Written by Jennifer Grant
In the summer after my freshman year of high school, I took a six-hour bus ride—with about 40 other teenagers—from suburban Chicagoland to the north woods of Wisconsin. We had been hired as “interns” at a summer camp and would spend the next ten weeks being paid almost nothing to clean toilets, make scrambled eggs and “bug juice” in the kitchen, and maintain the grounds. Most of us were eager for a sabbatical from parental authority and, of course, many romances and other delicious dramas played out among us that summer.
Not long after I arrived, I met the woman who ran the camp craft shop. I don’t remember how I got to be so lucky, but she chose me as her assistant: I would be “Jenni Craftshop.” The only job more desirable among my fellow interns was working in the snack shop—where staff frequently helped themselves to root beer floats and ice cream cones.
Spending the day in that small building, absorbing the energy of curious, focused children as they transformed beads and glass bottles and remnants of cloth into jewelry and invented creatures and gifts for their mothers made the weeks fly by. In camp each session, I would bond with a few kids who then would show up to do projects with me every afternoon during free time. We’d pour layers of colored sand in baby food jars, paint rocks, burn their names into wood with the soldering iron, and create stamped leather belts and bracelets.
A few decades later, when my four children were young, Jenni Craftshop once again resurfaced. Our dining table was often covered in paints and pastels and Legos and glue, my kids silently working away at their creations. And what I’ve known, ever since that summer at camp more than thirty years ago, is that kids don’t need much instruction or information when it comes to expressing themselves creatively. What they need are swaths of unstructured time, materials—however simple or salvaged—and the invitation to play, invent, and make a mess.
What we can do as their parents is to create a space for exploration and to direct their gazes, from time to time, to the majesty of the night sky or the delicate geometry of a ladybug’s wings. We can remind them that ours is a Creator God who delights in the work of making something beautiful and new…and that something, of course, includes them.
JENNIFER GRANT is the author of five books for adults, including Love You More and When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? She also wrote Maybe God Is Like That Too, a picture book for young children. Learn more or connect online at jennifergrant.com.