TEACHING CREATIVITY IN AUSTRALIA

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I was recently reprimanded for drawing with my young daughter. Upon observing this horrendous act – of us drawing together – a very experienced and well-meaning teacher took me aside and gently explained that this kind of activity could be undermining my shy daughter’s confidence. My daughter would see her own work as inferior and thus I was crushing her soul… admittedly not the exact words the teacher used!

What the teacher didn’t know is that before I was a mere mother, inadvertently breaking the rules at this parent-child session, I spent a good chunk of my working life collecting an impressive pile of awards for my work in Community Cultural Development. Helping teachers and students to be more creative was my job. Thus in this instance, I felt I had the appropriate formal qualifications and recognition to draw with my own child without damaging her… but what if I hadn’t? Should just anyone be allowed to draw with children?!

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The teacher’s comments were based on real research; research which informs the teaching methods used in early years education here in Australia.

The fear is that we, as adults, sit beside a young child and unintentionally kill their creativity by proscribing our own set of symbols into their visual vocabulary. This sounds extreme, but it does happen without us realizing.

For example, we draw a house (usually a triangle on top of a square) and we then call this a ‘house.’ The child then learns this restricted use of symbols to represent ‘house’ instead of exploring their own visualization of the subject.

Left to their own devices young children will repeatedly change perspective, in the one drawing; they will draw what they know, rather than what they see; and they will have a very different outcome to what an adult might recognize. All this is a healthy and important stage in development, it helps wire up the brain, and will continue to change as the child ages and learns.

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The current move in Australia against drawing with young children (or, perhaps more healthily; teaching adults not to model restricted drawing) is a backlash against the previous mode of teaching where adults all too often were attempting to ‘improve’ a child’s work. This happened either by directly manipulating the work (think of that hands-on parent at playgroup) or by providing set guidelines about the ‘correct way’ to create something (think of that classroom where all the children’s work looks remarkably identical).

Of course, I agree that kids should be encouraged to represent the world in their own way, and they should be protected from those who try to ‘improve’ their work. However, I strongly feel we should also be creative in front of our children. Like all aspects of life, we should work beside them, and with them.

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From the child’s perspective acquiring the skills of creativity is no different to any other form of learning. My daughter does not give up on reading because I can read a larger word then she can, and equally she does not give up on drawing because I draw more realistic features than her. (Realism, at this age, is her goal). Countless studies show that it is beneficial to model what we want our children to learn; be that reading, drawing, or healthy living. But perhaps more importantly, we shouldn’t be asked to hide our abilities to make others feel capable – especially our children!

When I was my daughter’s age I learnt to draw alongside my own parents and their adult friends, many of whom were professional artists. I developed a visual language of my own, and this was never compromised by a fear of inadequacy because the adults I was drawing with were far more talented than me.

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Being less capable than those around me didn’t squish my confidence, in contrast it established a very good precedent for how I would approach challenges in the future. By the time I reached adulthood, my ability to be the worst at something, and my belief that I was capable of eventually achieving anything, became my professional trademark. Mentors saw this and gave me opportunities that far outweighed my experience, I excelled in a world where everyone was exceptionally more qualified than me, because I learnt from them rather than comparing myself to them. Being the worst didn’t kill my confidence; instead it provided me with a different form of confidence, one that wasn’t directly linked to the skills of those around me.

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When you create with your child you are not only teaching them the skills of that creative pursuit. Your uninhibited experience is showing them that they do not always need to be the best to be brilliant in their own right. You are giving them the resilience that they need to approach the world without fear of comparison.

Continue to create and excel with your child. Rest assured you are raising a small human who will believe in their ever-growing abilities and will be ready for the challenges that life throws in their direction.

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