And this is how I lured them in…
Sometimes my kids aren’t interested in a Fabulous Exciting Amazing Art Project I think they’ll love. I’m not terribly surprised when this happens. They’ve trained me well. Sometimes they love things I think they’ll hate, and sometimes they hate things I think they’ll love. That’s life, and they have every right to their opinions.
If it’s that Fabulous and Amazing, I’m either already doing it myself, or I’m about to start doing it. There aren’t any “kid’s art projects” around here. There’s just Art, regardless of age, entirely dependent on the artists’ interests and abilities: if you can whittle it, draw it, paint it, go for it. This is great for a lot of reasons—supplies are shared within the family, kids have access to good-quality materials, and projects can be done alongside siblings and adults. It helps young artists feel that what they’re doing is “real” art (if there was ever any question), and I don’t end up painting with crappy watercolors at the kitchen table by myself. I may be painting with really nice watercolors at the kitchen table by myself, and in that case I’m probably having a grand old time. Often enough, seeing me doing a project they previously rejected gets them inspired to try it, or bring a different project to do alongside me. Mail Art, case in point:
I needed to send a small package that had been on my to-do list for at least two months. It contained a couple of old postcards, but required an updated note because it had been sitting there so long. Mail Art I can handle. Getting to the post office, not so much. I wasn’t in much of a mood to write, but doodle? Sure thing. I ripped a page out of a magazine I’d gotten from the library’s free bin (aka “Take This Junk We Don’t Want It”) that was destined for altered book/collage projects, and began sketching, scribbling, commenting, generally enjoying the heck out of myself. My kids wandered by, intrigued. I filled both sides of the page.
In it goes with the old letters, and a tiny hand-bound gift in a tiny package:
It was a few days later that I was going through some mail art samples for a class, when my older kids asked when we were doing Mail Art. I jogged their memories: “You said you didn’t want to.”
They stared at me. “We want to!”
“Okay, then. Tomorrow.”
Make something look interesting by enjoying it yourself, and they’ll probably join you. Be warned about reversing this process: it doesn’t work on ice cream. No matter how unhappy you look while eating it, they’ll still want some.
Many people love getting mail… when it isn’t bills, unwanted coupons, or advertisements, right? Unfortunately, for most this doesn’t happen too often. And for kids, it generally happens only on birthdays when they received cards from older relatives.
Email can easily, instantly link people across the world. I have dear friends far away that I have yet to meet, so I’m incredibly grateful for the ability to connect with them this way. But paper mail that you hold in your hands, with someone’s unique scrawl on it? Mail that takes a stamp and days to arrive? It’s something special.
There’s no need to wait for a birthday or holiday. In fact, it’s better if there’s no reason at all for the mail. Sit down soon with some fun postcards or blank paper and pen a note with your kids to someone who is likely to write back. Older folks are pretty amazing this way!
My son sent my writing mentor, Zee Zahava, a doodled card with only his and her names on it. He decided to include an origami cyclops eye he’d just painstakingly made, and then we sent it off. He let it go. That’s how mail works. You can’t follow that letter, rush it, see when it’s opened or if the other person is bothering to respond. It’s an act of faith.
I don’t think he even remembered that he’d sent it (he’s that zen at letting mail go), so what came back was a great surprise. He received a postcard with Frank Lloyd Wright’s colored pencils, and a note just for him on the other side.
If they’re not the writing type of kids (mine aren’t), no biggee. Mail can still be in their lives. A young artist can turn a “letter” into a collage of magazine clippings, a doodle page, a place to put a recent sketch, or even make an illuminated letter (literally, just one letter, illuminated!). We’ve mailed collaborative altered books, mini photo albums, and origami birds. There doesn’t have to be a whole lot of writing involved in mail. Pretty cool like that. They call it Mail Art. All you really need is a recipient and the sender’s name—boom. Snail mail of the artistic persuasion! Don’t forget to decorate the envelope, too. That can be the best part: art on the outside—a treasure arriving in a stack with bills and junk mail. This will make someone’s day, and hopefully soon, you’ll get something back in the mail that will affect your kids in a way email can’t.
We’ve had a lot of fun sending tiny mail in our family—both in the house and in the greater postal system. I figure, if an address and a stamp can fit on it, then it’s big enough to survive the post office. I’ve used the throw-away wrappers that cover tea bags for envelopes, as well as made our own from magazine pictures, paper from the recycling bin, and maps given to the artistic cause. Illustrator Tasha Tudor’s Sparrow Post Valentines are deliciously small, with instructions on envelope-making. Here’s some miniature mail from artist Maya*Made and her Swallow Post.
If you don’t get a response or if your child doesn’t have anyone they’d like to write to, consider someone you don’t know yet.
Yep, that’s a magnifying glass. A tiny one, sent from Lea at the World’s Smallest Post Service which is, as you can imagine, just about the coolest site ever. Being the makers that we are around here, we do this kind of thing ourselves, but Lea does sell many awesome bits of inspired littleness, including a Tiny Stationery Kit.
My daughter loves miniatures and dollhouse paraphernalia, and makes most of what she wants herself. She was pretty smitten when we discovered Lea’s talents, and decided to write a tiny letter to her. And Lea wrote back—sending a tiny envelope with a tiny letter inside, a wax seal and itty-bitty snail stamp (of course), all safely inside a cardstock-and-plastic frame (so it doesn’t vanish when you sneeze!), and a magnifying glass with which to read it. The letter was so sweet and personal, and I know it made an impression on my daughter. Reaching out really does affect people, and when they reach right back, it’s a very sweet thing.