’ name and style? And, most importantly, why do I want my child to be introduced to fine art?

If my goal is for her to have factual knowledge, like artist’s name and style, then it could be easily accomplished just by “showing and telling” kind of book. I always felt that this is the wrong type of books for young children. To me, art must stir emotions and many biographical books for young readers fail to do so. I believe, that factual knowledge will “stick” better with older kids, not to mention that it’s wide availability online makes it easily accessible. It doesn’t mean that children should not be told artists’ names, artworks’ titles, styles or any other information you wish to share. It could be mentioned, of course, as long as it doesn’t become the main point of learning.

I’ve noticed that for some young kids who never experienced art before, it takes some time to get used to looking at artworks. That’s why a good children’s art book that uses creative approach could be invaluable. It’s like a good teacher: sometime through game, other time through story, and yet another time just through cleverly chosen artworks, a book creates an exciting emotional experience. And this could be the first step into a lifelong love for fine art. Isn’t that what your goal should be?

Here are some amazing children’s books I “found” and want to share with you.

I love children’s art books by Bob Raczka. Many of them are so original and thought provoking. 3-D ABC is not your regular art ABC book. Unique assembly of sculptures in the book provides readers with delightful visual experience and serves as great conversation starter.

Another Raszka’s book Art Is… makes one feel like visiting art museum while being guided by a playful rhyme. The book could be read first and then revisited multiple times posing at each image like one would in each room of art museum. Feel free to explore, guess, discuss, and learn.

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock is a story about the artist Vasily Kandinsky. Like I mentioned before, there are many children’s books with artist’s biographies, but this book has qualities of a fairy tale. The magically spun tale with handsome illustrations by Mary GrandPré (best known for her illustrations of Harry Potter series), transforms the young reader to the world somewhat similar to Clara Stahlbaum’s family from The Nutcracker. Even though there is no magic per se in a story, you feel like it’s about to happen anytime. You might want to supplement this book with some bigger size images of Kandinsky’s work because the ones in a book are rather small.

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

My Tools to Inspire Creativity

CREATIVITY TOOL # 5: CRAFTS *

All crafts have potential for creativity, especially if children are allowed to add their own ideas. Even store bought craft kits can become original creations if your child is inclined to go beyond what kits have to offer. If you would like to nurture her imagination through crafts even further, consider a few following ideas.

It’s all about materials

Encourage creativity by offering variety of materials. There is no rule here. As long as they could be attached (glued, connected, inserted, etc.) somehow, they could be combined. Remember: using materials in a unusual ways is both fascinating and creative. And thinking of how to make them work together is problem solving too!

How do you connect many different materials? With young kids I prefer to use basic stuff, like glue, scotch tape, duct tape (or colorful duck tape), playdough, and modeling clay. That’s right, I like using modeling clay for connecting parts and decorating plastic and cardboard. It’s a little harder than playdough, but it never dries up (unlike playdough), could be reused, and sticks to different materials. Multiple things, like beads, sequins, and natural materials could be inserted in it too.

Using Recycling Materials

I LOVE using recycling materials. Call me weird, but when I look at some plastic and cardboard containers, lids, hangers, candy trays, and other recycling materials, I see possibilities for creating toy vases, masks, bird nests, and buildings. And when I brought recycling materials to my students, they saw their own amazing creations in them too!

Make Them Active Participants

I often see parents’ tendency to create things, like simple toys, play scenes, or cardboard houses for their kids rather than with their kids. I’m not sure if this happens because parents strive for perfection or enjoy creating themselves. I, personally, don’t see any reason, why these kinds of simple projects can’t be made together with kids.

Yes, they won’t look perfect, but there will be great opportunities for adult’s and child’s collaboration and inventiveness. Just trust your kids!

Also, make them active participants in collecting materials for future craft. Of course, you can go on scavenger hunt for natural materials. But you can also do the scavenger hunt at home. Look together in a kitchen for drinking straws, plastic bottles and yogurt containers, lids in all shapes and sizes, etc. Look through the old clothes and cut off some buttons. Check out cardboard boxes, packaging materials, wrapping and tissue paper, magazines’ and greeting cards’ cutouts. Don’t forget broken or unused jewelry. Voila! You have a great mix of materials for many different crafts.

Joseph and His Little Overcoat

I discovered this book only recently and immediately fell in love with it. This is not a craft book, but a fun story about a very creative man. It also carries an important message:

It’s true that Joseph’s creativity was driven by necessity. His ability to make a new thing out of original one, however, is not just an essence of repurposing, but also is essential quality of creativity.

As you gather stuff throughout the house, ask your child, “What this container looks like (reminds you off, can be used for in your craft?)” When she sits down to make her craft, ask her, “How can you use these buttons in your craft?”

Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

I love to pair painting (or drawing) with classical music. Here are few steps you can follow to give it a try:

  • Listen with your child to classical music, watch a YouTube performance or some segments from favorite ballets.
  • Talk to your child about their experience
  • Set up drawing or painting and play the piece(s) she enjoyed.

Here are some of my favorite pieces to play for this activity:

Fine art is an amazing source of inspiration for young imaginative minds. Any painting , sculpture, and even architecture can lead to an interesting discussion followed by an art project. Need some help? I bet you can find plenty of projects online. In my earlier blogs, I introduced many children’s books that can help with ideas too. One thing to keep in mind, though, is your goal: do you want your child to copy an art project, to create a neat art project, or just let her be guided by her own imagination? The choice is yours.

*Click here for my other  CREATIVITY TOOLS

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

My Tools to Inspire Creativity

CREATIVITY TOOL # 4: humor *

It’s not an accident that I am including “humor” in my Creativity Tool Box. Here is how humor encourages creativity in children:

  • Kids enjoy humor
  • It makes them feel more relaxed and playful
  • In order to prolong the hilarity they are motivated to become active participants in goofing around
  • They feel comfortable enough to exercise their flexible thinking by creating funny words, situations, activities, etc.
Humor in Books

There are many great funny books in children’s literature, but some are easier to use than others when it comes to inspiring creativity in young kids. My favorite ones are nonsense books, like books by Dr. Seuss. His simple and silly rhymes encourage children to play with language and create their own wacky words (and even rhymes).

So, why not to goof around like Dr. Seuss in his books? Here are some activities you can do with nonsense books:

  • Make pictures of funny looking creatures and ask your child to name them
  • Invite her to draw (paint, or make with play dough) her own crazy characters and name them
  • Make simple absurd rhymes and teach your kid to do the same: BOFA – sofa – …., KNOX – box -…., etc.
  • Toss the ball to each other as you practice silly words and absurd rhymes.

Oh, this is so liberating and fun!

If you read a funny book (not a nonsense one), you can still use it to inspire creativity in your child. Talk about other silly situations that might happen to the main character and invite your child to join. Make suggestions like, “I think, next day (the name of the main character) went to (come up with some funny place or situation). Ask your child to continue. The story doesn’t have to be long or logical, just fun!

Humor in Play

The children are so good at being silly (and creative!) When it doesn’t interfere with your schedule (like heading out the door when your son decided to practice creativity with getting dressed) allow and encourage it.

Here are some additional ideas you can try:

  • Cut out paper animals, cut them into few parts and invite your child to assemble them into silly looking creature. Ask him to name the creature.
  • Do the same with paper person (or face) and mix up the body parts (or facial parts). Your child can glue them to make an absurd person (or face).
  • While playing pretend have dress up in crazy ways. Have a competition for the best crazy costume.
Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

There are many awesome artworks that can inspire your child’s creativity. Here are just some of them:

  • Show your child Arcimboldo’s paintings. They are hilarious. Your child can make her own portraits based on Arcimboldo’s paintings just like my students did. She can use items found around the house.
  • Look with your child at some surrealistic paintings by Rene Magritte, like Son of Man or Golconda. Aren’t they funny? Your kid can make his own craft inspired by one of the paintings. Here is the one my students made during one of my classes.

And who said you can’t fool around with classical music? Richard Perlmutter, certainly, did when he created his amazing series Beethoven’s Wig. Each CD or MP3 contains some of the greatest hits of classical music paired with hilarious lyrics. In addition, there are original musical pieces too. Check them out in your local library or get at least one of them for nonstop fun.

Next Week CREATIVITY TOOL #5: crafts

*Click here for my other  CREATIVITY TOOLS

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

My Tools to Inspire Creativity

creativity tool # 3: Books *

Have you ever wondered how great children’s books manage to transport our kids into worlds of rabbit holes and neverlands? One thing is certain: books are magical tools for nurturing kids’ imagination.

And books are the easiest ones “to use” to inspire creativity: parent’s don’t need to do anything to make them work their magic. Sometimes, parents don’t even need to read them to their children because illustrations do the job instead. Have your child, who is not reading yet, ever offered to read you a book? He can, of course. He will created his own version. He might not know it, but at the moment, when he tells you a story relying on pictures, he is practicing his storytelling skills as well as his creativity.

Reenacting and Making up Stories

There are many ways to encourage storytelling and creativity in young kids. Especially, if they are not exhibit their own desire to tell a story. Here are some ideas.

  • Puppet shows are great for retelling stories, practicing speaking in front of the audience, coming up with the story on a fly, and, of course, stimulating imagination. Homemade puppets are easy to make if you don’t have them or want some new ones. Just print out and cutout some characters or use the stickers of your favorite characters and attach them to wooden craft sticks. Your child an you can reenact a story from a book (practicing retelling the story) or create your own story while putting on a show.
  • Make a story game. After you read or retell a story to your kid, invite her to create simple “scenes” from the story. Use construction paper for grass, forest, ocean, etc. Cut out mountains, trees, or anything else your scene requires. Use blocks for simple buildings. Involve your child in creation of the scene.

Once landscape is done, she can use toy characters or make her own characters to play. Use “story game” to retell the plot or allow your child to “play with a story”. While she is playing pretend with her “story game”, encourage her to narrate it .

To make your own characters, you can find images for the characters online, print them, cut out (alternatively, your child might do the cutting and coloring if needed). The last part is to make your characters “stand”. First of all, you can make them sturdy by gluing them to the card board and then cutting out again. My students and I made standees by cutting rings (about 3 inches tall) from paper towel tube, making two vertical cuts on both sides of each ring, and inserting the tree and the characters into the cuts. If this construction feels flimsy, feel free to make it sturdier by using scotch tape and small playdough containers underneath standees. Or better yet, create your own standee!

Books and Crafts

Some kids like to draw and make crafts based on the books they read. Nowadays, one can find online zillion activities based on children’s books. But what if your child is not into arts and crafts? Should you even bother motivating him to draw pictures or make crafts based on what he reads? I say it’s worth trying, and here is why.

Making crafts promotes fine motor skills and helps children to work with shapes, colors, and textures. But best of all, while making art projects kids get to experiment with different materials in playful and creative ways. Here are some of the crafts my students made for The Princess and The Pea fairytale. Notice different ability levels, and variety of materials used. Some of them, like modeling clay, is used in unusual way (spread on the cardboard). My favorite of the crafts, is the one where a child decided to put entire royal family to sleep on a pea and even made one child fall of the bad. For me, this is a great example of creativity: changing the plot as a result of making a craft.

There are number of different things you can do in general to motivate your child to try craft making. Here are some of my ideas that encourage interest in art projects based specifically on books.

  • Choose a favorite book or story
  • Prepare variety of materials and use them in unusual ways.
  • Work side-by-side with your kid
  • Emphasize creative and fun aspects of your child’s work (your ….. looks so different from mine, your ….. is so colorful, you are using ….. in such an unusual way, etc.)
Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

There are so many great books about fine art and artists, and many of them come with the projects. Here are some of my favorite ones. Click on each picture to get a link to Amazon. But before buying, check them in your local library.

And here are my favorite books that either have discs with classical music included or could be pared with separate discs. Children can read the story, listen to the music, and reenact some parts of the story. Encourage diversion from the plot, let their fantasy soar.

Next Week CREATIVITY TOOL #4: humor

* Click here for my other creativity tools

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

My Tools to Inspire Creativity

CREATIVITY TOOL #2: PLAYING PRETEND *

For me, there is no other activity in which imagination rules so freely as in pretend play. I LOVE the way place looks after kids had a good long pretend game! The leftover chaos has an unmistakable quality of hard work combined with inventiveness and fun. (Oh, don’t get me wrong, I do not like cleaning up that mess, but I would allow it again and again!)

Children are so naturally innovative and flexible, so everything goes. I remember smiling when opening toy purse filled with plastic hotdog, money, ring, cup, plastic animal, and pencil (the stuff my 4 year old packed to go on pretend adventure). Things get mixed and matched: blocks, costumes, toys, and household items. And that is the best kind of creative play!

So what can we, adults, do to encourage creative dramatic play? Let’s start by providing children with some basic stuff.

The Best Toys are Generic Ones

Who said blocks are only for building? Simple wooden blocks are the most generic toys. They are also ones of the most versatile toys. Their plain geometrical shapes make them perfect replacement for any item in dramatic play. Need a cellphone? Use a block. A table for toy people? Use a block. A toy bed? You’ve guessed it! I’ve seen children reaching for blocks even to replace hair drier and hair brash while playing hair salon. And this is exactly how having wooden blocks encourages creativity and flexible thinking in children: simple shapes can practically be anything they wish them to be.

My other favorite is blanket (old sheet, curtain, table cloth, etc.) You might remember using it yourself in your childhood: building forts, making capes, using as picnic blanket. Here are a few more ideas: incorporating blanket as part of a landscape in a dramatic play. Blue blanket could be pretend ocean for a ship to sail, yellow or orange – beach or desert, green – grass. Actually, if you have colorful placement mats, kids can use them the same way too. In fact, even construction paper could be used to create a scene.

Most importantly, just provide kids with a blanket. They will come up with ideas.

Remember Toy Story? Different characters living in the same room and enjoying play time with the boy? Mixing and matching generic toy characters (like man, woman, child, toy animals, dinosaurs) with special characters (superheroes, Disney characters, etc.) allows children’s fantasy soar.

Grown-up Stuff, Costumes, and Household Items

Children love household items as well as grown-up stuff (purses, wallets, old cellphones, old cameras, straw hats, sun glasses, etc.) This is great for us, adults: we always have this kind of objects available. It’s also very important for children: not only pretending being adults helps them to build confidence, it’s also stimulates their imagination. Especially, if they use these items in a novel way. For example, use pot lid as driving wheel.

And don’t forget the costumes! They are not just for Halloween, and they don’t have to be fancy. Kids will make use of any combination of grown up clothes, their old costumes, and homemade accessories (here is a good time to use that blanket for a cape).

Ideas for Rainy Day

Usually kids have no problems coming up with ideas for dramatic play, but occasionally, they run out of steam. What can we do to get them back in the groove? Here are some ideas.

  • Have Christmas in July and Halloween in March. In childhood, holidays and birthday parties can happen whenever children are ready for them. So, pretend to deliver the presents and go trick-or-treating anytime. Here is the craft (video on a left) to help you to prepare for trick-or-treating pretend style.
  • Play pretend Library, Postal Office, Vacation, Birthday Party for a toy character or stuffed animal, Circus, or Amusement Park (spin upside down umbrella with stuffed animals for the best carousel in town).
  • Make it funny: dress up in a wacky way, cook disgusting stuff, sell funny products (for example Lego blocks ice cream).

Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

Listen to classical music and watch ballets (you may start with fragments). Then reenact favorite scenes with the music. Here are some ideas:

  • Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals
  • Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
  • Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty
  • Respighi’s La Boutique Fantasque

You can always rely on fine art to find ideas for dress up play. Use the opportunity to discuss fashion of the past (wigs, long gowns, funny looking hats and shoes, etc.) Just check out some famous artists. Here are just a few ideas. Feel free to use your own favorite artworks.

Next Week CREATIVITY TOOL #3: BOOKS

* Click here for my other creativity tools

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

My Tools to Inspire Creativity

Creativity Tool #1: Nature *

Most kids love being outside. I don’t need to convince anyone how great and important it is for children to spend time outdoors. Neither would I give an advice on how to use nature to “teach” science to young kids. I would love, though, to share, with parents some creative ideas that use children’s experiences with nature to inspire creativity.

Looking at Nature, Listening to Nature

Every time I go outdoors, I’m amazed at all the shapes and colors one can spy in nature. And children are great at noticing and imagining things. So, share your observations: “I think this twig looks like…” Or: “This rock reminds me off… What do you think?” You can even make up a story. “Once upon a time there lived two brothers acorns…” Or: “In a big hollow tree there once lived…”

Let them continue. The story doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It should just be about noticing and imagining. You can start your story with questions: who do you think might live in this tree? How come the leaf has a hole shaped like heart?

The same way you can encourage your child to listen to nature. What is this sound? How does wind sound? Or singing birds? Or buzzing bee? Ask your child to make sounds like the ones you two discovered in nature. Most importantly, have fun looking, listening, and discovering!

Treasure Hunts and Other Activities

I bet you and your children done many wonderful treasure hunts. They are especially fun in a fall. Here are some activities to do with natural “treasures”.

  • Play pretend kitchen. Take out toy cooking set or real plastic containers and spoons and let your little ones cook some delicious meals for their favorite toy characters. Have you ever tasted acorn soup? How about some pebble muffins? Let their imagination run wild as long as they are not tasting the dishes themselves!
  • Build a house for a fairy (alternatively, any small animal, bug, or imaginary character). Use the twigs, leaves, pebbles, etc. to build a small house. No warries if the house has unconventional shape or doesn’t seem to last.
  • Play an ice cream shop. Make paper cones with old magazine pages and let your kids pretend to “scoop” the ice cream (pine cones, pebbles, acorns, etc.)
  • Bring your natural treasures home for making crafts. You can also show your kid how to press and preserve leaves and wild flowers.
Crafts

There are so many wonderful crafts you can make with your child with natural materials. Here are some of the ideas I made with my students. Feel free to try making them: we had fun, and your child might enjoy making them too!

Great Books for Kids and Adults

Here are some of my favorite books that inspire creativity with nature.

Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music

There are so many great paintings depicting nature. Make sure to show them to your child. Good quality reproductions could be found either in books or online. Here are just a few ideas.

Listen to the classical music for sounds in nature. Here are some ideas:

Next Week CREATIVITY TOOL #2: playing pretend

* Click here for my other CREATIVITY TOOLS

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

Let’s learn about musical instruments

Long before your child gets to learn to play musical instrument, he can learn about instruments and have fun with them too. Chances are, your child is already familiar with some of them and, most likely, has some toy musical instruments that he loves to play. Good! Let’s encourage it with variety of fun activities.

Books and CDs.

There are some really good books about instruments. Some come with CDs, while others just tell the story. If the book has no CD, you can still read the story and then “demonstrate” what the instruments mentioned in a book sound and look like. You can find examples on YouTube. Here are some of my favorite books.

  • Peter and the Wolf by S. Prokofiev was specifically written as child’s introduction to orchestra instruments. I love both, the one that comes with CD because it has CD and the one without it because the illustrations give reader a true taste of Russian story. The latest one (without CD) does need to be accompanied by a Prokofiev’s CD.
  • Tubby the Tuba is so much fun! You might remember it from your own childhood if you ever watched the animated film. This book could be used as the beginning of discussion about orchestra and instruments. As children fall in love with Tubby (and I promise you, they will!) and other characters, you might want to show what these instruments look and sound like. And don’t forget to tell about the role of conductor in orchestra!
  • Lemony’s Snicket’s The Composer is Dead might be fun especially if your kid is old enough to enjoy the word play, like composing vs decomposing.
MP3s and CDs.
  • Stories in Music: Peter & The Wolf from Maestro Classics is not just a version of musical story I mentioned above, but also a music lesson with all kinds of fun and educational activities included.
  • Have you ever listened to Beethoven’s Wig CDs? If not, than you are in for a treat: they are hilarious! Though, not exactly, introduction to musical instrument, your child will sure remember what piano sounds like after this one: Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Piano Classics. Did I mentioned you and your kid will lough as you listen? And don’t skip the original version of piano pieces. In fact, you can play a game with your child: ask her to to match the the “funny” version to the original one.
Make your own musical instruments.

Make them as simple as two metal pot lids for cymbals or as complicated as cereal box guitar. Here are some instruments I made with my students: the shaker and den-den drum without a handle.

For shaker you can use any container with a lid or a cap (we used a bottles and empty playdough containers). Put in beads, rice, beans, etc. The best part is to decorate them with stickers and colorful duck tape or anything that could be glued or attached to decorate the shaker.

For den-den drum we used 2 bigger size lids connected by a duck tape. Before we connected them, we laid the string over the bottom lid and then covered it with the second (top) lid. We attached big wooden beads on each end of the string. As den-den drum turned up and down, the beads hit it and produce the sound.

Let’s conduct the orchestra!

You can also help your child “practice” playing toy or homemade instruments. Pretend to be a conductor using a pencil as conductor’s baton. Practice to start (baton goes up) and to stop (baton goes down). Practice to play fast and slow, loud and soft. Highlight the new words or the words associated with new skills, like orchestra, baton, loud, soft, fast, and slow. From my experience, children really like to pretend being an orchestra (even if it’s and orchestra of only one musician!)

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

The Nutcracker Ballet and Beyond

Most of American children know The Nutcracker as a ballet, while some are familiar with a movie thanks to Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But how many heard of the original story by E. T. A. Hoffmann? Why not to start a child’s introduction to Nutcracker with the book itself? Or better yet, with the story of the nutcracker doll. In fact, young children may enjoy many different activities with everyone’s favorite Christmas character.

Nice to Meet you, Nutcracker!

Show a nutcracker doll to a child and explain what is it supposed to be used for.

If you have any nut in a house, show how the nutcracker is supposed to crack the nut, but explain that nowadays nutcrackers are mostly decorative. Tell that nutcracker dolls have been first made in Germany and were often given as gifts for Christmas.

Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

I know, the original Hoffmann’s tale is for ages 10 and older. However, there are many good adaptations. Here is one of my personal favorites adapted for younger readers by Janet Schulman.  I loved the illustrations and the fact that the book introduces the story rather than the ballet’s plot. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Tchaikovsky’  ballet. I just think that the story has it’s own value and might be introduced for its own sake.

If you think the book is too long for your kid, or some parts sound too controversial, you may always skip them or retell the story and show the pictures. You and your child can even create a game that would help you to reenact the plot and practice retelling the story.

Let’s Make The Nutcracker Story Come Alive!

There are two core settings in a book: Stahlbaum’s house and Candyland. For the base of each setting you may use cardboard cut out from cereal box. Your child will help you to glue colorful wrapping or construction paper on top of the base. He might also have fun decorating the base with drawings, stickers, bright buttons, confetti, sequins, or any other colorful items you can find in a house. Don’t forget the Christmas Tree: your child (or you) may cut it out of construction paper and decorate it as well. You can find images for the characters online, print them, cut out (alternatively, your child might do the cutting). The last part is to make your Christmas Tree and characters “stand”. First of all, you can make them sturdy by gluing them to the card board and then cutting out again. My students and I made standees by cutting rings (about 3 inches tall) from paper towel tube, making two vertical cuts on both sides of each ring, and inserting the tree and the characters into the cuts. If this construction feels flimsy, feel free to make it sturdier by using scotch tape and small playdough containers underneath standees. Or better yet, create your own standee!

Voila! You and your child are ready to play and retell The Nutcracker and the Mouse King!

Finally, the Ballet!

Does your child know what ballet is? The answer is easy if she is taking ballet lessons. Still, it doesn’t mean she had a chance to watch a professional ballet. In this case (or if the whole idea is entirely new to her), start from the beginning. I bet you can show her some short segments on YouTube. You might also tell, how P. I. Tchaikovsky wrote music for Hoffmann’s tale, but changed it a little bit.

You may use the same game that you and your child created for retelling the story for reenacting the ballet’s plot. Just add additional setting: Winter Wonderland. Create it the same way as other scenes and let it snow with cotton balls or torn pieces of Kleenex.

Play the game with Tchaikovsky’s music. Your child might also want to reenact some scenes. Girls might enjoy dancing like snowflakes or flowers, while boys might enjoy fighting with the Mouse King.

Finally, when you decide to watch the ballet, make it special. Even if you can’t go to theater, you can still bring theater home.

Nutcracker is NOT Just for Christmas!

And don’t feel disappointed if you never got do any of Nutcracker activities because of holiday’s hustle and bustle. Don’t postpone until next holiday season. Kids’ imagination will transform any season into Christmas season. Just do it!

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.

Inspire With a Story

Tell Them (or Retell) a Story

Have you recently told your child a bedtime story? A going-for-a-walk-time story? A having-breakfast-together-time story? A waiting-for-a-doctor’s-appointment-time story?

The truth is, there is no wrong time to tell child a story. Especially, when it comes to retelling stories. Yes, telling family stories is great. But I want to talk about retelling children stories, fairy tales, or even stories for older kids that you don’t think your child is quite ready to read yet.

You may ask why bother if you could just read her a book. Here is an excellent article that addresses just that issue. While article talks about teachers, the parent (or grandparent) can, absolutely, do the same. In fact, it might help to establish an additional bond between a child and adult. Since you are the one who knows your kid the best, you can adopt a story to make it a little less scary, a little funnier, or just add or omit some details. This way the story becomes so much more special: it’s designed by you with you child in mind.

It’s okay if you are not comfortable in retelling stories at first. Choose something simple, with repetitive story line, like The Gingerbread Man. By the way, many folktales have repetitive story lines. Make it personal, make it fun, and include your child in this process. Say together, “You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!” It doesn’t have to be a new story either, it just have to be FUN!

What Message Retelling is Sending

Among other benefits, retelling creates a family tradition of story sharing. As child grows older and sees retelling as a natural thing to do, he starts retelling stories too. This is a great way to practice so many important skills: vocabulary words, speaking in front of audience, and using imagination, just to name a few.

So, don’t wait for the bedtime. Retell story anytime!

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through Elementary school visit my group on Facebook