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How do we best respond to children’s artistic creativity?

Children learn the value of scribbling from adults. Children also learn to please teacher and parents. Many parents tend to prefer product-oriented, recognizable artwork that they can easily relate to as an object, rather than process-oriented scribbles or paintings and sculptures that are unrecognizable as objects.

Comments like “what is it” or “that looks like a ____” suggest that the project is not good enough for you to recognize it, or it forces the child to label when there was no intention in that direction. Children do not attempt to render real objects until about age 4.

“Very pretty” or “nice picture” are vague comments and become hollow. Rather, be a mirror for your child’s efforts; reflect verbally what your child is doing. Doing is the key word here, as, especially for the preschool child, process is more important than the product. Describing this process provides vocabulary and includes praise on an individual basis. We can use the elements of art as a framework for our verbal response, commenting on color, line, mass or volume, pattern, shape or form, space, and texture.

Commenting on these elements offers both information and concept formation in addition to inviting a discussion. Encourage discovery and process when talking with a child about his or her work:

    “Can you tell me about your painting/ sculpture?”
    “What part did you like best?”
    “You’ve used many colors.”
    “Did you enjoy making this?”
    “How did the paint feel?”
    “The yellow looks so bright next to the purple!”
    “How did you make such a big design?”

We can also say “I like the way you are…

    working so hard.”
    coming up with your very own ideas.”
    trying new ways.”

We can invite children to tell us about their work. Rather than asking “what is it?”, “would you tell me about your picture?” offers, without pushing, the opportunity to share if they wish. The choice should be theirs. In addition, it may not be “something”- it may just be a design. Again, forcing children to label their products may convey that it is not good enough to tell what it is, or it may not be something specific.

Watch nonverbal interaction (yours and theirs). Keep the dialogue going if the child wishes, yet respect the children’s need to work without disruptions. Remember “mirrored feedback” about the child’s work. Take a look at the first drawings you did with your mouth or toes. Formulate feedback statements using the elements and suggestions above.

Taken from:

Russell, C.L. (2008). Art for all children. The International Journal of the Arts in Society, 2(5), 89-98.

See the original article.