Children’s Imaginations – What is the Adult’s Role in Nurturing Creative Children?

child in a witches hat writing a spell

I had an interesting conversation with a grandmother at one of my recent classes. In the class we decorated pebbles. The children were aged 2-4 and she had joined with a 2- year-old who was fascinated by stones. He drew on the pebbles and then she helped him to add eyes.

When she took her grandson home, her daughter looked at the stones and remarked that it was not his own work. She felt that during her own childhood, her mother had never been satisfied with her art projects. She would always offers suggestions for improvement, rather than accepting it the way that she wanted it and felt strongly that she would encourage her son to express things in his own way.

At the next art session, the grandmother was clearly reflecting on this with interest.  She stood completely back from the child as he was scribbling and snipping, without any interference and discussed her daughter’s comment with me.

I found her reaction interesting; she clearly wasn’t comfortable with the distance but wanted to respect her daughter’s wishes. We discussed the balance between taking over and being on hand to help or extend learning.  I explained my response to children when they are learning to draw, discussed in ‘I Don’t Know How to Draw Ducks’ Feet’ – How to Support Young Childrens’ Drawing,” Sometimes it is hard not to take over when a child says they can’t do something but a little support can encourage a child to trust in their own ability. Thankfully, I had recently finished reading Ursula Kolbe’s latest book Children’s Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses
The role of parents in nurturing creative children is the main theme of the book. It encourages parents to see that creative play can arise from the simplest things and that letting go will foster children’s imagination.

childrens imagination

If we want to nourish children’s creativity what exactly is the adult’s role?

All too often we adults feel the need to label, to continually teach, wheras close attention and companiable silence are often more valuable. Valuable because then anything can happen”  Kolbe says.

The role of the adult is to:

Provide Resources

art and craft storageThe adult’s role is to provide interesting materials. A constant stream of new materials, however, leaves little room for development of expression. If, on the other hand, a variety of materials are easily accessible, children can choose those that interest them.

The greatest possibilities occur, as children ask “what can I do with this?”  Perhaps,this is why children love the outdoors, where loose parts are plentiful. At home, I keep paper, pencils, scissors, watercolour paint, brushes tape and glue next to our kitchen table. Most mornings the girls will go to the shelves, take a piece of paper and scissors and create something.  My kitchen table is rarely clear but I love to listen to their stories as they draw their latest picture or make a sign for imaginative play.

Observe and Listen

 One of the simplest pleasures is to sit and observe a child or group of children at play. The little pearls of wisdom that children offer could otherwise be missed. Observing encourages teachers and parents to question why things happen or how play can be extended . Loris Malaguzzi describes it as

“Catching the ball that children throw  us.”

It is easy for parents and teachers to find a wealth of activities for their children to do but most of the time it isn’t necessary. If we follow the children’s lead we can become their supporter, encourager and co-explorer explains Kolbe.

“A steady diet of adult-chosen, one-off activities denies children opportunities to find the extraordinary in the ordinary for themselves”

Time and Space

outdoor painting

The most important things we can give children are time and space.  Our role, is to provide inviting materials and allow children unhurried time to explore them, revisiting as many times as they would like. Unhurried time is almost impossible at school, where a strict timetable needs to be followed. I think it  is vital therefore, to provide this at home. My children were upset recently at a local playcentre, because their things were tidied away before they had finished playing.  Leaving things out for a while shows that their creations are valued and allows them to modify and expand their ideas. Ask children if they have finished before tidying or encourage them to clear their own materials, so that you can be certain they are finished.

Show Interest Without Intrusion

If we sit near children as they draw, build, paint and play imaginatively, they will begin to tell us the story behind it. We will learn far more about their inner thoughts and motivations than we would by questioning children about what things are and offering endless suggestions. Let them lead play and show interest in what they do. My children don’t mind when I observe their play, taking photographs and writing notes. They ask me what I am writing or if they can see the photographs.  It shows them that I am interested in what they do and value it enough to record their thoughts. I explain that I am telling the story of their play, so that we can remember and share with other people far away. Sometimes I stay indoors and watch from a window or listen from afar. It is  important that they have times without any adult nearby, to develop their own ideas and find their own solutions to challenges.

raining heather

Kolbe’s book is a wonderful insight into the things that ignite children’s imaginations and how parent’s can nourish and support this. The examples in the book are simple but inspiring  and  don’t require expensive resources or time consuming planning. The close of each chapter includes a written conversation between Kolbe and  Susan Whelan, a parent. They talk through their observations of the anecdotes in the book. I particularly liked this aspect, as it gives it a personal element and shows the importance of reflecting with others to obtain a deeper understanding.

I read this book at a time when my youngest daughter is eager to share her stories through drawing and painting, imaginative and sensory play.  It reminded me that these moments  are precious and to take time to listen and record them.

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