"1-2-3, Go Play" is the call as the children enter the room filled with carts of sorted materials: fabric, sticks, gems, paper, ribbons and yarn.The room expands with the sound of the children's excitement and laughter. They pull out drawers to see what is new, exclaim at their findings, and ask if their favorites are still there.
"Do you still have the bells? Can we order more gems, the sticky kind? I'm going to make a wish list for our parents: large boxes, tiny boxes, empty strawberry baskets!" They talk over each other, all at once. They are 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds and it is time for Expressive Arts.
After the initial inquiries, the room grows silent for awhile, as the children busy themselves, choosing the materials they want to connect. They decide what they will use to connect the precious items and begin working on their art.
Most of the work is not representational, or at least not easily recognized by those of us in our adulthood. They are creating for the joy of making things, mastering skills and the pure act of creation. Ask them to tell you about their work and they might tell you what they did first. "I took this tube and tried to connect it to the paper and it was very hard."
Or the three-year-old that played with the materials for 45 minutes, focusing, concentrating, and enjoying the process. Yet, when it was time to return to the classroom, he'd say, week after week, "My artwork, I have to make my artwork to take with me." He'd swirl a marker on a piece of paper, smile and ask me to write his name.
One day, I observed one of his peers pre-writing on his paper."Is it alright if she does that?" I asked the sometimes shy boy who didn't always set limits to his friends. "Oh yes, she's writing my name. I don't know how."
Along one wall of the Expressive Arts room are three boxes of recycled materials: paper tubes, packing material, plastic boxes,and paper bags. They are part of the loose parts that are available to be combined with the connectors: masking tape, string, wire, pipe cleaners, glue and that special ingredient we cannot do without: the children's imaginations.
One five-year-old who usually sprawls on the floor independently connecting as many materials as time permits, called my name. "Elyse, can you help me? I'm trying to connect this tube to the bag and it won't stand up up."
While assisting, I had an opportunity to ask him about his work. "It's a pirate ship," he said as he skillfully pulled a super-long piece of yellow masking tape, keeping it from tangling. He attached it to the piece of paper bag, one handle still intact, drew it up and over the tube and assorted pieces of the bag he'd cut up and brought it down the other side, attaching it again to the bag. "I see the sails," I said with delight as the paper bag and sticky tape became the very pirate ship of the child's imagination before my own eyes.
Expressive Arts are child-generated. We, their teachers and parents, provide the environment and inviting materials. The children provide their language of self-expression, feelings, unique thinking, creativity and ways of making their inner world visible.
"Everyday I think of a new idea of what to make art out of and how to make art," a 4-year-old told me, reflecting proudly on his work.
"Being here is like being in a dream," a 5-year-old voiced spontaneously. I agreed; after 26 years, I am still delighted to observe the children at work and play steeped in their creativity creating the magic of dreams.