It all started when my dishwasher finally bit the dust. For months, I was MacGyvering my dishwasher. In order to get it to work, I first needed to whisper sweet nothings. “Bertha,”—I named her Bertha—“you can do it!” “Bertha, come on, we just had guests for Shabbos, help a girl out!” Finally, the strategically placed forks no longer worked. No jiggling, wiggling or begging would work. The machine would just not turn on. So, we went ahead and ordered a new dishwasher.
When our new dishwasher finally arrived the delivery men took out the old dishwasher and replaced it with the new one. As they were leaving, I asked if I could keep the huge cardboard box from the new dishwasher. A little surprised, they said, “Sure.”
I remember back about (ahem) 30 years when my neighbors got a new refrigerator and the fun my friends had with that box. They decorated it. They cut windows into it. They rolled around the backyard in it like one of those blow-up sumo wrestlers. All I remember is the jealousy I felt over that box. Now, I know this is a different time, and really, how can you compete with videos and the internet, but I thought my kids would enjoy such a box. Sure enough, two of my kids saw that box and dreamt of infinite possibilities.
The box became a gallery of art. My kids cut and pasted, painted and drew, added stickers and decorations on the outside and inside of the box. Then, they added pillows and blankets and sheets and clips and it became a fort, a secret hiding place. It grew and it shrank according to their collective whim and withstood many iterations. But it all started with that basic brown cardboard box.
These days, our kids are inside sitting in front of screens taking in information, ideas and pictures, without putting anything out. And, as school had just let out for yeshiva break, those same screens were showing up more often, whether it was on a plane ride to Florida, a car ride to Bubby’s or at home on the couch. But what can we do? It’s icy and freezing and we can’t go outside. I truly long for summer. When my kids are out of school during warmer weather, we can go to the park, take bicycle rides or even visit the Van Saun Park Zoo. At camp, they are involved in sports and swimming, arts and crafts and musical theater, and more. These are the cold days that force me to be a lot more creative when it comes to entertaining the kids.
I have four boys—four awesome, smart, creative, exciting, exhausting, extremely active and high-energy boys. Frankly, just writing that last sentence made me tired. But I love to harness that energy into productive activities. Sometimes, all we need is a nerf gun war—yes, the 2-year-old has his own—but other times, more creative pursuits are followed. Recently, when we had a snow day, the movies were over, it was too cold to play outside, and my 8-year-old wanted to sew a pillow. So we got out my sewing machine, took out some fabric scraps that I had, and he cut, pinned and sewed that pillow. He also stuffed and hand stitched it closed. I have pictures to prove it! It’s great for eye-hand coordination, for learning how to follow directions and amazing for a child’s self-esteem. It’s also a great way to spend time with your child. Now my 6-year-old wants to make a blanket; that’s next on the list.
That same 8-year-old decided he wanted to make dessert for Shabbos. So we looked through cookbooks, made sure we had the ingredients and made some delicious cookies. Recently, my 11-year-old cooked for Shabbos. He made everything—with a bit of supervision and help: challah, cholent, chicken, veggies, potatoes, salads, dips and even dessert. He was so proud of himself when he told everyone that he made everything for Shabbos. And it was great for me too!
I’m not telling you to go out and buy a sewing machine, or to chain your preteen to the stove, but a little creativity does wonders for everyone involved. Your child will be productive and proud of their accomplishments and you’ll be able to spend quality time with them—no screens involved. Whether it’s just coloring with markers, making cookies for Shabbos or stringing some beads for jewelry, getting your creative juices flowing can be just what you are looking for.
However, the best part about creativity is that it’s not season-specific, and it’s not just for your home. Your children’s schools utilize different materials, learning through different modalities and allowing children to express what they’ve learned in a multitude of ways that are geared toward your individual child. So, too, when looking at camps, look for camps that have an art program. As the art director at Camp 613, I make sure that our campers’ artistic expression goes well beyond pre-assembled kits and allows children to create their own pieces.
When making art, short-term projects are great, but also look for long-term art opportunities—where kids can create and keep changing and editing, adding and subtracting until it becomes exactly what they want it to be. But lastly, don’t forget the “arts” is not just painting and gluing. The “arts” can refer to music, drama, dance and even the culinary arts, all of which are part of the unique programming at Camp 613. No matter where you may be, there is always the opportunity to experience and grow through art.
By Miriam Rosenfeld
Miriam Rosenfeld is the art director at Camp 613. This will be her second summer providing opportunities for artistic expression for campers ages 3-13.