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Open-ended Art and Child-led Learning: My Thoughts and Experience

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I try to create an environment at home for plenty of random art exploration and play; I think, this time for 100% open-ended exploration is as important, if not more, as the planned art and learning projects I set up for Pari. For, I believe that for young learners, it's the freedom to experiment and do as they fancy, which will instill creative confidence and taps their unbridled imagination.

Telling them to pursue OUR ideas and to do what WE envision for them is a sure shot recipe to kill enthusiasm and creativity in those young hearts.

I have learnt these lessons slowly but surely. Hence, I would caution you before you plan to do something that's beyond your child's capacity or aptitude. It's a lose-lose situation where the mommy is spreading herself thin doing expert art projects and is having to direct the kid to do 'this way' and 'that way'; while the child is getting no where trying to toe the mommy's/teacher's line.

Why, I have made all these mistakes in the early years of my trying to be a creative mommy. Thank God, I realized sooner than later that this is not the way I can inspire my kid to be a free spirit; a creative thinker and a confident learner.

Then on, it was always a collaborative and often – a Pari-centered learning environment.

I would seek her ideas; ask her how she wants to do it; even ask her what art material would she choose or prefer – water colour, sketch pens, crayons, poster paint. 

Would she want to cut-paste or paint, sketch or colour? 

Would she want to write or wanted to dictate to me so I could write down? 

Are we in a mood to do a science experiment or build some structures?

Shall we rather cook or do some cleaning? Shall we cook pasta or bake a cake? Make ginger tea or some lemon juice? 

The moment I sought HER ideas; her motivation multiplied a zillion times. So did mine!

A self-motivated soul can do wonders. There's no limit to his/her creativity and passion.

The fact that they may not be able to define the objective of what they are doing; like we adults do, does not mean they are not learning something tangible. Far from it, they always intrinsically have a clear agenda – driven by their own eagerness and interest.

They ARE learning on their own. Whether it's through cutting papers and carpeting the floors with scraps; or by fiddling around with colours on tissue paper, toilet paper, ice and what have you!

Often it may not lead to anything tangible or rather – pure mess and apparent 'waste' of colour and paper. But wait, "waste"? This is not waste. Rather, the time we mommies spend doing elaborate projects that the kiddos can hardly relate to or enjoy – THAT time and effort is waste.

Here's an article I read recently on Creative with Kids that echoes similar thoughts and warns that we might be doing certain things that can ruin our art/craft experience with kids and theirs' too.

Actually, who knows, their mess may inspire them to 'create' something concrete!
In the photo below, she made a bookmark for me.

I read this quote somewhere. Resonated so much, I noted it down:

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.

– Plato

Here are some open-ened art activities that Pari thoroughly enjoyed. Your kids can explore these during the holidays:

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Angelique Felix December 9, 2011, 9:36 am

    What a marvellous post and quote Rashie!
    As always we are on the same frequency with our thoughts and how to look at children (persons).
    Love, Angelique

    • Anonymous December 9, 2011, 11:17 am

      @twitter-262141625:disqus What a lovely first comment! Yeah – we certainly share the same wavelength – about the way we must look at a child – as a person, who needs the same respect that we save for adults….Glad you loved reading the post and the quote. The quote – isn’t it so deep that speaks to your soul..!?Hugs to you :)

  • Roopa December 9, 2011, 2:34 pm

    Rashmie, that IS a great remainder on how to play with our little ones!! I have made plenty of these mistakes, but realised them and I am still in the process of correcting myself each time we sit down for something! I am very grateful to MaryAnn Kohl and her books which was a real eye opener to me about the process based play. 
    Love and hugs to you both!!

    • Rashmie Jaaju December 16, 2011, 6:15 am

      @d30bc3449b5ec6a288bce14ae7a528a7:disqus It’s from the mistakes that we learn. You’re doing amazingly as a creative mom/facilitator for your daughter – Putti. Thank you for adding to this discussion :)

  • Rebekah Patel December 10, 2011, 2:48 am

    Such an important post!  It’s okay to have your own visions of how you want your project to turn out, but like you said it’s a “lose-lose” situation when you have visions of how you want your children’s art projects to turn out.  It helps children build confidence when you value their own creative process.  Sometimes I don’t understand why my daughter chooses to scribble all over a paper when she has completed a drawing, but there had to be some reason for it.  Just because I don’t understand why she scribbles when she can draw a figure doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.  

    • Rashmie Jaaju December 16, 2011, 6:13 am

      @google-480808cad0197bc9ad682b1572119e4a:disqus You’re so right – “it’s okay to have your vision of how you want YOUR project to turn out” but step aside when you’re facilitating an activity for your kid. While we need to enrich their experience by guiding, asking questions, prodding, we definitely will do well to not get attched with how the final product should turn out…
      Thank you so much, Rebekah, for adding much to this discussion…
      You’re such a wonderful mom and a person!

  • Haripriya December 10, 2011, 9:08 am

    Amazing article Rashmie :) And so very true…Enjoyed reading it.

    • Anonymous December 13, 2011, 10:33 am

      @652a96285c7600894b2dee882945fe74:disqus  So glad you liked reading my thoughts. Thank you for your encouraging words and for connecting! :)

  • Cathy @ NurtureStore December 13, 2011, 6:33 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post Rashmie. It’s all in the doing isn’t it. My 5-year-old had a wonderful, relaxing and thoughtful time swirling her hands through paint this weekend, mixing colours together and making patterns. There was no end product (other than some messy hands!) but time well spent.

    • Rashmie Jaaju December 16, 2011, 6:10 am

      @4af35f414b5521e19ce63f91ae892ea6:disqus Very well said – “it’s all in the doing”. As you said – it’s so relaxing and peaceful for the little ones when an adult is not hovering over them pointing out directions…
      This self-exploration also gives them the time to reflect and entertain their own thoughts….
      Thank you, Cathy, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts…

  • Melissa December 14, 2011, 4:52 am

    Nice post! It is always nice to be reminded of this! My daughter Loves to just play with materials and I do let her do that.  It definitely gives her confidence to be able to this! I wish in schools there was more of this exploration going on because there tends to always be a emphasis on the product.  

    • Rashmie Jaaju December 16, 2011, 6:07 am

      @twitter-255659366:disqus I agree with you – the schools focus so much on the product rather than the process and  totally miss the point of how much children can ‘teach themselves’ by way of exploring independently. Often, we don’t need to teach our children. We just have to facilitate and give them the confidence to teach themselves…Thank you, Melissa, for adding to the discussion. I love your blog for all the open-ended, process-based activities that you do with your little girl…

  • Art4littlehands December 19, 2011, 12:57 am

    I have been learning this lesson too as a young mother and I tend to go back and forth with my approach to doing art with my kids.  My 8 year old is getting older and really enjoying doing crafts that have a cut here paste there approach.  I am not sure if letting her do these craft projects helps or hinders her creativity.  I am sure to let her know that she can always just use the supplies in any way she wants, but she is so right brain oriented that she enjoys reading and following directions on craft kits.  I love the way Pari is artistically.  I always admire how you are parenting her.  I am working at it.  I am going to work on getting more of an art station set up so the kids have more ability to see what we have and what they can use and create on their own.  You are a wonderful mom and an inspiration to me.  Thanks for the post and for linking up to Monday Madness. (sorry for writing a whole post in your comments!)

  • Anntrea December 19, 2011, 2:09 am

    I am so glad I found your blog!  I agree completely with your philosophy about creativity.  I think I came to this approach by accident.  I am a relaxed type of person and my 6 year old daughter has an independent personality.  I have lots of supplies available to her and she just goes!  It has worked for her – she is ahead of her peers on many levels but I agree with Melissa’s comment about schools and their emphasis on results and conformity – she is less prepared for that!