I know I’m not the only parent out there who watches their little write letters and color and create art and is inwardly kind of having a panic attack and has to bite their tongue because “they’re not doing it right” (ever built a gingerbread house with your preschooler? Then you know exactly what I’m talking about…) Although I do believe gentle correction and encouragement are necessary at times- especially regarding writing letters- when your little is creating art, I really think creativity should reign. No…Christmas angels aren’t usually also vampires…but if they want to add “scary teeth” to their angel project, let them be creative…even if it comes out looking like something from “Coraline”.
First of all, they may not have the fine motor skills yet to create that Pinterest perfect example we all are familiar with seeing. Honestly, I think most of the examples we see on Pinterest of “kids crafts” are created by grown ups as an exemplar of what the craft COULD look like, rather than what it will look like in the hands of a little, especially a preschooler. It’s not always about creating a “cute” product…sometimes it’s about the process of color exploration, using the right amount of glue, improving scissor control through meaningful practice, using craft supplies to create something you personally enjoy (like a pumpkin with random shapes carved out of it- I mean who says carved pumpkins have to have faces, right!?) and so on.
Second, if kids aren’t allowed to mix paint, explore with glue and scissors, and make things look the way they want to, their creativity will be quelled- and we need creative people in the world who think outside the box to solve tricky problems in new ways. As a very artistic and crafty person myself it is SO HARD to sit back and watch my little mix all the colors I just carefully poured on their paint palate into a murky brownish grey, then smear it haphazardly all over their gingerbread man ornament that’s going to end up on my tree… but if they think it looks cool, isn’t that what matters? My two year old took one look at his finished ornament full of muddled paint colors and declared “BOO-tee-ful!” and it was the most precious moment, because it WAS beautiful, in its own sweet way. Is it hard to let go of the notion of how things “should” look? Heck to the yes! But, it’s essential for developing a child who thinks for themselves, problem solves, explores, and notices/fixes their own mistakes when they think they’ve made one (which is up to them, not you…I know…it’s hard…but you can do it! …I’m talking to myself here…hahaha)
So how do you encourage creative exploration during an art project? Sit back, give them instructions when needed, and offer coaching if you think they need it- but always with the verbiage “if you think it would look good”. For example a few months ago my little wanted to try cutting out a tracing of his hands for a project we were doing by himself…I knew it was going to be super tricky for his current skill level, but I let him try. When he had successfully chopped off all his paper fingers, I asked if he liked how it turned out, if he’d like to try again, or if he’d like me to cut out a new hand tracing for him. He chose to have me do it, but he wasn’t upset about it because it was his choice, and I didn’t degrade him for his unsuccessful cutting experiment- which he honestly wasn’t ready for- and he had at least given it a shot. A few months of scissor practice later, he asked to try again for a different project (the above pictured angel one) and he totally nailed it and was super proud of himself!
Of course you want to compliment your child’s work too, especially if they ask directly how you think it looks. You also want to be honest. And here’s the thing- THEY probably think it looks great and art is 100% subjective, so if they think it’s great, it IS great! (I mean think of it this way- some people think Picasso was a genius…some might look at him as a guy who drew weirdly skewed pictures with wacky colors…) Plus you don’t want to crush their spirit by critiquing all the things YOU think they did wrong…in their artistic eyes, they’ve done them perfectly! I’ve found the best thing to do in these situations is to comment on what you notice…for example my little directly asked me how I liked his grey, smeary gingerbread man and I replied, “You did a great job mixing all the colors together! It’s very grey!” Which it was… hahaha (I’m being silly here, but also dead serious!) You can also turn the question back around on them and ask, “How do YOU think it turned out?” You might just be surprised by their answer!
So I guess my point is…take a deep breath…let them dump an entire container of sprinkles on one Christmas cookie after you’ve shown them how to do it carefully (because, oh well, now they’re all gone and you can’t put sprinkles on the other cookies so it’s a great life lesson…and also they only cost like $2 a jar!), let them mix all the paint colors together (just give their sibling a separate palate of paint in case they don’t also enjoy brownish grey), let them glue 6 googley eyes on their construction paper person (maybe they were making it an alien and forgot to tell you). Art is in the eye of the beholder, and even though as adults we may not understand or agree with the way littles create things, the point is that they are creating- and being creative- and that, in itself is a beautiful and highly meaningful thing!