Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Letting Kids Create Art Their Way

“But I thought you said there was no right way to make an oogly?”   
Trying to let kids create can cause madness at times.
I got that reminder from a student one time when I was correcting him on his process for making an oogly. It was a wake-up call to me that I had gotten too concerned about doing it “my way” and not just letting kids play.
Maybe an arm is missing for a reason or maybe it's not done - who knows?
It’s a hard role for most adults to play in the lives of their kids or children they interact with as friends, teachers or coaches. Even though I know kids in my classes are learning and playing, I sometimes feel compelled to correct them when I know I should be helping or just watching. I have to be aware of the impact my words can have when I’m observing to make sure I let these young artists be creative and not try to interfere when they are putting something together that doesn’t make sense for me.
In normal classroom settings, it's easy to fall into "instructor" mode.
Here are a few things I try to do to make sure I don’t “correct” kids when they play with clay.

1. Don’t talk a lot – I find it’s often best to let kids work on their project without a lot of explanation from me. Then, when they get to a stopping point, they can check in with me for feedback. My goal is to avoid interrupting their train of thought or distracting them from their experience while they create.
A mohawk and fangs make for a rock star oogly!
2. Keep instructions short and simple – Sometimes I demonstrate the process of making a piece but I try to keep the steps short and not break the project into too many individual instructions. Kids prefer to dive in when they have a piece of clay to work with. They don’t want to hear an adult rattle on when they could be making something.

3. Don’t give multiple suggestions when children ask a question - If they want input on something specific, make sure your comments address their request. Staying focused on the question ensures that you won’t overstep and start making additional suggestions that could steer a child away from their intent in hopes of pleasing you.
The variety of ideas children have are an inspiration to my work.
4. Pay attention to the individual – While most children don’t need much intervention, I encounter children who are perfectionists when it comes to following directions or “matching” their piece to a sample I have demonstrated. In those cases, you may find that intervening in the process is helpful. Providing reassurance that all art is wonderful and their efforts are on target can help avoid an extremely upset child. I’m sure you’ve encountered those meltdowns and it’s great if you can give encouragement to relax a child who is getting frustrated.
Horns or ears, no arms, no big deal...
I know others out there have great ways to make sure students are allowed to explore their creativity. What works for you?

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