I have recently found myself in an array of preschools across the country…on a spectrum of affordability and quality. With a few (very few) exceptions, through all the differences of socio-economic backgrounds, space, resources and quality, one feature remained alarmingly constant. Creative art …or rather, the lack thereof. Most preschool classrooms I walked into had cookie cutter art (if at all). 40 similar looking cats stared down at me in one class from the display wall, 35 identical paper plate faces dangled from a string running across the classroom. Green trees with brown barks and red flowers with green stems stood predictably next to square houses with triangular roofs with chimneys (certainly not something a Bombay kid sees outside on the streets). And I am sure next will have diyas with golden cut out paper flames adorning the walls. The work is measured, dictated as a task, the lines too neat to be cut by children, the vision too narrow to have come from a preschoolers imagination. Where was rthe art of self expression? The splash of color as a child discovers how his brush can glide across a paper? Where are the bold strokes of an artist just finding himself, the smudges as he erases and tries again? Where are the polka dotted tigers and the men with three eyes? Why does art have to end up as a product to be displayed neatly on the wall?
I got talking about this with a friend who has a toddler of her own and she sheepishly admitted that she was guilty of the same thing at home. Sitting down with her toddler to paint, she wanted something to show for it, something that looked pretty, something that could go onto Facebook or Instagram or the wall. A paper bruised and tearing with watery paint did not make the cut even if the child labored over it. And a crookedly cut greeting card with jagged edges and part of the painting cut off could not be sent to a doting aunt. And so it is that we forget the reason for children doing art and focus on what the adult gets out of it…a product.
I keep saying this on my blog and to people who care to listen…art is a process…there are no samples or instructions for the child to follow – it is an opportunity for toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with materials and media…to watch the ‘magic’ as blue and yellow merge to make green.
There are no mistakes and nothing an adult needs to correct or change. The art is an experience the child chooses and owns. There is no “color quickly, color within the lines” or “use the correct colors”.
And while it may look like “nothing” it is something the child has created on her own. Process based art helps children relax and enjoy art, it allows them to express themselves and not feel judged. They move from whole arm movement to finer motor skills as their muscles get ready to do more complex work. And eventually you will get your masterpiece…but while you wait, allow them to enjoy their million masterpieces – for each one holds meaning of some kind, and even if it does not, it is a free and joyful expression that builds confidence, motor skills, creative thinking and a lot more!
How can you facilitate process based art at home?
- Have materials accessible: paint, markers, crayons, color pencils, stamps, paints, sequins, glue, play dough or clay, collage materials.
- Keep a large plastic sheet or old shower curtain handy to spread on the floor for art – protects the carpets and floors and simplifies cleanup
- Set up an easel. If that is not possible use tape to put papers up on a plastic cupboard or glass door – painting vertically is important for kids this age.
- Allow the child to explore and discover different media
- enjoy the process – keep it about the process and not the product