Children are innately creative beings. If you’ve ever watched your kid dancing to the music in their head, or complimented your daughter’s drawing of a dinosaur, only to be informed that it is in fact a lake with a princess swimming in the middle, you know this to be true. They have no sense of “this can’t be done.” Every possibility in life is, to a child’s mind, an equal probability.
|Watercolor & Salt, Preschool|
Then we begin to teach them to color inside the lines.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, in art (as in life) there are rules to be followed before you can learn which ones to break. Hot stoves will hurt you. If you drop something, it will fall down, not up. Mix yellow with blue, and you will get green.
Since this is not a parenting blog, I’ll leave the broader life questions to be answered by other more qualified people, but I do want to ponder the question of how we teach our children to hold on to that creative spark. Just like the first spark of a campfire, if you blow on it, surround it with kindling, and give it shelter, it will grow into something beautiful and useful.
Art takes practice, just like anything else. We intuitively know this to be true for the performing arts, such as music, theatre, and dance. We start our little ballerinas as soon as they master the basics of walking. (That may be because they look so darn cute in the tutus!) Gyms around the world hold toddler tumbling classes, which usually involve some kind of rhythm or music. And what mother of a preschooler hasn’t thanked the heavens that the school is willing to take on finger- and sand-painting, saving her from the mess?
But somewhere along the way, our kids stop encountering endless praise for their art, and start receiving critiques instead. I don’t know about you, but my kids do not respond well to criticism. I mean, who likes to be told they’re not doing it right? Whether it’s teeth-brushing techniques, piano lessons, or math homework, my kids don’t love being told how to do things. (They come by it honestly.) As an adult, I’ve learned that critiquing is an integral part of improving. If you don’t learn to take a critique, you can’t get better at your art. So the question is not how to protect them from critiques, but how to help them learn to accept an honest critique. (And to disregard an unfounded one.) Even learning to accept a critique takes practice.
So, back to the question of how to fan the creative spark in each of our children. I think the answer is not to avoid teaching the “rules”, or even to avoid gentle critiques (when the time is right), but to find a way to help our kids value their art. To place a high value on practicing that art. To devote time and effort to it, even if it will never become their career. (Never is a dangerous word.)
In our local public schools, the kids get art classes every other year, one class a week. Then music classes every other year. My opinions on this arrangement are better left to an off-line rant, er, discussion. But my point is this. It is up to me to encourage my children’s artistic endeavors. To value their art on the same level I value finishing their homework. To prod them to practice, even when the world around them tells them it is frivolous, or worse, a waste of time. To give them space, time, and supplies to do what their creative hearts desire. And when they are done, to ask them what the beautiful picture is about, rather than complimenting their dinosaur.
|Framing & Displaying, just like “Real” Art|
That is why this year I’ve volunteered to help our school participate in “Reflections”. Reflections is a national PTA sponsored art contest that encourages kids to explore their talent in the areas of Dance, Music, Art, Literature, Film, and Photography. It’s kind of like Science Fair for the arts. I’m hoping that by giving our kids a reason to create something, they will see the value in practicing their creativity. And I can’t wait to see what sort of artistic creations will be submitted.
If you’d like to know if your school participates in Reflections, contact your PTA. If you want more information about Reflections, you can find it here. If you have any ideas or tips for encouraging your child’s artistic endeavors, I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment below…