Creative Learning Environment in Early Childhood
Art is a popular activity during early childhood and many of the preschools decorate the walls with children’s artwork. However, I often notice that same art decorating the wall with different child’s names on it. These cookie-cutter arts are made by children following specific instructions or templates to make exact same artwork as an example. They may look nice as decorations, they may promote children’s fine motor skills, however, children’s creativity may be hindered. Every child has an innate capacity to make art, and that capacity may be inhibited by an adult’s authority (Lowenfeld as cited in Zimmerman & Zimmerman, 2000). Art should go further than just practicing fine motor skills, such as focusing on children’s creativity, encouraging their imagination, promoting their curiosity, and believing in children’s instinct of creation.
Intrinsic Motivation Promotes Creativity and Autonomy.
How can educators cultivate creativity in early childhood education? Jaquith (2011) states that intrinsic motivation such as personal interest and curiosity activates creativity. Many educators have witnessed that young children get immersed in activities they love and even lose track of time. Many educators also have witnessed that children quickly lose attention when they are not interested. Jaquith (2011) states that intrinsic motivation and students’ interests are central to creative problem finding and solving. When students are motivated, they become self-directed learners. Hunter-Doniger (2020) explains that creativity, play, and autonomy are all constantly interwoven throughout the art-making process. I look at creative learning environments from three different education methods: Forest School, Reggio Emilia Approach, and Waldorf Education.
Children in Forest schools spend most of the day in nature. During their time outdoors, the children have a lot of possibilities for in-depth contact with nature and experience different stimuli for their bodies and minds (Schäffer & Thomas, 2012). The outside play takes a large role in learning the world during early childhood. Playing outside was used to be a normal life but we are now surrounded by buildings. In the childhood of today, natural experiences and free play are rare (Malone as cited in Schäffer & Thomas, 2012). Nature and time outside need to intentionally be integrated into early childhood education. Educators in the Forest schools believe that children learn through free play in nature. Educators intervene when necessary, but they mostly allow children to work through their experiences whether those experiences are pure fun or require some challenges (Forest School Canada 2014). Taylor (2019), defines her role as a nature elder who shares trust and a sense of wonder with the children. Wondering and curiosity become children’s intrinsic motivation. Jaquith (2011) states that intrinsic motivation such as personal interest and curiosity activates creativity. During exploring the nature, children often face challenges or unexpected situation and children become creative to overcome the obstacles and they take risks to move forward. “Uncertain times require personal responsibility, independence of thought, self-initiative, self-assertion, flexibility, creativity, imagination, and willingness to take risks” (Peter Gray as cited in Taylor, 2019, p.60). When children are the ones in charge, they become self-directed learners. While Forest Schools utilize the existing nature as a learning environment, Reggio Emilia Approach creates environments to promote child-centered education.
Reggio Emilia Approach
Reggio Emilia’s approach emphasizes not only the outside environment but also the environment inside. Reggio Emilia’s approach includes the environment as an educator (Strong-Wilson & Ellis, 2007). The environment is much more than just how they look, the important aspect is how they felt from the child’s perspective. Strong-Wilson & Ellis (2007) states that the environment takes a large role in how children perceive and use space to create meaning. Educators may place the furniture, toys, or materials in unexpected ways to spark discussion. The educator may introduce light tables that children can bring their own material to put on the table to see how they differ when it is illuminated. Providing an environment that provokes further discussion and curiosity, educators are expecting the unexpected. Reggio Emilia-inspired educators use often use negotiated curriculum that invites students to be co-designer of the learning. Strong-Wilson & Ellis (2007) mentions that “from a child’s point of view, an environment is what the child can make of it. Children will often find uses for objects and spaces that adults do not anticipate or intend” (p.43). The educator can assist children by creating the best environment for them to explore, learn and create freely. On top of understanding the importance of the environment, the next method, Waldorf education focuses on children’s imagination.
In Waldorf education, imaginative play is encouraged, they are seen as the resource of creativity. The teacher’s role is to provide a natural safe place and time for children to wonder and to be soaked into their imagination. In the daily curriculum, Waldorf preschool includes creative or imaginative playtime in which children learn to develop a rich imagination. During Nordlund’s (2006) interview, some graduates from Waldorf schools explained the importance of educators not drawing lines between play and learning, especially during early childhood, when they are developing mental stages. Waldorf school’s graduates described imagine-lands in Waldorf schools where children could escape to imagine. In Waldorf schools uninterrupted imaginary play is considered one of the most important child-centered forms of creativity, imaginary play is a state where students can hold an image or idea in their minds and manipulate it into different scenarios (Nordlund,2013). Imagination is the source of creativity and beyond. Also, there is always space for wondering. Nordlund (2013) explains that from Waldorf’s viewpoint, the desire to wonder is more important than knowing specific things or gaining skills, Steiner valued feeling and a sense of wonder about the world. Waldorf educators try their best to create an environment for students to wonder that draws their curiosity. The environment is also an important element in Waldorf education. Uhrmacher (2004) explains that for the eyes of Steiner, environments possess life, they stimulate thinking. School environments emphasize more on how children learn rather than what they learn. Waldorf education cherishes nature as a learning environment and free play as design thinking.
Environment to Promote Creativity
Common points that intercross within Forest School, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf Education is that environment plays a significant role in creative learning in childhood education whether it is nature-based or prepared environments. Important thing is that focus is not on how the environment looks, the main focus is on children, how they interact with the environment. Teachers provide an interactive environment to stimulate children’s wonder, curiosity, creativity, and autonomy. Another point is that all method does not provide step by step instruction for children to follow. Gardner (as cited in Zimmerman & Zimmerman, 2000) suggests that “children’s natural art abilities unfold if adults provide equipment and encouragement” (p.88). To promote children’s autonomy and to promote them to become self-directed learners, instruction and intervention are not so needed. Children learn from free play, the play with no adult authority, the play that gives children joy. Gardner believes that if young children are offered materials between the ages of two and five, they will engage in art activities; any adult intervention hampers the unfolding of their innate creative abilities (Zimmerman & Zimmerman, 2000). Instead of intervention in children’s work, observing, documenting, and keeping records will help to understand each child’s stage, help to build big ideas, and be reflective in the teaching. Taylor (2019) documented what children did each day, and she says that data collection has been a valuable tool throughout the years. Taylor (2019) reviews documentation and observation while lessons were still in progress. This allows educators to see the learning process objectively and to be flexible during the learning process.
What Lies Beyond Cookie Cutter Art
To encourage creativity during early childhood, I concluded that preparing a detailed lesson plan may not be a necessity. Instead, educators should pay close attention to children’s daily ques such as the story of their drama play, the topic of conversation, how they react to a specific matter,s and create learning opportunities accordingly. Massey (2017) suggest that how can we best cultivate children’s artistic behavior is for art educator to “become a researcher studying those children” (p.9). The lesson of the day will be to assist children in further learning of topics as they come up. Massey (2017) explains “When you find the core of an interest, a big idea, you can use the curriculum to challenge children’s intellectual development and support their curiosity”(p.9). Educators may plan a big idea as a lesson plan based on children’s interests, but it should be flexible as children find further interests. Not having a set lesson plan beforehand may be uncomfortable to some educators, Taylor (2019) mentions her fear of the unknown and communal risk-taking. However, she states that “I strive to support children’s freedom—even when that means overcoming my fears” (p.63). As many of us teach children that making mistakes is the way to learning, art educators can be the role model to face the unknown, try and fail, and climb up again to see what lies beyond the wall of cookie-cutter art.
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