Teaching Peace with Elyse: INSPIRED VS. COPYING

One aspect of child-approved imitation is having children of different ages see each other’s work. While your school may not have room for stored projects, there is always room to hang photos of the children’s work. As some art projects are re-invented each year, I often hang photos of those projects at children’s eye level. I’ve observed children studying those photos for months, or discovering a photo after they have made something similar. Seeing older children's work in various stages of completion can be inspiring.

 I. The Web, a Favorite Over the Years

Wolf, of our youngest class, had been studying the photo of a web from last year’s oldest class. It was at eye level and he’d often sit in front of it throughout the school year. We’d talk about it together, but not until the spring did he say, "I’m going to make a web today. I’m going to call it a trap." As the struggle between good guys and bad guys is an ongoing theme in young children, finding ways for them to feel protected while avoiding violent solutions was also ongoing.

A web to trap the bad guys if they got too close was just the thing to play good guys/bad guys.

Wolf chose his materials—yarn, tape and scissors—and I pointed out an area of the room where he could be free to explore while leaving the other children "untrapped" as they made their own art.

Wolf’s web soon became of interest to others. As one child after the next asked to join him, he sat there smiling and said, "sure!" And so began a collaborative project under the artistic direction of Wolf that was a source of great fun for all.

II. The Bed

A four-year-old found new interest in pieces of fabric. She laid the fabric squares out very precisely. After she folded two squares into quarters and placed them at the head of a rectangular piece of fabric, I realized she was making a bed.

Addie had used glue to attach the squares to the rectangle. While she returned to class, the bed was left to dry in the expressive arts room. When the three-year-olds arrived, one child was fascinated and sat down next to it. I sat down beside her and asked for her thoughts. "It’s a bed," she said naming the older child’s project. "And I want to make one too." This was a child who had not used fabric before. It’s exciting to see a child stretch from the familiar and take a risk.

I asked her what materials she would need and she immediately went over to the drawers of fabric and chose those she found attractive. She laid out her fabric and worked quietly on it for the entire time in class. She was very proud when she showed me what she had done. She asked for it to be left beside the older girl’s project "to dry." Her use of tape, not glue, was more about the connection between two girls and their art rather than the materials used to connect fabric.


  • Take photos of finished artwork before sending them home. Hang the photos at children’s eye level. You might want to continue exchanging the photos, as if in a gallery. You could also set up a gallery area in the classroom if you prefer.
  • Hang some of the photos from your previous year’s class at the eye level of your children.
  • Exchange photos of your class’s work with different aged classes.
  • If you find a child studying a photo, inquire about what they are seeing, thinking and feeling. Ask how they think it was made and what step came first.
  • If you sense interest beyond curiosity, you might ask if the child would like to make something similar. Then, ask what materials they would need and how they would connect the materials.

It’s been asked if the photos would encourage copying rather than original creations. I have found that while the photos inspire, the art is not duplicated. It becomes a starting point for new work.

Here’s the web that became the trap that Wolf built:

Simply hanging the photos at children's eye level, without calling attention to them, has worked best. Leaving the photos for a child’s own discovery insures a project that is of interest to the child. Come over after they’ve taken the lead to inquire about their thoughts or ask if they need any help getting started.

I continue to observe and see where the difference lies between the dreaded copying and accepted inspiration. Always looking for what I can do to foster a less competitive and more cooperative environment, I’d be interested in what has worked for you.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Acrylic Yarn- Set of 12

Colored Masking Tape - 1 Roll

Colorations® Blunt Tip Scissors, 5"L - Set of 12

Fabric Squares - 150 Pieces

Colorations® Washable Clear Glue