By Elyse Jacobs
As parents and teachers, we can help develop competencies in our children. Not only will these competencies help the children adapt and function well at home and school, but also in the larger world they will become a part of. Competencies can become lifelong skills.
Creativity has been described in many books and articles as one of the key competencies that teachers should help develop in young children.
In a blog by R. Scott Wiley on EdWords,* he refers to the interconnection between creativity and curiosity, another essential competency.
One way to encourage both competencies is to create an environment that fosters them. In his blog, R. Scott Wiley writes of providing lots of different materials. Looking around the expressive arts room, I see it is filled with just that. My 30 years of experiencing the children’s creativity using materials that can be used in any way the children can imagine is testimony to that idea.
However, I wonder if the fact that these same materials are also loose parts is a prime factor in their fostering curiosity and creativity. "Loose parts", as mentioned in my blog of May 3, 2013, describes a theory first proposed by Simon Nicholson regarding open ended materials. These materials suggest no fixed direction other than what is imagined by the children themselves. Nicholson, and others that followed him, proposed that these materials empower our creativity.
While a cabinet full of puppets are utilized for individual self-expression, negotiation between children and solution oriented puppet play, only recently have I considered the puppets to also be loose parts. (See blog on Creative Clean Up**)
Expressive Arts recently received a donation of two beautiful puppets from a parent. I had the children sit around the two tables, one new puppet at each. The task was to explore the puppet, one child at a time. Other than that, I only provided guidance if requested. Once a child discovered something about the puppet, s/he shared it with the others and passed the puppet to another child.
Passing it around the table and listening to the discoveries of others lends itself to the idea that there are a myriad of ways to manipulate and utilize a puppet. This concept expands into there are a multitude of solutions to every task or problem.
After this activity, while some children returned to art-making, many of the children used the puppets in non-traditional ways. Two children collaborated on a ‘waterbed’ made of blue fabric. They explained, “He’s a swan. He needs a bed of water.”
Some children made costumes from fabric, ribbon and, of course, colored masking tape.
One child asked, “Can I draw it?” He made an amazingly representational drawing of the peacock with colored pencil. I encouraged and validated his creative choice by saying, “I wouldn’t have thought to draw it. What a good idea!”
How do we give children permission to be curious, to explore open ended materials in new ways? Children feel more open to exploration when they are not intimidated by the process. While some children will jump right in, others who are used to more structure may be intimidated. Here are a few possibilities:
- A tour: Explore or have another child give a tour of the available materials and tools with the more hesitant child.
- Observe with the child: Point out what you observe. Ask the child what s/he sees
o I see they are using scissors, do you know where they are kept?
o How are they connecting the two tubes, can you find the tape?
o Once basic tools and the open ended materials are known you could them to collect materials they like and bring them back to their work space. You can remind them that they can play with any of the materials here. But, if they’d like to take the materials home, they will need to connect them. “What can we use for connecting; colored tape, string, wire, pipe cleaners?” This will encourage their art-making.
- Encourage: Remind the children that there aren’t any right or wrong ways to use the materials. They can make whatever they can imagine.
Whatever you can do to familiarize the children with the puppets and materials will encourage their creativity and curiosity as well. There are many ways to encourage key competencies. Using Puppetry and the Expressive Arts comes naturally as they are two of the hundred languages of children