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child looking at painting“But I can’t think of anything to write about,” my kids cry as an excuse for daydreaming out the window. Then in an attempt to divert their attention from the window or to prevent a breakdown, I end up struggling along with them in the quest for a great idea. I’ve heard that the best ideas are often right in front of you, but it wasn't until after I had fenced far too many complaints of writer’s block that I realized I had the answer to this problem all along. Over the years, I’ve used art to inspire my writing, creating an ekphrasis based on a Remedios Varo painting, or a haiku inspired by a photo of my grandpa as a boy; however, I had never thought to incorporate art right in my own home, in my children’s writing lessons. Who knows if that light bulb would have gone on had I not stumbled upon the article, Ten Ideas That Get Kids Writing, which relates the story of a Chicago-based teacher who used sculpture to inspire her students’ writing. “Of course, why didn’t I think of using art before?” Painting, sculpture, music, photography, dance, the arts are a wonderful way to get a child’s creative juices flowing.

Where is this boy going?
Where is this boy going?

Now when ideas are slow to come, I have a supply of photos on hand that often help solve the problem. The photos include shots of family, friends, previous vacations, and nature; pictures of paintings and sculptures from galleries or the Internet; as well as clips from children’s magazines.  I give them three or four photos to choose from so as not to overwhelm them; after they choose a photo, we talk about what’s happening in it, how it makes us feel, and what it makes us think of. Many times this process alone sparks an idea, but if not, I’ll provide an additional prompting question based on the photo, like “Where is this person going?” “Why is she happy/sad?” “Why did the artist use… (Fill in the blank)?” These questions may lead them in various directions from making up a story about someone in the photo to writing about the artist or creating something seemingly unrelated to the photo altogether. Not so long ago, my daughter struggled to come up with a poem using a repeating pattern. After looking through some photos, she chose one of our cats, and here’s what she came up with:

My Calm and Gentle Cat

As I wander around the house, I see my cat lying on the bed.  

As I gently pick him up, I feel as if I’m holding a cloud.

As I rock him side to side in my arms, love rushes through my heart.

As I see him close his eyes and fall asleep, I gently lay him down,

and his soft purring fills me with peace.






Art doesn’t have to be saved as a last resort. When you have more time to plan, why not develop a lesson around a trip to the local art gallery, symphony hall, or dance performance? These are great opportunities not only to help children appreciate other art forms but also to inspire their writing. What emotion do you feel when listening to the violinist? Write a lyrical poem about it. What story are the dancers telling? Write a fairy tale about the lead dancer.

Whether it’s pre-planned or off-the-cuff, art in various forms not only inspires ideas but it can also help you teach genre, such as poetry and short story, as well as specific writing techniques. If you’re not sure how to start, Literacyhead is a helpful site that offers numerous writing lesson plans using images.

So let the arts move you.

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