A common misconception in children’s art is that there should be a finished product at the end of it. It is easy to fall into this way of thinking. In my mini classes I sometimes worry that parents will feel in someway short-changed if their children don’t have something they have made to take home at the end of the session. However, creative exploration is all about experimentation. This is where the magic happens and the connections in learning start to be made. It is about what it feels like to push your hand into a tub of paint; the sound made by beads as the clatter on the floor; the satisfaction of repeatedly stabbing a lump of play dough; the sticky glue between your fingers. This kind of exploration builds early confidence that will stand children in good stead when they start to paint and make in a more structured way.
Often, as parents, we try to steer children away from these free-flow things toward more structured activities. Partly because we get stressed out by mess and because we feel they should ‘make something’ (often driven by our own desire to have a finished product). However, this kind of play is an essential stage in their development and it can be an activity in itself. It is also a great opportunity to develop key skills such as language and number (‘What does the paint feel like?’ ‘Count the beads back into the pot’). So maybe next time you get the arty stuff out at home try to be a bit more hands-off and let the process unfold rather than aiming for a finished product and see what happens.
Here are a few ideas for you to try with things you probably already have at home:
- Coloured rice in various containers – You can easy dye rice by putting it in a freezer bag with a couple of drops of food colouring and giving it a good shake to disperse. Little ones love pouring and sprinkling and this is perfect for that.
- Shaving foam with a few drops of food colouring – let them swirl and squelch the foam and watch the colour spread.
- Jelly in various colours and shapes – make large squares in old ice-cream tubs that can be chopped, stabbed and squished!
- Cooked, coloured spaghetti – cook normally but add some food colouring to the water. Great for cutting with plastic scissors to develop those scissor skills.
- Flour with hidden objects – provide spoons to scoop the flour away and make new mounds.
- Cornflour – this is fantastic mixed with water and some food colouring as it changes from liquid to solid before your very eyes. Endless fascination!