Monday, July 17, 2006

Open-Ended Art for Young Children

Besides being great fun for young children, quality art experiences are essential to healthy creative and mental growth. When presented properly, pre-school art experiences provide multiple opportunities to explore art processes and manipulate media, all while having fun. Freely investigating both new and familiar materials is always encouraged. This can include squishing, pounding, pouring, splattering, squeezing, swirling, stacking, cutting, rolling, scribbling, chopping, and pasting.

Pre-school art can be a messy business!

It is important to understand that young children are far more interested in the art process than in the end result. In fact, the completed "work of art" is often forgotten by the end of the art session. The highlight of the class session may have been cutting up paper to bits, pounding and rolling clay, or swirling multiple colors of paint into a lovely army green.

Art for preschoolers is about playful exploration. Pre-designed, all-alike projects in which each child is expected to cut on - or color within - the lines, paste specific parts together, and produce an expected end result do not allow for playful exploration and are not truly "art" for the young child. In fact, when do pre-designed all-alike projects promote creativity and playful exploration for anyone?

That's why we provide open-ended art projects for our young students at the Blackfoot Art Center. At the beginning of each class session, the children are introduced to the medium and given minimal instructions, such as how to mix paint colors on their palettes and clean their brushes, or how to use the glue sticks to attach paper shapes to a collage. They are not expected to "paint a house" or work around a particular theme unless they want to. They are encouraged to explore the materials, play with them, and, above all else, have fun!

In the first photo above, four-year-old Billy is working on a collage. The children were given pre-cut shapes of construction paper, randomly cut photos from magazines, scissors (for more cutting), a large sheet of heavy white paper, and glue sticks. They first explored the materials, often cutting up the shapes into "better" ones. They then collected the shapes and picture cutouts they liked best, and moved them around on the paper. (This was play, of course, like doing a puzzle.) Finally, with just a bit of prompting, they began the task of gluing their shapes onto the paper.

In these two collages (created by four-year-olds), we can see the playful nature of the creative process as well as the inherent ability of young children to create a balanced composition.

To sign your child up for an art exploration class, take a look at our Summer 2006 Class Schedule (PDF). Space is still available, and you may sign up mid-session for most children's classes (tuition will be pro-rated). You can download our Class Registration Form here (PDF). Simply print it out, complete it, and mail with class tuition to the Blackfoot Art Center.