Did you see this Old Navy T-shirt in the shops last year? It was pulled from the shelves after causing a bit of an uproar over the implied message. But it’s not a new message. It’s a message that has always lurked beneath the surface of parental ambition…at least in certain circles.
As mentioned in last week’s Mandarin Show & Tell, Miss Chu loves making art. Anything to do with drawing, colouring, painting or printing gets her immediate attention and she has spent many a happy hour sketching and dabbling with bits of tape, card, glitter and whatever else she can scrounge from the shelves. Even Little Miss has been drawing prolifically lately.
It’s partly my fault; I love making art too and I’ve enthusiastically encouraged every small spark of artistic inclination ever since they could hold a crayon.
It doesn’t take much to persuade me to buy art supplies. And it doesn’t help that I now live rather too close to Art Friend, the biggest art-supply store in Singapore. Admittedly when the kids were younger, the fear of mess in our relatively small apartment deterred me a little from getting the paints out too often. But now that they’re a bit older (and we have outside patio space!) art happens almost every day.
And yet, I often think I should be trying to steer them towards something more, well, “useful” in their free time. You know what I mean – computer coding, or martial arts… or learning a musical instrument more seriously. At least, something where performance can be assessed, ability graded, certificates issued. Yes, the relentless attempts to “measure” children’s competence in various capacities makes me cringe, but I’ll admit there is some, if limited, value, to the whole exercise. Something for the preschool CV anyway. Can we really afford to waste all this time messing around with paper and glue?
I don’t know. I can’t change what I like and maybe it’s inevitable that the kids may end up following my interests. Despite being dissuaded from pursuing art formally in school, here I am over twenty years later, still drawing and making in my free time.
I like to convince myself that there is merit in encouraging these artistic pursuits. Isn’t “Creativity” now being lauded as the number one skill required to survive the 21st Century? Aren’t we living in an increasingly image-dominated culture where “Visual Literacy” will be key to successful communication? I’m also concerned that schools, with all their targets and testing these days, just can’t provide enough opportunities for kids to be freely-“hands-on”-creative, so maybe it’s worth offering up those kinds of opportunities outside of school. Certainly a lot has been written about this since Sir Ken Robinson asked “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” – almost a decade ago. It’s by far the most watched TED talk of all time.
Living in the Arts District in Singapore has been brilliant – there are plenty of museums and galleries, family-friendly arts workshops and the like. As the country has prospered in recent years, Singapore has made significant investments into developing a vibrant, growing arts industry, and there are far more opportunities to engage in the arts these days than when I lived here as a child.
Obviously the girls are still young, so I’m relaxed about letting them do whatever they want in their spare time, even if it is just sticking googly eyes on toilet rolls or play-doh on lollipop sticks. At this age they should still be exploring and experimenting and I don’t like to dictate their schedules too much.
And yet nagging thoughts at the back of my mind make me wonder whether their time could be used more “wisely”. Would a more sensible, ambitious parent also try to balance all this random doodling with more structured, STEM-inspired interests? Perhaps I should look into buying some of those snap-circuits or Goldieblox sets? When we were messing around with modeling clay the other day… I started inventing little sculptures to explain math instead.
Maybe I can still turn this around – and they can become astronauts after all. If they want to.