#58. Try selling a work of art or literature that you have created

IDEA #58. Try selling a work of art or literature that you have created. The internet or your public library will have resources on how to sell your writing and illustrations, or perhaps a local art store will be willing to give you advice about marketing a painting or a piece of sculpture.

This activity combines the challenges of creativity with the sometimes greater challenge of finding a market for one’s art. There are vast numbers of low-circulation poetry and literary magazines that will accept work submitted by amateur or unknown authors (usually, alas, without payment, but look hard), and there are probably at least as many magazines, books, and websites dedicated to publicizing ways for authors to get work published. The chances are good that your public library will have at least one of these “how to sell your work” books, which may also have information on selling illustrations and fine art work to the same kinds of literary magazines.

There may be other markets closer to home. Some small-town or community newspapers will happily accept fiction, poetry, and even art work from local creators. There may even be local or regional literary magazines whose existence is unexpected; the library might be a good source of information here.

As far as the marketing of visual art goes, many communities have summer arts fairs where local artists can show and sell their work. Some of these are juried—that is, artists are selected by a committee to participate—but some are open. There is likely to be at least one art dealer nearby who might be persuaded to handle good-quality work by a rising young local talent, or there is always the equivalent of the lemonade stand: put up a booth on the curb.

If the youngster has a few friends with creative urges and a pile of poetry or paintings, why not suggest that they pool resources and publish their own literary magazine or start their own gallery? A few advertisements from local merchants or friends would pay to photocopy a few dozen copies, which could also be sold. Or perhaps a local business has a small spare room that could become gallery space. And there’s always a website: many blogsites are free and could be used to post poetry, short stories, or paintings or photographs, although it’s hard to make money on a blog.

It is easy to find people who will maintain that art does not pay, and often they are correct. But an ambitious artist (and friends) might be able to raise at least a few dollars in the art market, and along the way there will be opportunities to learn about both the creative self and the art market.

Snow Day Thoughts for Educators–and Parents, Too


The phone rang at 5:22 this morning, and she would have slept through it. But I answered and handed it to my spouse so that she might receive the news that she could go back to sleep. Her school was closed.

This has been a common scenario this year all over the country. Extreme cold, wind storms, snow, ice—the weather has been closing a lot of schools. And all over the country, educators are struggling with the obvious implication of all this, which is that students don’t learn much when they’re sleeping in or planted in front of glowing screens instead of being in school. What to do?

Some schools, presumably those with pretty well developed cultures and capacities in the areas of online and blended instruction, simply “flip” their programs and ask students to wire up for Google Hang-outs or Skype chats or asynchronous instruction. It’s like school, only at home. It’s a stop-gap, but it allows teaching and learning to go forward in ways that at least allow the schools not to feel remiss.

A friend’s children attend an independent school in Atlanta (Mount Vernon Presbyterian), in the interest of full disclosure), where they are exploring nature’s extremes in depth this winter (although my Buffalo upbringing makes me secretly scoff at their idea of depth), and their school has a kind of sensible approach to the snow-day problem. Teachers post work assignments on line by the normal start of the school day, and kids check in a couple of times later on.

My friend’s kids are in mostly self-contained elementary classrooms, and I was really excited to learn that one child’s daily assignment was, “Build a snow fort, sit in it for a while, and write about the experience.” (LATER CLARIFICATION: The assignment was simply to build a fort; there was not enough snow, so my friend’s daughter built her fort of blankets and bedroom furniture.) I know you couldn’t do that in Minnesota this year, what with those sub-Arctic windchills, but I just kind of loved this assignment: embrace the exciting thing that’s happening, experience it, make something, and then reflect on the experience—just what I think I’d have wanted my kids to be doing back when they were home for snow days. (One of ours learned to cross-country ski on a snow day; to date he has only ever skied on snow-covered streets and campus pathways.)

There’s an analogy here to summer reading, I think. It’s all about time out of school, and learning. If you, Gentle Reader, happen to work in a school and were to send me a nickel for every minute you and your school have spent over the years discussing summer reading and the dreaded Accountability Question, I could comfortably retire. Snow days generate the same issue. I listened yesterday to a radio interview with a school official somewhere who outlined his district’s great plans and snow-day assignments only to hear him mumble toward the end that the kids would actually have a few weeks to get the assignments done.

I offer up this idea to schools hung up on snow days and the Accountability Question. Instead of focusing on driving through The Curriculum, why not come up with a menu of developmentally appropriate general assignments that focus a bit of intellectual or creative exploration and some reflection? I’d even just go with one assignment per grade level; after all, the kids still have the discipline-specific homework they had for the snow day.

How about asking seventh graders to think and write about a hobby they wish they had time to take up, and why? What’s exciting about it? Or asking tenth graders to write a little op-ed on a current events issue, or something relating to healthy or safe living specific relating to teenagers? If your school is quick with technology, you could ask kids to tweet or blog their responses (hey, Tumblr is made for this kind of thing). Ask sixth-graders or seniors to write three haiku on their thoughts and feelings on the day. Make a piece of sculpture from things you find around the house—or a snow sculpture that you photograph. If you must have accountability and an audience, this is what advisors are made for—they don’t have to grade anything, just look, check off, and respond or give feedback if they wish.

(OK, I understand that this idea won’t serve if you’re in a school or district where state testing drives everything; every moment out of the classroom in some places, whether for snow days or recess, puts school and teacher performance—and even retention, god help them—at stake. Until more sensible minds are running the show, I get your need to keep hammering away at test prep. If your school lives and dies by AP scores, if you really believe it does, I guess you’re stuck, too. I would acknowledge, too, that many children do not live in connected households, and some assume other home obligations on accidental “holidays;” schools can only expect what they can expect.)

Sometimes the doing of a thing is actually more important than receiving a grade, or even feedback, on it. Instead of turning the dining room table into a mini-classroom for the day (it’s already worn out from doing duty as such every evening), turn the house, the community, the world into a resource or a place of exploration; turn being snow-bound into an opportunity.

John Greenleaf Whittier made his long poem Snow-bound into an enduring work of art that is also perhaps an overly loquacious meditation on memory. Why not come up with a handful of snow-day “assignments” that give kids an opportunity to think about and perhaps even remember something as new and fresh as the white stuff falling from the sky?

More Than a Good Idea—Watch the Olympics!

For the next couple of weeks the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are likely to live near the top of both news and sports broadcasts; the Olympics, with their subtext of international competition (as important to some news media and many spectators as the competition between athletes) are always news. It’s worth remembering, though, that the Olympic Charter specifies that “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries”—a concept that many jingoistic commentators would do well to remember.

(The role of the nation versus the individual or team might make for a great topic of discussion for interested Olympics-watchers. As well, we await the first time a thoughtful newsreader explains the daily medal count as, “Twelve of today’s medal winners were from Norway” instead of the more usual, “Norway won twelve medals today.”)

The Winter Games can have a special appeal to the interested child. Replete with unusual sports, complex scoring methods, and athletes from nations—think Liechtenstein—that tend not to be in the news very much, there’s a great deal to pique a young person’s curiosity. Plus, of course, the sports are just fun to watch, from the grace of figure skating to the anxious precision of curling to the sheer speed of alpine skiing, not to mention the seemingly impossible geometries of snowboarding and freestyle skiing. (NBC Learn has a great educational site, “Science of the Winter Olympic Games,” for interested children and adults who want to know, for example, how figure skaters can control the speed of their spins and turning jumps.)

The Olympics always provide lessons in geography and culture as well as the human interest of tight competition among athletes at the peak of performance. The opening ceremonies are artistic extravaganzas, and the pride and excitement of the athletes entering in their team uniforms behind their national flags is palpable. Equally palpable is the joy and unbridled relief of the athletes at the closing ceremonies; watching medal winners taking pictures of the crowd on their phones as they grin and dance their way into the stadium is a reminder that this is a deeply human event, a coming together that fulfills the wildest dreams of the idealists who began the modern Olympic movement in 1894—truly, what founder Pierre de Coubertin called “a program of moral beauty.”

This year’s Winter Olympics will receive massive coverage on live TV, streaming video, and wrap-ups and highlight shows. Just following the main Games will be record-level broadcast coverage of the Paralympics, in which disabled athletes compete in many Olympic sports in one of the most extraordinary affirmations of the human spirit and human possibility anyone is ever likely to witness.

We are obliged to note that these Olympics have sparked more than the usual amount of controversy owing to both the threats of terrorism and Russia’s Draconian laws pertaining to homosexuality. For some, viewing the Games this time around may be more disturbing than enjoyable; adults will have to make their own decisions on these matters.

Nevertheless, we at The Interested Child remain big fans of the Olympics and the spirit in which they were established and continue, at their best, to portray. We urge parents, guardians, and educators to give consideration to the upsides of offering children plenty of opportunities to watch, learn from, and reflect on the spectacle that is the Winter Olympics.

Here’s a brief overview of the Games prepared for elementary-age students (compliments of Mimi Harrington of Dedham Country Day School, Massachusetts–who notes that there have been a couple of changes since the show was created earlier this week; the world of sport is a world of change!):

#57. Look for patterns in nature—start by learning about Fibonacci numbers and then hunting for them

IDEA #57. Look for patterns in nature—start by learning about Fibonacci numbers and then hunting for them, both in nature and in man-made situations. What is the most surprising place you find a Fibonacci series?

There are innumerable patterns in nature, but few are quite so common or so startling as Fibonacci numbers. Leonardo Fibonacci, a 13th-century Italian mathematician, noted the property of a series of numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …, where the next number in the series is the sum of the two numbers preceding it.

Interesting to a mathematician, perhaps, but astounding when one notes the many ways in which nature enacts Fibonacci’s series. The number of seeds on a pine cone, the proportions of a chambered nautilus shell, the number of petals on a flower—all express the regular pattern of a Fibonacci series.

And while these number sequences are common, there are other patterns to be observed in nature—the number of leaves on a stem, the pattern of leaf alternation that separates False Solomon Seal (a shrub) from the real thing, the structure of insects, the times when certain birds sing, the relationship between the temperature of the water in a lake and the direction of the wind. The more closely one observes the natural world, the more the young scientist discovers order and symmetry and balance. The Fibonacci series is just one amazing example.

If the young observer is inclined to keep a journal of his or her “discoveries,” any science or mathematics teacher would be more than pleased to see and discuss the results.

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