Creativity is part of our human expression. Our ability to express ourselves creatively – through words, art, music, movement, etc. – is an aspect that sets us apart. As parents or as teachers, we have a responsibility to cultivate the creative spirit of every child in our care.
Creativity is not something that is taught, rather it is something that is nurtured. Following are some ideas and principles that should guide us in our goal to provide an environment that will foster and support the development of creative exploration and expression among the children.
Show the Technique and then offer Open Ended Exploration
Just as with any other activity in the Children’s House, our priority in offering art supplies should be to demonstrate the technique of how a particular art medium is responsibly used, and then fade away to allow the child to engage in open ended exploration with that supply. For example, if I want to offer painting with water colors to the child, I would demonstrate:
- how to lay out the materials that will be used
- how to wet the brush
- how to apply paint to paper (I shouldn’t paint a picture, I just need to apply a bit of color to the paper to demonstrate the technique)
- how to clean the brush before applying a new color
- how to change the water if it gets to dirty
- how to clean everything up when I am done
Then I will invite the child to explore the paints in any way he wants. If this means that he chooses to paint the entire page with all the colors until it is roughly the shade of mud, that is okay. That in and of itself is an opportunity for learning. (What happens when I mix all the colors together?)
Process over Product
It is important for us as the adult to keep in mind that the young child often engages in work with a particular medium in order to practice with and explore the process of using it. We should not get hung up on the generation of a product. We should not ask the child what he has made – very often he hasn’t made anything – he is simply exploring the way paint covers a page. We need to step away from our urge to get the children to produce something appealing. The objective of creative work is exploratory thinking and doing, even if this is not evident to us in the end product.
Be a Responsive Adult
Being responsive to a child’s work is very different from offering praise. When praise is used, a superior-inferior relationship is inferred. It may cause the children to limit or alter their natural work in order to please the adult. It robs the child of his intrinsic motivation to create. The child may hesitate to do spontaneous or exploratory work for fear that it will not garner the praise of the adult. Likewise, we never correct or criticize the child’s artwork. Do not “show how” or enhance their work in any way. Children become discouraged when they are made to feel that their work is inadequate or wrong. We must respect the knowledge that young children should not be expected to draw and paint things as they appear to the adult’s sense of order and proportion. (e.g. “you know that a dog only has four legs…”) The young Child’s work is controlled by inner direction and not by visual observation.
A responsive adult shows that the child’s efforts and feelings are recognized and respected. Our response to a child’s work should be given wisely, if at all. Children who are working naturally and independently receive great satisfaction from creating and do not generally need our feedback. Of course, some children seek out a response from the adult. In those cases, an objective observation is an appropriate response. A few examples are:
- “I noticed you spent a lot of time working on that drawing.”
- “I see you used a lot of blue in your picture.”
- “I can see many shapes in this collage.”
- “Thank you for showing your work to me.”
Such nonjudgmental comments leave the children free to add their own thoughts or explanations if they so choose.
Strive for Maximum Independence
A main objective in Montessori education is to cultivate a sense of independence in the children. It is the same with artwork. This means that the child is not dependent on an adult to pursue his motivation to engage in art. He should not have to ask permission, or request supplies, or feel compelled to copy the design of an adult. We have to make sure that all of the supplies that the child will need to do the activity and then complete the clean-up process are assembled in one place and are ready and accessible for him to use. This includes the mat to cover the table, the smock or apron he might wear, the sponge to use in cleaning up at the end, and any replacement supplies that he will need to replenish. The child should feel a sense of independence in making his choice of work, carrying it out in any way he likes, and then completing the cycle of work.
Engaging in art work is a developmentally appropriate activity for all children. Children are intrinsically motivated to engage in artistic activities. Art stimulates repetition and deep concentration – manifestations that we desire to see throughout their work in the Montessori environment. It responds to the child’s tendency to explore and it provides an outlet for creative and imaginative expression. Over time working with art media inspires him to strive for improvement in his own manipulation and mastery of the materials as it offers immediate feedback to the child. Just as with all activity in a Montessori classroom, it brings together the work of physical and intellectual spheres. We need to make it a priority to offer the child the opportunity to engage in this type of work at his own choosing and at his own pace, both at home and at school.