Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creativity and cognition go hand in hand

In my course, Art, Music and Movement for Young Children we talk about process versus product. We discuss open-ended learning opportunities. These phrases become a mantra for Early Childhood Teachers who are serious about making art experiences into learning and development experiences rather than simply craft products to take home to Mommy and Daddy.

    "Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive processes of children than to the results they achieve in various fields of doing and understanding." Loris Malaguzzi.

The founder of the Reggio Emiglia program tells us that creativity and cognition (thinking) are interrelated. As the old song says, " can't have one without the other...". Why do teachers of young children still ask them to replicate their own craft models, such as snowmen, jack-o-lanterns, Christmas trees et. al? These practices, proven to be less then optimal for learning and development, persist in preschools and even kindergarten classes throughout the country. As many teachers point out, these activities teach children to follow directions. Granted, they do, but let's not pretend they are art experiences, or exercises in higher order thinking because they are most emphatically not. They are cute presents a child brings home to his or her family. And frequently they aren't even done by the child. The pieces are cut out by teachers, and teachers tell them where to put the glue! Where is the creativity cum cognition there?

I can get rather bent out of shape about this. Steam comes out of my ears when an adult student tells me that a colleague takes a piece of paper from a child and puts it in the "right" place after the child has failed to do the activity "correctly".

Above is a partial picture of a dearly creative youngster. (Privacy is sacred, y'all) She began with the picture of herself with rainbow hair. Then she proceeded to convert herself into a "squid". I asked her if her squid had rainbow hair and she said, of course! But then she did something that perhaps a teacher of the cookie-cutter craft mold would have been anxious about. This girl began scribbling color all over the paper. As she worked, she told me that the squid lived in rainbow water. I asked a few more open-ended questions and she made it clear that the squid had to have color over and around her because, " she lives in rainbow water". The picture began looking like an aquarium from another planet. Blue, green, read, yellow, orange flowed over and around the "squid", which had tentacles hanging from the former body of our artist.

Here is the cognitive process at work. Here is a child drawing her conception of what it would look like if the ocean were rainbow colored and a squid lived in it. Both words and marks flowed from this girl. She was in the midst of artistic process. At our school, no one will ever tell her the ocean isn't rainbow colored, and that she can't turn herself into a squid. She knows that better than anyone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Your children have so much personality!"

Here you see a girl drawing a line in the dirt of our playground. She is focused, and calm. The dirt is endlessly fascinating. It holds many treasures both in and on it. Soon she will go off to climb or collect other treasures, and stop again to experiment with other tools, both manufactured and natural. Her friends do the same, both boys and girls. There is time for this in the day because it is essential to the growth of her mind. She will need to discuss what she discovers later in morning meeting, or at lunch, or during activity time. And she will have the opportunity to try out her drawing using other media. She will extend and expand on what she has learned outside.

In our day we discuss every aspect of our curriculum with the children, and they easily offer tips and suggestions to us. Everyone has a say. We ask important, open-ended questions and expect answers not only at the time but after, while we are on the playground, for instance, or at lunch. We eat with our children and everything is discussed. I don't mean to make it sound like a graduate dorm! The children are under five and conversations can become silly and even naughty! But they know that anything they say has value to us, and we will take their comments and questions seriously, whether about the construction project across the street (is that a dump truck?), the lines they are drawing in the dirt (I can make a rectangle!),and the food we are eating (ugh! you brought mushrooms?). Perhaps partly because of our program's emphasis on individual inquiry, and partly because each teacher is open as a person to the children, our children have a reputation to the various adults who come to observe. A former college student of mine said, "they are lively, but so well-behaved". And each year those who come to observe for both state and county licensing say something even more interesting. They say, "They have so much PERSONALITY!" 

I think this says volumes. When the state and county regulators go to other childcare centers do they see children who are not as inquisitive, not as lively? Do they see children who are marched through the day doing coloring and worksheets, or going from activity to activity every fifteen minutes or half hour? Do they have concrete playgrounds instead of outdoor environments? 

Possibly we just have more interesting children coming to our center!  I can't say for sure, but I must admit, they do have so much personality!