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Art and the Very Young

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Every now and again I am asked when I will start teaching art for little kids (under 8 years old). The truth is, I feel very strongly that art class before somewhere around the age of 8 is actually quite detrimental to a child's growth in creativity, imagination, and ability to come up with original ideas and apply them in an innovative way.

Allowing a child the time, space, and materials to create uninterrupted is one of the greatest gifts we can give to them as it is the foundation of imagination and innovation. So often we see talent and interest and want to guide and direct it, and as good as that intention is, I have found it detrimental to the natural creative process that children naturally want to explore.

Sir Ken Robinson, a world renown expert in the field of education, points out: "Many have spent years grudgingly practicing scales for music examinations only to abandon the instrument altogether once they’ve made the grade. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself..." I have found this to be especially true of the very young, who are naturally in a stage of discovery and exploration. I was always amazed at how many uses my young children could come up with for simple objects like sticks, or how a bush could become a house, or how long they would spend in a pile of LEGOs; you can't stop them from creating and imagining! As Robinson described it, it is certainly an insatiable "appetite". Robinson continues, "When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand. You’ll find evidence of this process in great teaching in every discipline from football to chemistry."

The motivation for creativity and exploration is clearly present in children from their first weeks of life as they are motivated to become capable in their interests, but as Robinson points out, mastery begins when their creative ambitions expand. Somewhere around the age of eight, children begin to ask for guidance, they begin to look at their work critically and wonder how to innovate their process/technique even further to get different results. They have become confidant in their ability to create and innovate and are ready for structure and guidance. Usually, a child at this stage will begin to attempt to copy art they find inspiring, maybe they are beginning to draw shadows in their art, or objects are beginning to take on a more 3Dimensional perspective. These are all excellent indicators that child is beginning to look at their work critically and hungry for additional guidance.

So how do we nurture this creativity in very young children? We let them be! We let them explore for the love of exploration, for the thrill of making connections and contrasts, for the simple pleasure of feeling capable of their own unique innovation. To try and structure it or guide it would kill the very essence from which this fountain of desire has sprung.

Until a child reaches that point I strive to protect the those early years of exploration. To the Parent who wants to encourage this essential phase of creativity my best advise is to allow children free access to quality materials (and trash!) with uninterrupted freedom.

#youngartists #creativity #killingcreativity #artinnovation

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