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January 18, 2014

Let creativity flow with unstructured art projects

By June Dzialo
The Daily Star

---- — As I sit here writing this, the holiday glow is still going strong (my column deadline is two weeks before the publication date), and I’ve been spending a great deal of time not only with my daughter, but her stuff. We’re incredibly lucky to have a loving network of family and friends that spoil her, so I’ve been merging her new goodies with her old. 

Those close to us, and readers of this column, know that my daughter loves to make things, so she received many art kits. As I was putting them away, one thing became abundantly clear – most of these kits do not require any creativity. The only set she received without a strict set of bylaws was from a family friend, and it was to make-your-own pendants, which encourages the jewelry designer to go wild when decorating the enclosed heart-shaped crystals. Other than that, they all had clear-cut directions, with specific steps and materials and a pre-designed end product shown on the outside of the glossy box. Where’s the individuality? The imagination?

I began to wonder whether these super prefab kits are squashing our children’s natural inventiveness and resourcefulness. What are we teaching our children by providing such structured creativity? Will this have a long-term effect on their ability to think outside the box, thus making their career paths more difficult? 

There have been many studies showing that a lack of creativity in childhood does have a negative long-term effect on future accomplishments. This is not only true for budding artists, but boardrooms across the world rely on new, interesting concepts to grow and strive, and those who continually develop these ideas will go far in big business. 

Creativity is a muscle, which needs to be exercised to maintain and grow, so not utilizing it in childhood stunts the ability to use it in the future. Additionally, creativeness is strongly linked to self-confidence, critical thinking and problem solving — huge factors in lifelong success. An IBM Poll of more than 1,500 CEOs from around the globe rates creativity as the No. 1 trait future leaders must possess.

Looking around the house, particularly at this moment, there are so many reusable materials. So, I grabbed a box, which recently housed a present, wrapped it in some craft paper and filled it with abstract materials. I threw in everything from scraps of used wrapping paper and bows, to an oats canister and other recyclables, and even some broken items that can be given a new life. Add in some glitter, glue, scissors and other basic supplies, and my daughter now has a “free-form” arts box.

Though we’ve only officially had the box for a few days, it’s been a real hit with her. She loves to dig through the box and tell me the different ways she can use the supplies inside. I really love the byproducts of her hard work. And, without a set of rules, you really never know what you’re going to get. I love the floor plan of our home, which she made out of paper scraps and ribbons; it shows me how she sees her world. 

I’ve found myself pushing her Lego building sets to the back of her closet and moving her giant box of generic, no-specific-project Legos to the front; keeping art kit contents in zip bags, but recycling their glossy covers (which, in addition to removing the visual of an ideal end product, is also space saving — BONUS!); and leaving the box of “free-form” art supplies in the middle of the playroom.

In the end, I’d rather have her working with her hands and mind rather than watching television or playing video games — whether it’s with a structured kit or random supplies. So, bring on the glitter glue and sticker mosaics. I can’t think of a better way to spend free time … and the long-term benefits can’t be beat!

June Dzialo is the marketing director for The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown. Column ideas and questions may be sent to For more Around the Arts columns, visit