05 September 2011

Inside the Lines


     While finishing the last page of his homework tonight (we split it up so he only has to do a few each night over the weekend, and yes, preschool gives homework), Richie asked me why his teacher tells him he has to color inside the lines.
     I never imagined that this would be such a hard question for me to answer. I wanted to tell him, "Well, you don't."  I think the worst thing we do for our children's creativity is give them coloring books and encourage them to "color in the lines" and just be color fillers instead of creators.  I never give my kids pages from coloring books. We paint, we draw on blank paper, we cut out objects to sometimes paint or color on.  But for the most part, it's just pure creativity.  Richie even coined his own term for a particular kind of art work he makes, called a "Splash wall." Basically, he splashes paint with his paint brush in no kind of orderly fashion except however he wants and mixes it around until he feels it's just right.  When it comes to drawing and painting, or playing with play dough, I've always encouraged my kids to do it however they want.  I offer tips or show them techniques but I consider art their time to be creative and have fun and no rules except keep it off my walls, my carpet, and my furniture.  Richie's finally gotten to the point where his pictures look like things, instead of just controlled scribbles.  He drew his first family portrait just the other day.
Our scanner cut Daddy out a bit, but from Left to Right:
Daddy, Mommy, Lily, Sophia, and Richie.

     So instead of telling him, "Well, you don't."  I told him, "Because that's how the teacher wants you to do it. When we're not doing homework and are coloring or painting at home, you can do it however you like.   For the teacher just do it how she asks you to."  I think that was the best answer I can give.  I don't want to give Richie the impression that he doesn't have to follow teacher instructions, because Lord knows he'd run with it and apply that logic to all kinds of situations.  But I also don't want him to think being creative isn't acceptable anymore.  He's only four years old!  He needs that messy creativity, and I want to be one who encourages it, not discourages it.  I'm not claiming my son to be a magnificent artist, but there's nothing I enjoy more than seeing the pride on his face for something he's created from his own mind.  There's nothing more fun for him than just painting whatever  he likes or making something he's interested in.
     Basically the instructions were that after he traced the dotted lines on three sailboats he was to color them in. How did it end?  He didn't color in the lines (he tried at first, but doesn't have much experience thanks to me).  After trying, he decided, "I'm going to color the birds too.  I'm not going to follow the instructions. We can do it a different way."  I don't want to be a Mom that discourages following instructions and directions, but oh, that just made me smile.  I do want to be the Mom who says, "Yes there are different ways, go ahead and try them."  There's not just one right way to do something, there's millions of ways you can accomplish a goal.  I said, "Yes, you can do it a different way. Go ahead and color the birds." He chose to color one dark blue and the other two light blue.  He looked so happy being able to do what he wanted, how he envisioned the final work looking.
     I understand he'll need to be able to color in the lines, they do that in Elementary School- and they expect the kids to be able to do that.  Because it shows what? Motor skills. It sure as heck doesn't show creativity or authenticity or anything about a child's intelligence.  So, we'll practice coloring in the lines, but only for school's sake.  Our art activities at home will still mostly consist of doing whatever we feel like!

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