Having taught for many years, I see how adults can stifle a child’s imagination with all the so-called educational products and things out there today. Disneyland is not reality, neither are the princesses, fairies, Spiderman and Yugio. Plus, pre-cut and Xeroxed copies called art projects, do not teach anything. One cannot mention this enough, but it is the “process not the product” that is essential when exposing young children to anything, including painting and other art forms.
Coloring books teach children that they cannot draw as well the adult whom drew the piece and are futile in the process of learning how to use materials and create something yourself. When a child asks you to draw, tell him to describe what he thinks it looks like. Let’s take a “dog” for example. Ask: “What kind of dog, a Labrador retriever or a Poodle? Long legs or short? (Fluffy tail, big ears, brown, black or white?)” By doing this, you are giving him the chance to see choices and differences. You could add, “Oh my! It’s a good thing you have your own ideas, because I would have drawn something different from what you have described.”
Describing is the key! (Check out my poem “All By Myself” in an earlier blog 3/16/13 during National painting week.) I learned this from attending many Early Childhood Education workshops. So when they hand you a “mini-masterpiece” describe what you observed. Instead of saying “look at the cow you drew!” tell them what you see: “red yarn, blue lines, big splashes of color!” If a child leaves an empty place on half the paper, tell her what you noticed that was already completed. State “You did such a good job here, what do you have planned for over there?”
Try to vary things so they do not always have rectangular paper, or the same thickness of paint. Teach them colors and show them textures. I used to have “green day” and the art project was a large green triangle and a pile of little textured papers and things they could tear or I had cutout so they could glue them on the larger piece. They made the decisions of where each piece would fit within that shape. Color, shape, space, and texture are design elements, pasting is an art form.
I went to a workshop once that appalled me. It was “Art Through the Seasons” and everyone was taking furiously taking notes. The instructor was demonstrating an “apple” theme for Fall. First she had the kids paint an already drawn circle on the easel, using red paint. Then she had them glue one red circle and a green leaf on 8 x 11 paper. If that wasn’t enough, she pre-cut out a large green circle, small red circles, and a brown rectangle and said the children should glue these together (she showed them how) to make an apple tree.
If you want to teach apples, what about cutting them up and making applesauce or cooking apple pancakes or fritters, roll out dough and make apple tarts? How about tasting a variety of apples? I remember another workshop on showing a picture verses actual hands-on tasting and cutting up apples where the teacher made a list as the children described what they experienced; shiny, roundish, yellow and green, juicy, smells sweet, rotten spot, etc. On the picture list it was just “red, shiny and circle”. What about introducing making healthy food choices and incorporate that concept into their curriculum here?
Take it farther, help them make fruit-ka-bobs and have a healthy snack. I wrote a song “Pack A Snack” and in it we go through the alphabet in foods. Being a memory game, I add four at a time and repeat the chorus. Because of my Crazy Daze CD, I had young kids who knew my songs and they would come on stage and sing with me at the Cleveland Children’s Museum. “Apples, bananas, cupcakes donuts!” One women at one of my workshops through OAEYC (Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children) said would have to change the words to make it healthier! Oh well, the point is that when working with children, there are many different ways to teach them. Interlacing science, art and math/music through various modalities (senses and physical awareness) goes a lot farther than showing pictures, playing computer games, repetitive rap songs or telling kids things.
My biggest pet peeve is using technology too early today. Between the TV, videos, digital game units, computers, Ipads, Kindles and cell phones, the screens are zapping the imagination out of young minds.
I know a 6-year-old who said he didn’t want to learn how to write because everything looked better from the computer. Reading screens is also an issue as I have noticed kids banging on the keyboard to get to the next game instead of being responsible for the work and completing one thing before running to the next level. Instant gratification is what drives them today and in art, we know it takes time and good decisions, not to mention skill development for a lifetime.
So my recommendation is going to the library and get books. Look up things on the computer, not let them play addictive games. Social media are enabling them to become very anti-social, so what is the point of helping them learn how to get along and what they can contribute to this world? Creativity and having a good imagination as well as a global outlook are what we need to share with this generation who are learning how to be self-centered. Just read Facebook pages and see what is on the minds of kids today.
Shopping is not a career without holding down a job! At least let them use cash and learn math while they are becoming addictive to everything new. Teaching through rapping is an annoying way to teach subjects to them also. Any kid today can spout the lyrics of often inappropriate songs, but cannot remember things for a test that they are being taught the answers so the school will look good on paper!
I know I am on my soapbox, but if you want to have creative kids, you have to expose them to creative things!
I have discovered that successful adults found their vocational interest early in life, around age 7 in fact. So go forth and multiply and give your kids creative genes instead of designer jeans!