As educational professionals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing art as only a finished product. A construction of donated boxes, a collage of pre-torn paper, and paint smeared on a neatly hung piece of butcher paper. By expanding our thinking beyond this classic description, we can include the children’s journey of inquiry, exploration, and play,
Art should include the process of material inquiries, including the steps taken by children to understand, make sense of, and create meaning in their world. The way children interact and engage with objects, and the world around them is a large part of their artistic process.
Through the process of critical reflection, let’s review how we appropriately respect children's art.
Firstly, we need to ensure that we are considering their work as art, reinforcing that their concentration, perseverance and creativity have curated an art piece, even if it does not look like one to us. It is art.
Should we be writing on children’s artwork?
As we reflect on the art process within our services, continuing with our play-based philosophy by providing uninterrupted play is important. This prompts the question, is it necessary that we write a child’s name on their work? Most children are quite attentive and can not only identify their work but their peer's work as well. In our younger age groups, we can offer alternatives for naming if we are unable to ask permission verbally.
Here are some tips that might work in your classroom:
Pre-printed and cut names for the children to add to their artwork.
Ask permission before writing on children’s work, including looking for non-verbal approval in younger children.
Ask the child where they would like their name written. Is it the front, the back, the top of the page, the bottom of the page etc?
Ask questions that allow agency and choice "Would you like to write your name, or would you like me to?" Or if they can’t yet write it, encourage them to write the first letter of their name.
Try leaving it open to the child and ask a broader question. “Is there anything you would like me to write on your creation?”
Use placemats, and transfer these to the drying rack with the artwork for an easy way to identify who completed the artwork.
Is it appropriate to interpret and comment on a child’s work?
When a child participates in art, they are sharing a message with you. You may not understand the message, but it’s important to remember that any art is a form of self-expression. Whether that be an expression of development, symbolism or non-verbal communication, there is an underlying message that the child is trying to communicate. So, when educators prompt children with open-ended questions (usually in an attempt to scaffold because that is what our curriculum framework tells us to do), we are interrupting this self-expression and drawing away from the child’s initial intent and exploration. There is a time to draw on a child’s ability to discuss their work but perhaps we need to consider that we sometimes need to take on the role of a bystander and watch the learning unfold.
As part of our scaffolding, we can fall into a habit of leading children in a discussion. Typically, this can look like "What did you make?" or "I can see you have drawn people, is that your family?”. Instead, we can approach this with “I noticed” statements. "I noticed that you spent a long time creating your art" or "I noticed you tried lots of different ways to join the pieces". This allows the child to share as much (or as little) information about their art as they choose but still invites them to share their achievement and journey with us.
Summary and future reflection
Respecting children's art is not only about appreciating the final product but also embracing the creative process and honouring their autonomy. By reflecting on our practices when approaching art, we empower children to develop a deeper connection with their art, express themselves authentically, and cultivate a lifelong love for creativity. As educators, let us create spaces where children's artistic voices can flourish, unrestrained by external influences, and celebrate their unique perspectives through the beautiful language of art.
Some future wonderings for your personal practice:
- How can you incorporate the inquiry process within your practice?
- Reflecting on your own practice, are there ways you may have unintentionally interrupted a child deep in their inquiry? How might you change this for the future?