Because I live in Ann Arbor, where fairy doors are part of the local landscape—and because it was fun—I gave several fairy doors as gifts this Christmas. I bought some wooden fairy door kits and went to town painting, adding mosaic “porches,” and other embellishments. I had a grand time creating accessories for various holidays and imagining how the families who received them will enjoy periodic fairy-décor surprises in the mail. It was great fun. I even ended up making one for our house, too, because–well, I live in Ann Arbor.
But for our niece, whose artistic talents far surpass mine, I gifted the basic kit. I knew she’d find more joy in creating her own door than in receiving one I designed. In fact, given her job promoting a small city in New York, I wouldn’t be surprised if fairy doors multiply there. I can’t wait to see.
Thinking about the different doors, and the experiences they brought, made me think about the creative—and perhaps not so creative–experiences we offer young people. I’ve written before about how our desire for a polished product can get in the way of students’ creativity. Consider my fairy doors. The young people to whom I sent the doors will have fun exercising their imaginations in fairy play, but the experience of decorating the doors was mine. Our niece will have that experience herself, but even her door came precut. How much more creativity would be exercised in designing a door from scratch, selecting materials, and creating something genuinely unique? It probably would not be as sophisticated as the finely milled kits, but possibly more fairy-friendly.
The truth is, all of these are positive creative experiences, with lots of room for imagination. But it is always worth considering the focus of the creative activities we plan for young people. Who gets to be creative at the elaborate pirate-themed party, the young people attending or the adults doing the planning? Party planning is a fine creative endeavor for adults who enjoy it, but we must recognize the difference. What about easily purchased “creativity kits” or the art activities in elementary classrooms? Where is the boundary between careful planning to teach relevant techniques, and teacher-creativity overtaking the options for students?
I don’t claim to have easy answers to these questions, but I know they are worth considering. The distinction between creative teaching and teaching for creativity is an important one. They are both good, but clearly different. And I thank the fairies and their doors for reminding me.