Artists know that trusting their instincts is essential for creativity to flourish. Likewise, if we don’t offer this trust to our children, it’s far less likely they’ll learn to trust themselves enough to enjoy art or fulfill their creative potential.
For young children, play and arts-and-crafts are the same thing. Both are inherently educational opportunities for self-directed exploration, freedom of expression and fun. Toddlers and preschoolers aren’t looking to make something that looks “good” to anyone else. They couldn’t care less if their creation looks finished like it’s “supposed to”, or resembles anything in particular. Like most artists, young children run on instinct and create just to please themselves. They live in the moment, revel in the process, while learning and developing self-confidence.
So why is it so hard to let them be?
In Jasper’s art class this morning, they made suns out of clay, beads, and yellow and gold pipe cleaners. I was one of the only moms who allowed their child to have his own experience with the materials. The other moms directed their toddlers and even embellished their projects with additional beads and pipe cleaners. Jasper’s work is always very minimalist but he is very considerate and deliberate with what he chooses to use and how he places the adornments.
At the end of class, only ONE child went back for his project. It was Jasper. The teacher usually keeps the clay projects for one week to dry, but this week Jasper went back and insisted he take it home today and the teacher said yes. We are home now and he’s still working on his project and enjoying it immensely.
We thank you and RIE for that!
Young children don’t need art instruction, though they can benefit if we handle ourselves with Noelle’s care, trust and restraint. The ideal, most creative scenario would be for the teacher to offer materials without suggesting ideas to the children. Why limit them to making suns when they might imagine a whole universe of creative possibilities? Why train them to be goal-oriented rather than encourage the natural, healthy (and inspiring) ability children have to enjoy the process?
“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” ~Pablo Picasso
I wish every parent and educator, especially those interested in creativity, would watch prodigy Aelita Andre’s videos. Although her talent is obviously rare and extraordinary, the total absorption she shows in her “work” isn’t (unique, that is). In fact, it is something I observe in babies and toddlers all the time. This is self-directed play, children communing with self and engaging with their surroundings on their own terms. Every child is capable of this, beginning as young as a few days old, although it is up to us to foster it. Focus, flow, free play — whatever we call it — this is a richly educational, therapeutic and gratifying experience.
Can you imagine telling Aelita what she should paint? Don’t all children deserve this respect, trust, freedom? Granted, Aelita’s parents provided her with some unusually awesome, expensive materials, but children don’t need fancy stuff, or much stuff at all, to be able to:
Express thoughts, feelings, unique points of view
Experiment (the very best way to learn)
Experience freedom and autonomy (which generally makes children much more amenable to the limits and directions they need us to give them).
Focus for an extended period
Build confidence and develop a sense of self
To encourage creativity we must let go of results and recognize the imbalance of power that occurs when we assist our children. Our well-intentioned impulses to make it just a little better usually end up ruining everything. Even the most subtle meddling can interrupt a child spinning gold from straw — or pipe cleaners into rays of sun. As Noelle noticed in art class, creative experiences are of little value to children if they don’t own them.
“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” ~Robert Henri
Here are a just few of the powerful, life-affirming messages we deliver when we trust and stay out of the way:
You are creative
You are capable
Trust your instincts
Your ideas are enough…. perfect, in fact
”When it is working, you completely go into another place, you’re tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about.” ~Keith Haring
For more, I recommend:
Don’t Move the Muffin Tins by Bev Bos
How To Encourage Drawing Skills, Confidence and Creativity In Young Children by Jean Van’t Hul, The Artful Parent
10 Simple Ways To Raise Creative Kids by Rachelle Doorley, Tinkerlab
Encouraging Childhood Creativity At Home by Mary Ann (guest post on Not Just Cute)
What Is Play? by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
A BIG thank you to Noelle and Jasper for letting me share your story!
(Photo of girl on bench by Jude Keith Rose)