At the mention of kindergarteners working with art supplies, my memory excavates my own experience of finger painting, building log cabins of ice cream sticks, making collages with macaroni, coloring clown shoes with thick, waxy black crayons, going ‘outside the lines’ and dusting most things with glitter. These are fond, funny memories for me. It doesn’t seem so long ago, and perhaps it wasn’t, but it was certainly long enough to precede the PC in every home.
Recently, an art teacher in an elementary school confided to me her concern for the tactile skills of her young students.
“It’s the computers,” she said. “Kids work on them as soon as they can, and by the time they get to me, it’s like they have no sense of touch. They know how to draw something on the computer, but their hands don’t seem to know how to work with paper, paints, brushes...”
Today’s child may be able to draw, and even animate and incorporate video, while playing on the PC. Personally, I am baffled by my child’s ability to work skillfully in Adobe Illustrator. (I’m clueless on that one.) At the same time, I enjoy her ability, I really do.
That said, I do believe trying to strike a balance – and that living constantly with one form of technology or another in their hand, kids might eventually miss something vital.
It’s necessary – and glorious – for children to get dirty with creativity, to wear their creations on smock, hands and face… to color outside the lines.
As the saying goes, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” There’s no more obvious sign of a child’s hand exceeding his grasp than when it has taken the brick red or periwinkle crayon further on the page than expected. But isn’t that journey remarkable?
The hand, the sense of touch, is a precious gift that helps us to sense the world, to help and heal each other, to guide and point the way. I recall my babies’ hands were like little stars that lingered in the air, even while sleeping, as though sensing a breeze.
At an Engaged Encounter retreat I facilitated for couples nearing marriage, a priest asked all the couples to face each other. First he asked the women to place their hands in their fiancé’s. He asked the men to look at their bride’s hands and addressed the men: “These are the hands that will comfort you… the hands that will teach and play with your children…”
Later he asked the couples to reverse their hands, this time the men’s hands in their fiancée’s.
He addressed the women: “These are the hands that will protect you... that will lift up your child…” At the end of the session, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Our hands are that meaningful.
Look at your hands – how they have changed… how the elasticity of the skin on top of your hands may have relaxed… how your fingers may be changing shape… how the lines on the palm have deepened with time and experience. Your experience, your time here. A wonder.