On the Park Bench: How an artistic caretaker fuels kids' imaginations

Nov. 27, 2018

Over the years, Crystal Williamson has found success in a variety of jobs, including working retail at the Salvation Army and serving as a manager at a laser tag center. She has worked at a day care, run an athletic program for youth with the City of Detroit’s recreation department and taught kids how to make holiday ornaments at Michael’s.

“I try not to limit myself,” the 25-year-old Detroit native says.

All of these experiences — along with being one of six children — have led her to her current chapter as a nanny and babysitter.

“I’ve always been able to relate to kids. But recently, it’s become more than that,” says Williamson, who is currently pursuing a degree in elementary education. As a caregiver, “you’re a mentor. These kids are really looking up to you and they seek your advice for things. You’re there as they’re growing, and it’s just so beautiful.”

While working with her charges, she assists them with their math homework and inspires them with art projects. In fact, art is another passion of hers: In her free time, Williamson creates impressionist paintings, makes pottery, dreams of writing children’s books, writes poetry and refurbishes furniture.

“I can turn three hours of caretaking into a fun memorable evening full of laughs and adventure and that is the key to the treasure of a child's heart — a safe haven of creativity,” she says.

Between working with kids, hitting the books and creating art in all forms, we asked Williamson 10 questions about her go-to caretaking tricks — and how she infuses her work with whimsy and wildly creative energy.

1. What’s your go-to kids' snack?

Goldfish and apples. Those came from the day care! Goldfish is a very entertaining snack. The kids love assigning names to each fish and acting out a little scene. And apples have always been my favorite fruit, and the kids love it, too, so I try to have a balance between the two. It’s a sweet and salty snack that [ensures] they have good nutrition for the day.

2. What’s your absolute favorite kids' book?

“Goodnight Moon.” Every child I’ve cared for has that book. My mom was my teacher for preschool, kindergarten and first grade… and she’d read me that book. That is the bedtime story to read.

3. What’s the funniest thing a kid has ever said to you?

I was serving lunch and was trying to introduce vegetables. If they wouldn't eat them by taste, surely making it a fun learning experience would grasp their attention I thought. I wanted to win them over with identifying texture, color and shapes. Leading by example, I would go first and encourage one by one students to mimic and see what they thought. When it came time for one child to try it, she said, “My daddy said I don't have to eat my vegetables!” I had no choice but to laugh through it!

4. What’s your favorite activity to do with kids in the winter?

Winter is my favorite season. I’m pretty old-fashioned with just doing snow angels and snowball fights. If I’m getting piled with snowballs, as long as the kids are laughing about it, I’m pretty OK with it. Then I say, “Let’s go inside and get hot cocoa and put a few marshmallows in there!”

5. Guiltiest pleasure?

Chocolate is definitely number one on the list! I like to buy myself turtles — those are my favorite.

6. What's always in your bag?

Definitely snacks, hand sanitizer and a few dollar bills. The kids I regularly nanny for like to stop at 7-Eleven and have a Slurpee and that’s something we do traditionally every Wednesday.

7. What's one thing about kids you wish every adult knew?

Just how smart and brilliant they are. They teach me. And they have a capacity to be nurtured and loved… Kids have so much compassion and [make me think] “How much more patient can I be?” They teach you more about yourself.

8. Is it OK to wake a sleeping baby — or never?

I would say NEVER. And if you do, [there] has to be really good explanation, because waking a sleeping baby is not going to be good for them! They’ll normally cry and get grumpy. As long as they’re resting, let them rest.

9. When all else fails…

Sing a song! I loved having drama class in high school. My teacher would just sing when the kids were getting loud, and it always seemed to grab our attention. So, if we’re getting frustrated with homework, we’ll take a singing break...  and eventually, we’re having a talent show! My favorite song is “On Top of Spaghetti!”

10. What’s your magical superpower that always seems to do the trick?  

Imagination and the art of painting. I take ordinary objects and give them life, especially in my paintings. However, I don't just paint on solid surfaces. I paint self-esteem, truth and positivity in the minds of little ones. I paint peace in calamity and respect in many shades of color. I can take an ordinary story and paint characters given unique voices.

Read next: On the Park Bench with Chris

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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