Thursday, February 25, 2010

Encouraging Creativity in Children: Costume Parties

I'd like to introduce Salley Mavor, one of my favorite children's book illustrators and the author of one of my favorite craft books, "Felt Wee Folks". I have long admired her work, and this year have started to get to know her and her work a little better through her blog. I asked her to help me start a series about encouraging creativity in children on Acorn Pies. I asked her because she wrote about the special creative environment in which she grew up in the introduction to "Felt Wee Folk." In this posting, Salley tells us about some special costume birthday parties she hosted for her sons when they were little. Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories with us, Salley!

When I was a child in the 1950's, we had a wooden chest full of "dress-ups" that included old clothes and costumes that my mother had made. I remember different colored Snow White dresses that she made from this McCall's pattern.

I continued this tradition with my own children and our dress-up box was a hit when friends came over to play. We had an eclectic pile of capes, belts, scarves and head gear that would go together in any number of combinations. The children would spend a long time adorning themselves and then run around playing inside and out. When they were three years old, my son Ian and his friend Sam made monster masks. They would pull them down over their angelic faces, scream and growl, and then lift them up and laugh.

For the boys' birthdays, we had our share of bowling parties and trips to the go-cart track, but the most memorable birthdays were the themed parties that were linked to a familiar story. In the late 80's, we had several costume parties when the boys were 5 to 8, when kids are willing to dress up and engage in fantasy play. Legendary characters like pirates were the inspiration for our parties. The stories surrounding these compelling characters could easily be translated into party activities and their exciting outlaw image was an added attraction. The boys would draw and write out their own invitations, asking their friends to come in costume.

It is advantageous to have a warm weather birthday for these parties, although we did have a pirate party in February, complete with a make-shift pirate ship in the yard. We devised a raised, plywood floor, propped up on tree logs, and added a boarding ramp. All it needed was a mast to fly a pirate flag.

For another pirate party, this time in July, the children came ready to travel by boat to a pirate beach.

Here they are, waiting for the pirate ship, with their cardboard telescopes.

They arrived at the island, where a bottle washed up into the shallow water off the beach and inside was a treasure map!

They followed clues on the map and found the treasure chest full of goodies, including water pistols.

Looking back at the pictures, the life of our children looks so much simpler and not as commercial as today. We did work hard to keep our home life uncomplicated and creative. I'm sure that my mother would say the same thing about my childhood 30 years earlier. Young children are developing their imaginations and we as a society need to nurture this, but at the same time be aware of how impressionable they are. I think that being exposed to the same commercial images over and over, no matter how compelling or beautiful, stops children from seeing in their mind's eye what something or someone looks and acts like. Even the McCall costume pattern, which was copyrighted 1938 by Disney, shows a clear connection to the animated movie that we have come to think of as the classic rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, even though the story is centuries old. As for pirates, the brilliant Johnny Depp has forever imprinted his depiction in our minds. I'm not sure how to keep a child's imagination alive, but I think that giving them the opportunity to create characters of their own, whether through art or play acting, can make a difference for some and help them imagine new possibilities in the future.

To visit Salley's wonderful blog and have a look at her work, just click on the title of this post, or on the name Salley Mavor in my blog list. Thank you again, Salley!

Copyright 2010 Salley Mavor.


FairiesNest said...

Dress up boxes are the best! We had one for our kids (all boys!) and they used it constantly for all sorts of imaginative play. I can remember the shock from some of the parents of their friends that boys would want to play dress up...isn't that silly? Of course their kids would leave our house wanting their own dress up box! I guess we were subversives!

Theresa said...

Hip hip hooray! Mrs. Claus made several Peter Pan outfits for our kids several years ago. Come see what our kids have been doing!

larissa said...

thanks so much for sharing your kiddos dress up parties - complete with boat ride! these look like great times. And i am in awe of your paper collages from a few posts back - i love cutting freehand and i cannot wait to try this. thanks so much for all the inspiration!

Playing by the book said...

A lovely post. Christmas before last we gave my eldest a dressing up box as her present. I spent the months leading up to Christmas trawling charity shops looking for goodies and had so much fun finding crazy hats, outrageous shirts, sparkly belts and so on.

gardenmama said...

I also have Salley's craft book!
What a wonderful post, such great photos!
It is incredible to watch childrens imaginations soar while they piece together creative costumes!

Heather said...

What an awesome post Beth. I have not been as good as I should be with costumes for my children, but I really think that they would just love the ability to dress up and enjoy their imaginative world

Beth said...

Hi, everybody! Thanks for your great comments...but remember, this is a guest post by Salley Mavor, not me. However, I also had a big dress-up box for my older son and daughter. My oldest son loved to dress-up and do adventures! I had costumes for Robin Hood and Captain Hook, a knight costume, a Union soldier costume, and a cowboy costume. Boys would dress up and run around yelling and brandishing sticks and looking very heroic. My daughter loved to be extremely feminine and beautiful...a princess, a fairy. Both of them loved to act in plays when they were older. Children who like to put on costumes might like to have a flag or pennant to flourish. See the directions in the sidebar. Thanks for reading! love, Beth