I love these two dinosaur skeletons the six-year-old drew at the museum yesterday…
I love these two dinosaur skeletons the six-year-old drew at the museum yesterday…
I made this list when my oldest was only 3. He’s 6 now.
Before I closed his bedroom door last night, I said, “Happy reading!”
“Happy… whatever it is you do after I go to bed,” he said.
“Goodnight!” I said, smiling and tiptoeing away…
It’s pretty damned inspiring to wake up in the morning and there’s your six-year-old already at the hotel room desk hard at work.
One of my favorite little art books to show the kids is photographer Inge Morath’s Saul Steinberg Masquerade, a collection of portraits of people wearing Steinberg’s paper-bag masks. (More from the book here.)
Here’s a mask Owen and I made when he was pretty small out of a Trader Joe’s bag:
Steinberg also made these funny little single sheet masks with just a spot for your nose. I’ll make one sometimes if we’re goofing around:
My pal Wendy is a big Steinberg geek, too — here she is entertaining Jules with a napkin a year ago in San Francisco:
The other day I reminded Owen of the book’s existence, and the next morning he surprised me in the bathroom:
Never gets old.
I think I could tell my boss to go to hell and quit my job and just construct elaborate marble runs for the rest of my life. (Although, now that I’m thinking about it, a book is kind of like a marble run — if you assemble it right, the reader drops in and flies through it…and maybe wants to go again at the end?)
“Your kids… They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
“Attitudes are caught, not taught.”
Fiona Apple once admitted that she doesn’t want kids, but she spends a lot of time buying and reading parenting books. The interviewer said, “So you’re the parent and the child.” Apple replied, “Well, I mean, you always have to be.”
Every time I read a piece like Pamela Paul’s “Let Children Get Bored Again,” I want to cross out the word “children” and write “us.”
The problem with parenting tips is that the best way to help your children become the kind of person you want them to be is by surrounding them with the kinds of people you want them to be. This includes you.
You can’t tell kids anything. Kids want to be like adults. They want to do what the adults are doing. You have to let them see adults behaving like the whole, human beings you’d like them to be.
If we want to raise whole human beings, we have to become whole human beings ourselves.
This is the really, really hard work.
Want your kids to read more? Let them see you reading every day.
Want your kids to practice an instrument? Let them see you practicing an instrument.
Want your kids to spend more time outside? Let them see you without your phone.
There’s no guarantee that your kids will copy your modeling, but they’ll get a glimpse of an engaged human. As my twitter pal, Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, tweeted a few years ago:
parents keep trying to push their kids toward certain interests when it works so much better to just dig into those interests yourself
oh, wait .. those aren’t YOUR interests? so you don’t want to dig into them? they aren’t your child’s interests either; why would THEY?
joyfully dig into your own interests and share all the ensuing wins, frustrations, struggles, successes
let your kids love what they love
when you share your learning and doing, you don’t make them also love (whatever); you DO show them how great it is to do meaningful work
If you spend more time in your life doing the things that you love and that you feel are worthwhile, the kids in your life will get hip to what that looks like.
“If adults can show what they love in front of kids, there’ll be some child who says, ‘I’d like to be like that!’ or ‘I’d like to do that!’” said Fred Rogers. He told a story about a sculptor in a nursery school he was working in when he was getting his master’s degree in child development:
There was a man who would come every week to sculpt in front of the kids. The director said, “I don’t want you to teach sculpting, I want you to do what you do and love it in front of the children.” During that year, clay was never used more imaginatively, before or after…. A great gift of any adult to a child, it seems to me, is to love what you do in front of the child. I mean, if you love to bicycle, if you love to repair things, do that in front of the children. Let them catch the attitude that that’s fun. Because you know, attitudes are caught, not taught.”
There’s a turn in Dougal Robertson’s Survive The Savage Sea that really touched me. It comes on the family’s 25th day as castaways: the sea calms down and there’s a “glorious sunset and a peacefulness of the spirit.” The group takes turns singing songs to each other. And then:
I felt that we had already gone beyond thinking in terms of survival. We had started living from the sea as an adapted way of life… we no longer thought of rescue as one of the main objectives of our existence; we were no longer subject to the daily disappointment of a lonely vigil, to the idea that help might be at hand or was necessary. We no longer had that helpless feeling of dependence on others for our continued existence. We were alone, and stood alone, inhabitants of the savage sea.
Nina Katchadourian talks about how much of the book (her favorite) is really about what it’s like to be a family, and I think that’s why this scene touched me so deeply.
There are moments with children, even in a boring, safe, suburban existence like mine, where you just feel like you’re in Survival Mode. And every once in a while it lifts and you feel like you’ve moved beyond just surviving, and you feel like you’re actually living. The children eat their food. You all tell stories and laugh. Books after tubs with no whining. You’re a quartet, and you’re all performing the same music.
The reasons these evenings are so wonderful is because they are so rare, and in such stark contrast to those Survival Mode days, when you’re just trying to get rid of the day as well as you can.
I’m now thinking about a passage that comes later in the “Analysis” section, when Robertson offers his thoughts on surviving in castaway situations:
If any single civilized factor in a castaway’s character helps survival, it is a well-developed sense of the ridiculous. It helps the castaway to laugh in the face of impossible situations and allows him, or her, to overcome the assassination of all civilized codes and characteristics which hitherto had been the guidelines of life.
“A well-developed sense of the ridiculous”—I cannot think of a better trait for a parent!
Garageband turned 15 yesterday. It was introduced at Macworld by Steve Jobs in January 2004. It’s so accessible and ubiquitous now, it’s easy to take for granted just how amazing a piece of software it really is.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the program — when I lived in England in 2004, I bought a USB MIDI controller so I could record tracks in my tiny little apartment on my new 12 inch Powerbook. I could then export them and put them on my new iPod, which seemed insanely futuristic and cool.
One afternoon a few years ago when we were bored, I showed my son Owen (now 6) how to make simple tracks on his little iPad mini, and ever since then, he’s been completely obsessed with the program. He spends, on average, at least an hour a day in Garageband. (He would spend way more if we didn’t limit his screen time, and we have to, because if we don’t he gets that weird zombie recording glaze in his eyes. [Musicians will know what I’m talking about.])
He has recorded 100s of songs. He started out, like most songwriters, covering songs by bands he likes. First, it was Kraftwerk. He came in one day after quiet time with this totally cool and insane version of “Autobahn.” Then he moved into parody. At my suggestion, he recorded Christmas versions of Kraftwerk songs. (“Christmasbahn,” “Trans Polar Express,” etc.) That was around the time he learned how to sample while looking for sleigh bells.
Eventually, I built us a little plug-and-play studio so we could record together with my good microphones and instruments.
Grandma gave the 5-year-old my old Ghostbusters shirt so I played him the theme song for the first time in the car and he came home and recorded a cover in Garageband ??? pic.twitter.com/suAFqiIAzY
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) August 3, 2018
He now records original tracks. Here is a song he recorded for his mom on Mother’s Day last year:
Recording music in Garageband is a gateway to all kinds of other activities. He loves, for example, coming up with album titles and band names and album art. (I’m convinced that this is part of the reason he can write and read so well for his age.) Here’s a hilarious screenshot I took of him spending a couple days in the studio with me, using Garageband on my old iMac:
Oh, he also likes to type out lyrics?
He saw the “Podcasts” preset and started recording his own podcasts. (I haven’t even gotten to tell him Marc Maron recorded Obama in in his garage… with Garageband.)
Garageband does a bunch of crazy stuff I didn’t even know it could do. For example, it will import MIDI files you download from the internet and show you the musical scores. One time Owen wanted to learn to play some of Bach’s cello suites on the keyboard, so I downloaded a midi file, opened it in Garageband, transposed it to the easy C key, and printed it out.
I’m constantly thinking about all the musical education possibilities with the program. Remember when Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails released their tracks as Garageband files and allowed fans to remix them? Imagine if you could download more classic tracks as Garageband projects. (It’d be amazing if the Song Exploder brand branched out into something like this.) Kids could see how recorded music is put together… with their own fingers.
I’m going on book tour this spring, and I’m worried about being away from the kids for two months. One of the things we have planned is that Owen and I will email Garageband tracks back and forth — I’ll start something on the plane and he can finish it during his iPad time (and vice versa.)
Like most parents, I angst about giving the kids too much screen time, but Garageband has taught me: Not all screen time is created equal. The right piece of software matched with a child’s natural proclivities and talents and passion can yield complete gold.
My son Jules woke up on Christmas last year and started drawing. He was 2. (His birthday is in March.)
Inspired by Sylvia Fein’s book Heidi’s Horse, which collects her daughters drawings from toddler to teenage years, I thought it’d be interesting to see how his drawings developed over the next 12 months.
From the very beginning, he has had unlimited, unrestricted access to markers and paper. From the very beginning, he has often drawn for over an hour, becoming extremely angry if we interrupt him. Here is a batch of skeletons — his great subject!
Here are some skeletons he drew on our outdoor couch cushions with sidewalk chalk.
They were so good we couldn’t bear to clean them off, so my wife got out her sewing machine and embroidered them. (This is how Jules got on Boing Boing’d at age 3.)
Here he is drawing along to Super Simple Draw in a hotel room.
Here’s a robot copied from Super Simple Draw. (Later in the year he would become fond of Ed Emberley books.)
Here he is in April, drawing along to Kraftwerk videos while singing “Man Machine” at the top of his lungs.
In May, he started drawing his favorite nursery rhymes. (Here are Jack & Jill.)
His drawings got incredibly gestural and emotional around this time.
Here he is copying Mo Willems’ pigeon. (Here’s his brother’s blog post about it.)
Later in the month, he drew our family as skeletons at the pool. I became fascinated by how he would draw people in his life using the moves he picked up drawing other characters.
Here’s another drawing of us in the pool.
Here he is with his brother drawing side by side.
July was also the month he got obsessed with The Scream.
Here’s a drawing he made after going to the dentist.
He also started drawing the characters from a Coco coloring book, even though he still refuses to watch the movie again, and screams whenever I mention it. (When you draw things, you’re in control of them.)
He also started drawing the human body.
Here is a photo of our kitchen floor on a day in September, to give you an idea of what one day’s worth of drawings looked like.
My wife and I would sweep them up with a broom at the end of the day.
This is around the time I got so fed up with the boys one afternoon I made the (extremely questionable) decision to read them Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies. (He can now draw the whole book from memory.)
Drawings of musicians — his other great subject!
A drawing from life made while waiting for his brother to finish art class at Laguna Gloria.
Finally, here he is on December 30, a year and 5 days after picking up his marker, drawing along to YouTube videos of Orchestras playing Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra.”
I find it remarkable, at this point, how drawing for him still has nothing to do with the results. He does not care what you do with his drawings after he’s done making them. How he draws is intense and adorable at the same time: he will put down a few lines, and then stand back and shake while he admires them.
I find it endlessly fascinating watching him draw. And inspiring.
“I take the opportunity each day offers.”
I usually feel a tremendous letdown the morning after Christmas — major “What next?” pangs — but this morning the sun came out so we walked our cranky selves down to the beach and made a bunch of driftwood sculptures. (This afternoon we might watch Rivers and Tides.)