When our children are little, it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that now is the time to teach them to do things the “right” way. We sometimes forget that the way three year olds learn is by experimenting. The more they try new things, the more they learn. Even when they create things that seem wrong to you, it is important to allow them creative expression.
One of our projects each year is a self-image picture. The child looks in a mirror and tells us what color his eyes and hair are, and how many eyes, eyelashes, nose, and mouth he has. We then give him an oval shape to serve as his face, and he creates his image. One mother approached me after viewing the self-image pictures that were hanging in the hall.
“My son put his eye where his mouth should be,” she said. “Why didn’t you fix that?”
I explained to her that the process in making the picture was more important than the finished product. To make his picture, her son, Bobby, had to cut out the circles for the eyes, use scissors to fringe the eyelashes, glue them onto the face and then draw the nose and mouth. He then chose the color yarn that he wanted for his hair and attached that to his head. There were many skills involved in this, including correctly grasping a scissor and cutting, holding a crayon, gluing and coloring. I did ask Bobby to look in the mirror one more time.
“Is that where your eyes are?” I asked him.
“They are today,” he said laughing.
For whatever reason, Bobby was in a silly mood that day. He knew where his eyes belonged, but he felt like putting one eye near his mouth. Maybe we had a budding modern artist on our hands! Because Bobby did all of the cutting, gluing, and coloring, we allowed him to be creative and complete his own interpretation of his face. By that time, he was much more interested in playing with the toy truck.
His mother felt that we should have made him fix it.
She said, “But compared to all the other pictures hanging in the hall, Bobby’s looks stupid.”
“Maybe you have the next Picasso on your hands,” I replied. “What is important in this project is the process of cutting, coloring and gluing. These activities all use fine motor skills and you can see that Bobby did an excellent job. I am sure that he knows where his eyes belong on his face, but if he wants to be creative, we prefer not to discourage him.”
I do remember years earlier when I was the mother in the hallway comparing my children’s artwork to that of their peers. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the finished product. Does my child cut as well as the others? Is my son behind the curve?
Yet, the more I have worked with different children, the more I value their individualism and creativity. In preschool, kids are experimenting with different mediums often for the first time. Sometimes, just peeling a sticker off its backing is a difficult task in itself. To observe children using their imaginations in their artwork is a beautiful thing.