What is more quintessential to preschool than paint? And crayons? And pastels, clay, wire, glue, buttons, paper …. the list is endless and the answer is nothing.
In the Reggio Emilia, art is elevated to be the chosen medium for young children to represent their feelings and ideas. Children of this age are still a long way from a complete and nuanced vocabulary and the ability articulate complex and abstract ideas, but putting brush or crayon or pencil to paper is a natural and joyful act that, when honored and respected, speaks volumes.
The thing that we as the adult observers have to remember is that it is not about the art, per se, but about the ability to express thinking. It doesn’t matter whether it looks like a horse – it matters that the child was free to mix color, choose paper, discuss, reflect and take all the time they require to be satisfied that they have expressed their ideas about a horse. The only time young children are frustrated or disappointed in the accuracy of their rendering is when an adult has given voice to that goal and made it a primary intention.
When we are tempted to “show” children how to draw or create something or do it for them to then “color in”….we have sabotaged their process of discovering their inherent ability to make marks that express and represent. Instead of connecting with the materials and developing an understanding and mastery of them, they are distracted by images that are not their own. No matter now primitive you may think your drawing skills are, they are more controlled and accurate than those of a three year old so their efforts will never compare favorably and now the focus is on the drafting and not the expression. Confronted with the difference between their work and ours – they are inclined to give up and either move away from drawing entirely or become dependent on adults providing the work for them.
The adults at our school behave as co-learners. When there is a question from a child, they will return with a question that will start the exploration of ways to represent what the child is thinking.
Where have you seen a horse? What colors do you think of when you think of horses? Can we make that color? Where could we see pictures of horses so we can talk more about how you want to make your horse?
So, while the kids are following their own time and route to being able to express their ideas with art, the teachers are learning about that child, their thoughts, ideas and interests.
Young kids are still in a critical developmental stage of discovering drawing, writing, symbology and representation and to offer a model is to short-cut that process. If you give them a model before they have reached a particular stage, it has no real basis for, or connection to, their understanding of their abilities. At RTG, we are inclined to offer kids a variety of supports and provocations rather than do actual representations for them. If you’re not sure what to do when your child asks (demands?!) you to draw a picture for them….ask clarifying questions about what they know, think and see in their mind’s eye. You’ll have an amazing conversation and, more than likely, some amazing art that you could never have imagined.