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Little Artists: Supporting Artistic Exploration for Young Children

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/5/2012

Every child starts out as a little artist. Young children love to explore a variety of media, and delight in their creations. Somehow, it seems the older they get, the more frustrating art becomes for some kids. Teachers can support creativity in the early learning environment in many ways.

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    What Happened to Creativity?

    Just watch a toddler with crayons and paper, or a wall for that matter. Without a care in the world, they create little masterpieces with such pleasure you'd think that this creativity would never leave them. Now go and observe a typical 8th grade classroom. Art has become restrained, and nearly across the board, students display a lack of interest. What happened between the toddler years of happy exploration and the middle school creativity slump?

    Very young children are given plenty of room to create. They won't have it any other way. Just go ahead and try to give a 2-year-old explicit directions on how to create a picture. He won't have it. It's his picture and he'll design and create what he wants.

    As children grow, we begin to add our own well-intended suggestions. Teachers and parents alike begin to tell the 5-year-old, "Skies are blue, sweetie. Color your sky blue, not pink." Such a seemingly innocent remark, but these kinds of remarks are repeated over and over. The once carefree toddler has become a Kindergartener who has begun to realize that there are "rules" to making pictures that grown-ups appreciate. Add this newfound knowledge to the fact that children this age want to please adults.

    At around the same time, teachers and parents begin to ask children to "stay in the lines" when they color a picture. Now there is a new rule. Children begin to feel that if they are unable to stay within the lines they are not good at coloring. Adults reinforce this belief over and over.

    By the time children finish elementary school, that natural sense of creativity is all but gone with many children. Those who continue to enjoy creating works of art into the teenage years and beyond are few and far between. What can we as teachers and parents do to encourage children to continue to embrace creativity in their artistic creations?

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    How To Encourage Creativity

    Encouraging creativity is essential if children are to continue creating in the preteen years and on into high school. Here's how to encourage creativity through art activities for young children:

    • Teachers and parents of young children should give open-ended art activities instead of coloring pages.
    • Provide a variety of materials for kids to create with, from pastels and crayons to colored pencils and markers. Let them choose their media and even mix what they use on a project.
    • Display paper of different thicknesses, colors, weight, and textures. Instead of projects that have a desired outcome, assign projects that let the process of creating be the focus. The fun of making the creation is what the child should remember, not how good it looks in the end.
    • Teachers and parents must also be conscious of what they say to children. Never ask students to stay in the lines or color the grass green and the sky blue. No child has ever become an adult believing that grass is purple because they colored it that way in first grade. We really don't have to tell them what colors to use, and we shouldn't.

    When adults keep art light and fun and just let a child's natural creativity emerge, these skills develop without any direct instruction. Just imagine how much fun we as adults could actually have if we would just take a lesson in art from the kids.