Drawing on Dad: Boys & Creativity

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Last weekend I was introduced to Fred. Well, to be precise, FRED – Fathers Read Every Day. It’s a programme designed to connect fathers with their children through collaborative reading.

The introduction came via Alex Quigley and his great blog HuntingEnglish. It struck a chord. My wife and I have a daughter in Year 12 – read to relentlessly from birth – and also a one year old son, which is still something of a surprise. The children’s books are down from the loft, and as one friend put it, it’s back to Old Kent Road.

Alex’s post emphasises the positive role that fathers can play with reading. No doubts there, but second time parenting – older, arguably wiser, and this time with a boy – it’s already clear a very different journey lies ahead.

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FRED also had me wondering further. Concurrent with reading, how might a father contribute to their child’s creative development? A child’s first exposure to books is as much an introduction to imagery and imagination as it is to words. A parent’s improvisations – the elaborations, questions and connections – are early lessons in thinking about, and talking about pictures. Yet, of course, it’s never taught at Dad School – if only there was such a place. (Bad dancing anyone?).

How many fathers will also sit down to draw or paint with their child? Most likely a number way below those that read – estimated as low as 1 in 8 by The Fatherhood Institute. So alongside FRED, perhaps there is a call to promote a more sensitive ‘visual’ literacy.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his epic study Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery & Invention identified that an above average proportion of the creative males he interviewed had grown up with an absent father. It’s a truly astounding find. It certainly resonated with me – my Dad died when I was very young. Mihaly suggests that in the absence of a dominant male, boys can develop increased levels of sensitivity and become less constrained in their thinking. However, whilst this might give me something to thank my own father for (Cheers Dad!), I’m hoping there are less drastic solutions. I’m certainly giving them a go.

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Nurturing creativity in boys certainly remains a live issue for all art teachers. In 2012 girls made up 68% of GCSE candidates, and even more strikingly 84% of Art PGCE students were female. The engagement of boys is certainly a re-occurring theme – evident on the wonderfully supportive NSEAD forum where art teachers continually seek and share potential strategies.

Perhaps, for Art’s sake, it’s also time to tap into the male role-models at home – to encourage creativity in boys by getting the Dads to bring something to the table.

They could always start with the felt tips.

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