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School of Advertising Instructor Champions Creativity in Class and in New Book for Parents

Kids these days. They’ve got movies, video games, iPads, some even have their very own smartphones. As more and more children turn to screens for entertainment, parents are wondering how they can engage their progeny in more practical, hands-on activities—and we’re not talking about touchscreens.

A new book by Academy of Art University School of Advertising instructor Matthew Jervis, How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids: Tricks, Tools, and Spontaneous Screen-Free Activities (Skyhorse, 2015) offers fresh ideas (“An All-American Junk Drawer Challenge”), tried and true classics (“Shelling Beans”) and ambitious pursuits that get the brain cells firing (“Redesign Your Room!”)—all with the aim of keeping the offspring occupied without handing them the iPhone.

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'How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids: Tricks, Tools, and Spontaneous Screen-Free Activities' by Matthew Jervis. Courtesy of Matthew Jervis.

“Most everything in here is free to do, you don’t need to buy anything and a lot of them are things that people already know. It’s just putting a little value on that thing and saying ‘that’s still important and you should bring that back,’” said Jervis, who is teaching four courses this semester in the Creative Strategies department of the School of Advertising, including visual storytelling, professional practice, portfolio for strategists and creative theory.

His book centers on the notion “creativity is all-inclusive,” which forms the basis of his classes at the Academy, as well as the workshops he designs for schools, corporations, and groups like The Boys & Girls Clubs. Merging that idea with memories of family hikes and road trips, Jervis encourages parents to think back to the things they did as kids during a time before PCs, when having fun meant playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and “How Much Air Can You Fit In Your Mouth.” Wait, what?

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Matthew Jervis at a recent book reading. Courtesy of Matthew Jervis.

Jervis and his brother played this game a lot—evidence of the author’s unorthodox childhood. Invented by his art teacher dad, the game was a popular competition between Jervis and his brother during long car rides. At a recent reading at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley, Jervis, who has a 14-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, described how much thought the pair put into the challenge as they tried to expand their cheeks and throats. “We just knew it was a competition to win—not even thinking that there would even be some kind of quantifiable way of determining how much air is fitting in your mouth,” he said.

The quirky diversion gave Jervis’ parents a good five minutes of peace and quiet, and the book’s “collection of crazy little activities”—as he calls it—should offer equal amounts, if not more free time to today’s parents.

“It’s important to remind parents that they’re doing the best they can and that’s all that should be expected of them,” said Jervis, who brought on School of Advertising student Mauricio Bucardo as an intern to help promote the book. “The kind of parents that would buy this book are parents that might be frustrated with other books that come from this higher place in telling them what to do. Those are great books and they have their time and place but there’s a certain kind of parent that’s a little bit more creative in the sense that they want to do fun things but they want to be able to control a little bit of it, they don’t want to take on some sort of dogma or methodology, they want to see themselves in what they do. Seeing yourself as a parent is really important, this book is reminding you what you did as a kid and saying it’s OK for you to bring that back because there’s value in those things.”

Check Jervis’ website, www.makeitcreativity.com, for upcoming readings in the Bay Area.