Just returned from a school visit with my good friend and fellow author Natasha Wing. We drove nearly four hours through sagebrush and tumbleweeds to reach the small town of Eads, Colorado, where we were greeted with much fanfare. The children and the art teacher had made posters and hung them throughout the school and in the local post office. The kids had also prepared gifts for us and eagerly ordered our books in advance.
When I was conducting a writing workshop with the 6-8 graders, I asked, as I always do, who among them liked to read. To my surprise, every hand in the room shot up. When I asked about their favorite books, they didn’t quote the usual titles, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, they named books even I had never heard of. When I asked how they found those books, they pointed to their English teacher.
Later, I asked the third grade teacher how it was that so many of the students had come to love reading. She smiled and said, “Well, there’s not much to do around here.” But it was more than that. Though the teachers at Eads Elementary are saddled with the same time constraints as teachers all across the country, Mrs. Gifford told me she finds time to read to the kids every day and to help them select books to take home. The school has built a culture around reading.
Those of us who live in cities sometimes, shamefully, make fun of small town living, and those of us who work in the arts often feel sorry for country kids because they don’t have as much access to concerts and live theater, etc. But these kids were not just observing art, they were creating it. Maybe the key for all of us, everywhere, is to construct an environment that supports creativity in our children. We can set aside a certain hour every day that is technology free and give our kids the chance to inquire, and create, and imagine. Instead of overcommitting them to every sport or activity in town, we can make sure there is at least one afternoon each week for them to just be kids.
Because truly, most of the time, a love for the arts and innovation starts with a bored kid who amuses himself by creating something new. And from that, a lifetime of exploration begins.