I have been doing quite a number of art workshops around the country in the past few months. In addition to those conferences, I have been organizing art projects for several of my university classes. But, this past Friday, when I attended a local Head Start Conference, I was reminded again how excited early childhood teachers are with paint! Every place I went had the same reaction from the teachers. They should be excited about paint because when it is used correctly in the classroom, paint can provide open-ended activities that inspire creativity and can encourage critical thinking.
One of the most difficult parts of my profession comes when I enter a school or classroom and see pre-made crafts that the teacher is calling ‘art.’ I get stressed by these inappropriate activities. I witnessed a teacher looking at her wall display of cut-paste-color all the same scarecrows and saw her detach one of the heads and glue it on straighter. This is a teacher who is only concerned with a final product to go on the wall. Anyone who knows anything about art and early childhood knows that it is the process the child goes through that is the learning experience. Although the final product is always wonderful when made completely by a child, it is the thinking and creative process that is the essential teaching tool. It would have been so much more appropriate to see individual scarecrows, totally made by each child, displayed on that wall. Child-centered art activities display the child’s personality and thought processes. Plus, he has much more ownership than he could possibly have with a project that an adult created for him to ‘finish.’
At the Head Start Conference this past week, I remembered how excited we can be about paint and children. If I was in charge of the world, all coloring book-type art would disappear and all children would have paint, crayons, and paper, along with a teacher or parent who knows how to help ignite creativity.