Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why art is important for young children

Ariunaa and I hosted another seminar this past Friday.   I enjoy the fact that these ladies now feel as though they know me a bit and are loosening up and making jokes.  It's great!  I was asked to talk about teaching art, so I thought about this and ended with a seminar that talked about why art is important for young children.

The thing about "art" here, is that even though the Mongolians, as a people, are very artistic and creative this is not very often encouraged in schools and it seems even less encouraged in the early childhood sphere.  I am still working my head around the numbers of 40-50 children per class, and how to really make this work besides having them sitting at the table all the time doing whole class, teacher instructed activity (which is generally what happens).  I understand that with so many children this structure makes the day more manageable, but it also leaves children very little opportunity to play, create, explore, delight, make choices.... all of those really important processes.

Anyhow, I guess the main point that I wanted to leave with the teachers was that art is more about the process than the product.  Yes, the product is important- otherwise we wouldn't have galleries all around the wall displaying works of art!  But the process- all the thinking, decision making, problem-solving and creative expression- that is where the most powerful learning takes place, and the true value of art in early childhood is found.  I often come across children here who are scared to draw without an adult's model- and even with it some are scared that they won't do it right.  I have heard of children coming home chastised (and more) because they didn't follow the teachers example correctly.  This doesn't happen all the time, but it does still happen.  So that was the reason I really wanted to emphasise the importance of the process.

We talked about the domains, and how art-making develops each area.  We discussed the idea of art as a language, and how it can be a powerful communication tool for young children to express themselves, and to learn to communicate their thoughts with others.  We reflected on some of the philosophies of Reggio Emilia, and the strong value they place on art as a one of the languages of children, and how they guide children to deepen their knowledge, understanding and thoughts through art-making.  We thought about the phrase: "A picture paints a thousand words" (thankfully that translated quite well into Mongolian!), we thought about the notion of providing children repeated opportunities to explore (and develop their skills) using a variety of materials.  We then discussed ways to encourage creativity in the classroom. 

As a follow up the participants split into groups and were given an art experience to explore.  Some had some instructions, others were completely free! 

I really enjoyed watching these grown women thinking, looking, creating, and not wanting to stop when the time was up because they felt they had more to explore and add in this process!  Their enthusiasm and creativity was very evident!


 This group probably had more of a challenge because they were asked to depict a favourite song or poem, either from the books or just a favourite.  They took a while to get going, but rose to the challenge. One depicted a conversation she had with a child where he expressed his ideas of rain coming from clouds crashing into each other and crying.  I didn't end up getting a photo of her picture, but I won't forget the conversation!

I guess in the end we all realised how liberating it can be to be creative and to experience creative freedom- well, I hope we did!


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