One of the best parts about the work that I do, is my schedule allows me to spend time in the classrooms of my own children. Today was one of those days. I eagerly volunteered to help with the PTO sponsored Artist in Residence program and arrived only to have my hopes of artistic splendor dashed. I immediately noticed the coloring books and cut outs of nature elements. Each table of second grade children was provided with a pile of these very unrealistic pictures of nature. You know the ones I’m talking about. We had the sunshine with a smily face, the perfectly shaped cloud, and the tree that looked like someone plopped that perfectly shaped cloud right on top of it. And, I’m appalled to say, that there were even a few cookie cutters on the tables in the shapes of stars and rainbows.
Each child was to “draw” a picture of nature into their square of clay. These drawings are eventually going to be put together to form a mosaic by the artist in residence. Here’s how the next thirty minutes unfolded:
1) Children scrambled to pick a picture of their choice
2) Pencils carefully traced the picture of choice
3) High school students and volunteer parents cut out the clay pictures
4) Kids put their initials on the back of the clay picture and waited patiently to be dismissed
Now, I can say that there were a few shining moments. As I walked around, I encouraged the kids to work from their imagination and a few took me up on the offer. One little kiddo drew a fierce looking tornado. Another cutie created an entire nature scene. A little ray of sunshine tackled her own version of the sun and didn’t even bother to look at the computer generated smiling one sitting on the table. Unfortunately, I must report that most did not. One little girl even noted, “It’s too hard to use my imagination.”
As we were cleaning up after the children went back to class, I did leave the artist with a few thoughts and encouraged her to scrap the coloring book photos for the next group of learners. I hope she follows my advice. While I understand that she was concerned the children would be at a loss for what to create, instead of giving the coloring books, she should have had real nature scenes for them to observe and to provide inspiration. She also should have let the kids go through a bit of productive struggle before providing them with specific ideas. I know her time with the kids was limited, but their classroom teacher had them brainstorm ideas prior to coming down to do the work. Who knows how many of those ideas actually made it to fruition.
It is events like this that have prompted me to join forces with a dear friend and colleague, Jill Ackers, to write our soon to be published book: Developing Natural Curiosity Through Project-Based Learning: 5 Strategies for the Pre-K-3 Classroom. You can look for it in the early fall. We are just finishing up our final chapters, before it heads off to our publisher, Routledge, at the end of the month. In the meantime, I thought I would share a short excerpt from the first chapter that rang true today.
“Give a child a blank piece of paper and a box of crayons and divergent learning is fostered. They have an uninhibited imagination that allows their make-believe world to take over. The colors and lines are blurred into a reality of complex and intricate scenes. Give a child a coloring book with that same box of crayons and instead, scribbles outside of the lines are the norm. Their imagination is now limited to the confines of the given picture.”
Leave the worksheets and the coloring pages behind and you will be amazed at how the natural curiosity of your learners is fostered into something truly beautiful.