ERIC Identifier: ED389474
Publication Date: 1995-12-00
Author: Edwards, Carolyn Pope - Springate, Kay Wright
ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Encouraging Creativity in Early Childhood Classrooms. ERIC
Adults are often amazed by young children's unexpected perceptions of the
world and the unique ways in which they express their imagination. We also know,
however, that children usually need adult support to find the means and the
confidence to bring forth their ideas and offer them, day after day, to
teachers, parents, and friends. This digest considers both teacher-initiated and
child-initiated strategies for enhancing young children's self-expression and
While trying to explore new and better ways of bringing the arts to young
children and children to the arts, it helps to examine not only what American
teachers do but also what teachers in other nations have discovered. Models
developed in other countries, such as in the preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy,
can be a universal resource.
HOW YOUNG CHILDREN LEARN
In Reggio Emilia, Italy, home of
some of the best preschools in the world, children grow up surrounded by
centuries-old masterpieces of architecture, painting, and sculpture. Citizens
are especially proud of their artistic heritage, and art becomes a natural
vehicle in educational approaches for helping children explore and solve
problems. In the American context, science and technology are specially
regarded. Many Americans acquire an interest in tools and machines and enjoy
trying to make things run better, fixing things, and solving functional
problems. An investigation of "what's inside" and "how things work" makes a
natural starting point for in-depth work that integrates art with science,
social studies, and literacy activity.
The documentation of young children's work provided by Reggio Emilia
educators highlights young children's amazing capabilities and indicates that it
is through the unity of thinking and feeling that young children can explore
their world, represent their ideas, and communicate with others at their highest
level. When educators fully understand how exploration, representation, and
communication feed one other, they can best help children achieve this
Several aspects of young children's learning are important to consider when
thinking about art and creative activities (Edwards & Hiler, 1993). First,
young children are developmentally capable of classroom experiences which call
for (and practice) higher level thinking skills, including ANALYSIS (breaking
down material into component parts to understand the structure, seeing
similarities and differences); SYNTHESIS (putting parts together to form a new
whole, rearranging, reorganizing); and EVALUATION (judging the value of material
based on definite criteria).
Second, young children want and need to express ideas and messages through
many different expressive avenues and symbolic media. Young children form mental
images, represent their ideas, and communicate with the world in a combination
of ways. They need increasing competence and integration across formats
including words, gestures, drawings, paintings, sculpture, construction, music,
dramatic play, movement, and dance. Through sharing and gaining others'
perspectives, and then revisiting and revising their work, children move to new
levels of awareness. Teachers act as guides, careful not to impose adult ideas
and beliefs upon the children.
Third, young children learn through meaningful activities in which different
subject areas are integrated. Open-ended discussions and long-term activities
bring together whole-language activities, science, social studies, dramatic
play, and artistic creation. Activities that are meaningful and relevant to the
child's life experiences provide opportunities to teach across the curriculum
and assist children in seeing the interrelationships of things they are
Teachers have many opportunities to integrate curriculum. For example, the
arrival of a new sibling is a common occurrence. Teachers might ask parents of
children in their class to contribute photographs of the children as infants,
toddlers, and preschoolers, so that the children who are interested can make
scrapbooks. If such photos are unavailable, the children can draw or cut
pictures from magazines, or dictate stories about remembered foods, toys, or
bedroom furnishings. Such activities, designed to help a child deal with a new
baby, also help children to use spoken and written language and to select and
Fourth, young children benefit from in-depth exploration and long-term,
open-ended projects which are started either from a chance event, a problem
posed by one or more children, or an experience planned and led in a flexible
way by teachers (Edwards & Springate, 1993; Clark, 1994). The adults act as
resource persons, problem-posers, guides, and partners to the children in the
process of discovery and investigation. They take their cues from children
through careful listening and observation, and know when to encourage
risk-taking and when to refrain from interfering.
WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO
Given what is known about young
children's learning and about their amazing competence to express their visions
of themselves and their world, how can the classroom be modified to best support
children's emerging creativity?
TIME. Creativity does not follow the clock. Children need extended, unhurried
time to explore and do their best work. They should not be artificially rotated,
that is, asked to move to a different learning center or activity when they are
still productively engaged and motivated by a piece of creative work.
SPACE. Children need a place to leave unfinished work to continue the next
day, and a space that inspires them to do their best work. A barren, drab
environment is not conducive to creative work. Rather, children's work is
fostered by a space that has natural light, harmonious colors, comfortable and
child-sized areas, examples of their own and others' work (not only their
classmates, but as appropriate, also their teachers' and selected adult
artists), and inviting materials.
MATERIALS. Without spending great amounts of money, teachers can organize
wonderful collections of resource materials that might be bought, found, or
recycled. These materials can include paper goods of all kinds; writing and
drawing tools; materials for constructions and collages, such as buttons,
stones, shells, beads, and seeds; and sculpting materials, such as play dough,
goop, clay, and shaving cream. These materials are used most productively and
imaginatively by children when they themselves have helped select, organize,
sort, and arrange them.
CLIMATE. The classroom atmosphere should reflect the adults' encouragement
and acceptance of mistakes, risk-taking, innovation, and uniqueness, along with
a certain amount of mess, noise, and freedom. This is not a matter of chaos, or
of tight control, but instead something in between. In order to create such a
climate, teachers must give themselves permission to try artistic activity
themselves, even when they have not been so fortunate as to have had formal art
training or to feel they are naturally "good at art." Through workshops, adult
education classes, or teamwork with an art teacher or parent, classroom teachers
can gain the confidence for, and experience the pleasure of, venturing some
distance down the road of self-expression in a medium in which they did not know
they could be successful. Their skill will then translate into the work with the
OCCASIONS. Children's best and most exciting work involves an intense or
arousing encounter between themselves and their inner or outer world. Teachers
provide the occasions for these adventures. Children find it hard to be creative
without any concrete inspiration. Instead, they prefer to draw on the direct
evidence of their senses or memories. These memories can become more vivid and
accessible through the teacher's provocations and preparations. For example,
teachers can encourage children to represent their knowledge and ideas before
and after they have watched an absorbing show, taken a field trip, or observed
and discussed an interesting plant or animal brought into class. Teachers can
put up a mirror or photos of the children in the art area, so children can study
their faces as they draw their self-portrait. Teachers can offer children the
opportunity to check what they have drawn against an original model and then let
them revise and improve upon their first representation.
All of these activities can be combined with
the teachers' goals of gradually introducing children to new art materials and
techniques. Finally, there is no "one right way" for helping young children
achieve their creative potential. Teachers will need to continue to experiment
and test alternatives to see what is effective in their situation.
Adapted from: Edwards, Carolyn Pope, and Kay Wright Springate. (1995). The
Lion Comes Out of the Stone: Helping Young Children Achieve Their Creative
Potential. DIMENSIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD 23(4, Fall): 24-29. Adapted with
permission of the Southern Early Childhood Association and the authors.
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