There’s certainly no fault in these objectives, but unfortunately, the result is that our ideas tend to take over and redirect — or even discourage — our children’s original instincts. Our teaching can inhibit self-motivated learning and create unnecessary dependencies. Furthermore, as adults, we tend to define success quite differently than our children do, and our more goal-oriented perspectives can have a powerful and sometimes crippling influence.
Our interventions undermine opportunities for self-expression that are healing, stress-releasing, affirming, and profoundly confidence-building, not to mention far more interesting, meaningful, and enjoyable for all concerned.
In my post Creative Spirits – Making the Most out of Halloween, I recommend a child-centered approach to pumpkin carving:
A two-year-old child can choose a pumpkin. It might be the most lop-sided, lumpy and unattractive pumpkin we’ve ever seen, and it may not even stand up properly, but does that matter? When we let go of the notion of creating the ‘perfect’ holiday from our point-of-view and allow a child to lead in the fun, it lightens our spirit, and our child gains self-confidence because we are trusting his choices. Participation is the key.
When we bring the lumpy pumpkin home, our toddler can participate in carving it (but not with a knife). If the child wishes to scrawl something, anything, with a pen or crayon on the pumpkin, we can carve the drawing. Our child enjoys watching us carve out her creation, even if it’s just a crooked line. And when a candle is placed inside, the jack-o-lantern is complete and it is a creation our toddler takes pride in. (These look really cool. You may never want to go back to carving faces again.)
As Carol (an artist and mom) notes in the story I share below, “I know what I can do.” We all know what we can do but have yet to discover all that resides in the minds and hearts of our children. By letting them do it we’re provided a glimpse.
I read your post about Halloween. I was still trying to think about how much of the pumpkin carving our 3.5 year old daughter would be doing when I read it. Long story short, these are my favorite pumpkins! Here’s the longer version…
I am an artist, so I make a concerted effort not to draw for her since I know what I can do. I asked A to draw whatever she wanted on each pumpkin. She had been drawing foxes lately, so I thought perhaps she would draw one of those. What she did instead was draw a portrait of herself with “crazy hair” on one, and the other was of her little sister E who she said was “crying because she’s teething.”
Although I did most of the carving, A put her hand on mine and tried to do a few cuts herself. I then brought out the Dremel tool, and she had fun helping add a few scratchy details. She also let me know if I was forgetting something or missed a line. Thanks for reminding me once again to let her lead. The joy on her face really said it all!
Thank you, truly,
Dawn also had a success to share, and she posted it on my Facebook page:
“I read your blog that suggested having your child draw on the pumpkin and an adult carve the design. My husband and I decided to try it. Our son was interested in drawing but showed some anxiety over the carving. We took two days to carve it, reassuring all the while that daddy would only cut orange, not his green drawings. When he saw the finished pumpkin lit by candles, he asked for it to be moved to his play area. He spent the rest of the night alternating between playing and admiring his pumpkin. Today he asked me twice to “turn it back on.”
Thank you for your wonderful suggestion to fully involve a toddler in Halloween fun. He obviously has a sense of ownership and pride in his creation.”
Dawn’s post inspired several other parents to enthusiastically share their children’s creations:
Melissa: “My two year old boy drew this face and was thrilled when we carved it out for him. I was impressed it actually looked like a face and he calls it his happy punkin. It’s definitely a tradition we will keep going! My 14-month-old did the squiggle above the eye, which is a “bow” according to the 2-yr-old. I’m excited for next year having two kid-made pumpkins!”
Julia: “My 2 year old’s designs.”
Penny: “Here is my 5 yr old’s pumpkin design. He’s singing a spooky song to it.”
Sara: “My 3 year old took great pride in her work and so did we!”
Kim: “My 21-month-old designed this one, and we had a wonderful time going to a few houses in our quiet neighborhood with him dressed as a bee. He didn’t quite choose his costume, but bee was one of his first words. He was fascinated with them buzzing about all summer, so I took that level of interest as a choice, and he loves his costume.”
Gina Marie: “This was my three-year-old’s! Thank you for your encouragement! She was so proud of it and it was our only carved pumpkin this year!”
Karin: “We did this with our 21-month-old…she LOVED it and was so excited about the process, she asked to “color more punkins” again today!”
Lee Anne: “He draws – I carve. He was so proud. He claims the one on the right is happy pumpkin and on the left is sad. Then I wanted to give him extra options for creativity so we got out the paints too. He loved it!”
Malgorzata: “My six year old loved it! Thank you for your post.”
Adrianne: “I found it pretty difficult to carve out my 2 year old’s excited scribbles with just a steak knife! Lol”
Sarah: “He was so proud of his pumpkin.”
Thank you to all the parents for sharing these masterpieces!
In “A Jolly Toddler Holiday” I offer a few of my ideas for letting kids do Christmas. I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have for encouraging self-expression on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, or just a plain-old regular day!
I share more about nurturing creativity and self-confidence in
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
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