Art had always been five year-old Ashley's favorite time of the day. That is until the new teacher offered advice. "Don't you know snow is never green!" she exclaimed while looking down at Ashley's painting. "Why don't you paint white snow like all the other children?"
The youngster's excitement and happiness was crushed. What had appeared like a cheerful color for snow, was somehow lost in the eyes of the observer. The next time the children were asked to color snow, Ashley made the snow white. But in doing so, the thrill of creativity was gone. In fact, she never used the green color again. And her mother wondered why her daughter never wanted to wear green clothing.
Creativity in young children can be nurtured - or it can be crushed. How early childhood teachers respond to a child's personal work of art determines the developing self-concept.
Young children are born creative. They have original ideas, see objects in new and different ways, use imagination, and invent original forms to express ideas. Creativity flourishes only where it is accepted and encouraged. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who have been dominated by the adults around them and not allowed to do anything their own way, will not show much creativity. They have already learned that experimenting with things only gets them into trouble. Children who have been the victims of neglect, lack of love, harsh discipline, or overprotection seem to lack the spark of creativity, as well (Beaty, 1984).
The following guidelines for teachers will foster creativity in the young child.
1. Avoid patterns, ditto outlines, and coloring books. Allow children opportunities to experiment with art materials and media. Unstructured and "raw materials" allows the chance for creative expression.
2. Art allows children to develop positive views of themselves. Praise the child for working with the art supplies. Emphasize, "You can." Discourage the use of models and patterns.
3. Praise the child's work. Communicate that you value uniqueness, diversity, and difference.
4. Comment on design, shape, and color. Avoid making the child tell you "what" the picture is about. This is especially true for younger children as they may not know.
5. Show how to use the art materials provided. Avoid doing the work for them or editing their work.
6. Relate to parents that in art, the process is more important than the product.
7. Provide opportunities for children to view works of art. Take a field trip to the library or local museum. Display great art in the classroom.
A child's artwork has many values and should be part of the curriculum. Yes, art requires preparation. Yes, it requires close supervision. And it's often messy. However, it contains great importance in programs for young children.
Carolyn R. Tomlin is a former assistant professor of early childhood education at Union. She is the author of What I Wish It Hadn’t Taken Me So Long to Learn, available at www.1stbook.com. University
Beaty, J. (1984).Skills for preschool teachers. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.