One dark and foggy Monday, our usually self-starting three-year-olds were all paused, awaiting the whisper of creative impulse. Expressive Arts is unstructured with inspiration coming from the children’s imaginations and the myriad of open ended materials they have ready access to.
Young children may not figure out immediately what they want to do when they are the sole initiators of their art-making. While some jump right into the materials or expressing their ideas, others are more reserved, taking their time. When the entire group hesitated in getting started, my first impulse was to direct them.
I’d asked if they would like help getting started and each declined my offer. As the program is built on the children’s own agenda, I managed my impulse to do more, allowing the children to take their time finding their own creative way. As if on cue, one of the children looked down and discovered a red feather on the floor.
"Look what I found, a red feather!" the child exclaimed.
Rather than giving a factual answer, I repeated her question. "Do you know how it got here?" I asked each child in turn. One after the other, the children said they did not know.
One three-year-old picked up a fox puppet. Animating it with a wonderful voice she said, "I know how it got here! I know where the feather came from." Miming his words, Fox continued his story. "I was driving in my car and I saw a red bird go in and out of all the windows, including yours. It was a scary bird from outer space."
"What did it look like? Could you draw it, Fox?" I asked, scaffolding the story to include art-making.
With her help Fox drew a picture of the red bird from outer space.
The other children gathered around and watched, suggesting what else she could add to the drawing. She colored red wings and explained that this was where the red feather came from.
"And I can tell you how to find the red bird," the girl said using her fox voice. "I’ll draw you a map."
She found a long piece of cardboard in our recycling center and created a wavy line that curled back on itself.
"Here is where we are on the map," she spoke as she drew a circle. "And here is where the red bird is," she said, pointing to a second circle.
The entire group was engaged in the storytelling when I realized it was time for the next group. Forty-five minutes had passed quickly and creatively; it was time to return to the classroom. We regretfully left the map on the shelf to continue the story next time.
If your children are new to creating stories by combining puppets and art-making, you might want to start by offering some guidelines. My blog of October 15, 2013, "Story-Making: Storytelling with Puppets and Art," elaborates on the simple basics below.
- Set up a table with art supplies of your choice such as paper, markers, oil pastels, scissors, colored masking tape, etc. Have puppets within reach but not on the table itself.
- Introduction: Initiate ideas for the children to use, such as entering play, making friends, including others and taking turns. This is an opportunity for teachers to use the puppets themselves for the introduction. (Please see my blog of September 16, 2013, "Playing With Puppets and Children" for tips on gaining comfort or improving your puppetry skills.)
- Let the children know that unlike puppet shows they might have seen where sets, props and a finished script are planned, this form of puppetry is more like playing with puppets and art. Since we start with an idea and improvise, we may not know ahead of time what will be needed. At any time one or more children can stop and make a prop that will be used in the story. This is really about process and is natural to children’s play.
- In this form of puppetry, teachers will need to start out by staying close, facilitating and engaging the others as focus changes from the story to art-making. It helps to suspend all judgment and expectations and engage with a sense of play and fun.
- You might suggest to the children that they find an ending if the time for spontaneous storytelling is over. However they choose to end the play is just fine.
While we know all children to be creative, what occurs spontaneously in Expressive Arts can be intentionally cultivated and developed in the classroom. It will soon become one more activity that children can enjoy alone or in collaboration with others during their unstructured time.
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