The expressive arts room has drawers and containers of open-ended materials filling the room. There are no planned activities; the children are free to create what they’d like from all that’s available. With the sheer quantity and diversity of materials, one might think that the children would constantly change what they were attracted to. While it’s true that some children enjoy a variety of changing materials or get comfortable with one material and then add others to it, some remain loyal to one choice.
What I have been observing over the last few months are those children who stay with a chosen material and deepen into it. I watched two children in the four-year-old classrooms with an expanding interest in mastering their medium.
Each time they came into the room they chose the same materials: paper and colored markers. They sat down and often used the entire 45-minute session to focus and concentrate on their work. While each child used the same materials, their ideas and personal style were very different
Over time Sahil explored a variety of styles. He’d work with line, form, dots and color, settling lately on the style illustrated below: vivid colors and interconnected shapes. He’d begin with one shape and build his drawing by adding a shape to the previous one.
I was surprised that today's drawing, constructed once again shape-by-shape, grew organically into representational art. I was reminded of children building with blocks and manipulitves. Sahil said he was attempting to duplicate a structure he had drawn for his mother this Mother's Day.
Devon‘s drawings, at first, were similar to gesture drawings. Keeping the marker continuously on the paper, she captured intricate movement and flow with confidence and ease. The essence of what she wanted to express was obtained with very little lifting of marker from paper. While I learned this in an art class, this technique was self-taught for Devon. I am always inspired by what young children discover by exploring on their own.
When my first grandchild was born in March, I returned from London with photos to show the children. Devon was inspired to draw this detailed representation of the baby on his mom’s stomach. As my photo was only of his face, I asked if she had ever seen a baby soon after birth. She shook her head and said she made it up. I was amazed at the accuracy.
A month later she said she wanted to draw him again, this time as a child and not a baby. She sat down and drew this, later telling her classroom teacher that he was sitting next to his mother watching a television show of a wedding.
The final drawing was when he is much older and “kneeling to feed a bird.” What she was able to accomplish with a few simple lines and a healthy dose of creativity was amazing.
What I particularly notice and appreciate when there is such concentrated focus is the sense of peacefulness that begins within the children and extends out into the room. It can be a calming influence for more active children who often sit down and join them; they are soothed by the peacefulness.
While television and video games model constant stimulation, utilizing the same materials can create mastery, safety and a peaceful connection to their inner world.
Teacher Suggestions: Creating an Art Center in Your Classroom
Set Up an Art Center:
I’ve noticed that even in the smallest of our classrooms, there is always room for a tiny table with paper, markers, oil pastels, scissors and tape accessible within arms’ reach of the children. One or more chairs are available for those who wish to create art during unstructured time.
Create an Environment of Emotional Safety through Your Facilitation:
The importance of teacher facilitation in creating a nurturing creative environment cannot be overemphasized.
- Set simple rules by reminding the children, "We are all artists," and "Be your own artist and do your own work."
- Be ready to step in if you see a child given or giving criticism. This is a learning moment and an opportunity to enhance social and emotional intelligence for the entire group.
- Discuss and name feelings when someone’s art is criticized by another. (e.g., "How did you feel? Can you tell them to stop and make their own art?") Be ready to assist when necessary.
- For children that want to crumple up their drawings, take a look together. You might say that you’ve noticed the effort put into the drawing. Really trying their best is most important. You might ask what part they didn’t like and suggest using this drawing to make another.
I am often amazed at what a child will throw away. When asked if they had a particular image in their mind of how they wanted it to look, they usually say yes. I validate wanting to make it the way they imagined and say all artists experience that. Then I speak of learning from what we drew. By emphasizing their efforts rather than the product we help create motivated lifelong learners.
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