Monday, February 11, 2008

Buzzing creativity: yesterday's MIT Museum workshop (moving away from a language of academics to a language of healthy child development)

Yesterday Camp Kaleidoscope had a workshop at the MIT Museum. It went really well -- a lot of people turned out and it all ran quite happily and smoothly.

Initially I had planned to a number of flying projects -- paper airplanes, propeller toys, and gliders made out of wood and file folders. The event had a lot of people (40ish at any one time) and I found that organizing that many activities at once felt too difficult. So we had a set-up for paper airplanes, where Terry (the inventor mentor!) showed kids things like how to attach balloons or rubber bands to their planes, and a set up for gliders, where a bunch of instructions and materials were left out.

We had hot glue guns out, which quickly turned into a creative art station. Families brought in machines to take apart -- a request in my email that I had forgotten I made -- so we quickly scared up some tools and got a take-apart station going. Parts from the take apart station would float over into the hot glue art station and get turned into big, sprawling art projects.

A half-hour into the workshop (which in its entirety was two hours, and families were free to come and go), I realized that I didn't need to be manning any of the stations; everyone looked happily engaged and things were taking care of itself. I spent a while floating around the room, trying to guide families that had just arrived (we didn't have anything up to indicate what was happening where) and also had a few conversations with new families, talking about how camped worked and how this event compared to camp.

I told parents that while camp was a little more structured -- we held meetings in camp to make it clear what was happening where and when -- the vibe you got at camp was the same as the vibe of this workshop. At the essence of both was a bunch of kids happily and energetically making stuff. I found myself constantly referring to the tangible energy in the air -- a sort of creative electricity -- and parents eagerly and quickly agreeing with me that they felt it too.

Later, talking to a friend on the phone, I described it as a "buzzing creativity" and found this phrase very apt. The idea of buzzing -- something you can see or feel constantly -- felt correct to describe the noise and sight of the workshop. There was clearly a lot going on, and you could see it, and you could hear it, and you could feel it. The sensation of it was at a level which to me was exciting, rather than overwhelming (energetic, rather than chaotic. I do imagine that the scene was chaotic for the first few minutes someone came in, until they figured out what was happening where and became part of the energetic creativity themselves.)

The idea of "buzzing creativity" also appeals to me as I've come to look for a language to describe what I want in a creative community of children, independent of the traditional academic and schooling language. I met with Bakhtiar Mikhak a few weeks ago, and he made the point that in creating the Kaleidoscope School (working name for now), it's important to define oneself not in opposition to schooling, but rather in terms of what experiences will be provided and how they will impact a child's development. He also said that it's very easy to slip back into describing things in terms of school or not school, academic or not, rather than simply discussing what you hope to do for a child. I found his points quite sound and have taken them as guides in my own thinking about how to describe and frame the school.

Buzzing creativity seems like a good goal to me in a creative community. There is a clarity to it: lots of people (in this case children) are making things, they are engaged, happy, and the whole of it feels good.

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