Children are innate mark makers. They love to play with materials and experience the shapes and sounds that they make when rubbed on a surface. What I love about really young children is that they are supremely confident about the marks they make. They have not yet learnt to be ashamed of what they do and they are not trying too hard to get their piece ‘just right’. Somewhere along the way this confidence is lost and some children begin to dislike drawing or painting. I think that this is a shame.
At around age 5 -6 children become aware of symbols and start to make an effort to draw things around them realistically. This pre-occupation with making an artwork look realistic is often what drives frustration with art making for kids. Many children decide at this age that they are not creative or can’t draw. As parents and teachers we can assist children to navigate this stage successfully and come out the other side with their creative ego in tact.
A blank page is a scary prospect, in an Art classroom your mistakes are very visible. By encouraging children to have a positive approach to mistakes and learning we are empowering them as creative beings. The following 12 tips are strategies I use in my classroom to foster creativity, reduce task anxiety and teach students about the process of learning. As a parent I try to keep these strategies in the forefront of my mind when encouraging my son to explore the world.
1) Make a BIG fuss of success.
2) Mistakes are really just tests: Mistakes are not just ‘ok’ they are valuable opportunities to learn. If you are a teacher factor mistakes into your lesson, tell your students that you expect them and want them to make mistakes. Parents can encourage children to look at mistakes in a positive light and help them to analyse them.
3) Replace negative statements with positive statements that encourage growth: Help them to become conscious of the statements they make. Encourage rephrasing, for instance ‘ I am not good at this’ is turned into ‘I am learning to do this’
4) The photocopier is your best friend: Some children especially pre-teens stop working on a piece in fear that they may mess it up if they go any further. At this stage ask them to photocopy the work a number of times. They can then trial a few ideas on the replicas before working on their ‘good’ piece. This helps build confidence.
5) Teach them to document their work: photographing their work at different stages allows them to track changes and validates the learning process.
6) Encourage them to think about problems as positive intellectual activities: Help them to see problems as a puzzle that needs working out. Make the process fun.
7) Encourage them to see mishaps as opportunities: ‘Oh dear, I can see why you are upset about the ink spilling all over your work, you are probably going to have to accept that you can’t change the artwork back. Could you perhaps use the ink spill somehow to create a new artwork? Could the ink spill add to the meaning of the work?’
8) Teach them to find their own solutions to problems: ” Hmm so you say the glue has not set on your sculpture . . . Could you try another glue? What happens if leave the glue for longer? Could you perhaps call the manufacturer? Here is a book on sculpture techniques, lets see what it says”
9) Teach them to steal: Foster a culture of learning, ask students to walk around the class and write down one technique/approach they would like to steal from a peer. Tell them that there will always be someone who is better than them so they need to get over this fact. Tell them they are privileged if there are others better than them in a class because it means they have someone to learn from. At the dinner table with your child ask them what they learnt from a peer.
10) ‘What if?’: Help them to explore ideas by expanding how they think about a topic. If the topic is ‘bushfires’ they could brainstorm options using ‘what if?’ as prompt. For instance: What if the fire formed the shape of a human face? What if the fire was burning in a teacup as someone sips from it? What if the fire was tiny and held in a human hand? What if the fire formed tree leaves?
11) Teach them how to recognise, deconstruct and describe good work: Good art is often very intimidating if we are unable to identify why it works. If we take the time to look at how the effect has been achieved we are in the position to learn.
12) We are not born creative, we learn to be creative: Creativity needs to be taught and learnt. Some people may pick it up faster and with less tuition but everyone has the ability to be creative. Creative people are hard workers and deep thinkers, they are constantly striving to better themselves. Teach your children to be patient with themselves as they learn, teach them that everyone has a starting point but we all have the ability to move forward. Tell them that they are already artists learning to be better artists.