The Art of Art

Question: My consultants keep talking about “child-directed art” and how I don’t have enough of it to satisfy ECERS requirements. What exactly is the difference between “child-directed” and “teacher-directed” art?

Answer: That’s a topic that often confuses teachers, because it can seem so subjective. Here are some guidelines and examples that might help you:

Generally, child-directed art refers to an art activity where children get to choose the materials and how they use them.  This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all of toddlers marking up the walls, of course. It might, though, look something like this:

  • Giving 3-year-olds pieces of paper and being allowed to choose their colors and paint with brushes or hands as they see fit.
  • Giving 4-year-olds a pile of magazines, sequins, paper scraps, and old buttons, along with some glue and scissors, and the freedom to create whatever they want.
  • Offering cotton balls, white paint, glitter, or some combination, and inviting children to “make snow.”

These experiences are offered with close supervision, of course, both for safety and for encouraging language development, planning, and thoughtful expression. The key piece is to not overly direct what they choose to do.

EXAMPLES OF CHILD-DIRECTED ART

What child-directed art DOES NOT look like:

  • a teacher dabbing glue on some paper and directing a child where to put three cotton balls to “make a snowman.”
  • giving children worksheets or coloring book pages.
  • pressing their hands in paint and then on a paper and telling them to go wash.

Granted, teacher-directed art projects like these can be very cute, and parents love them, but they don’t give children a chance to learn through exploring or expressing themselves creatively.  Some teachers limit teacher-directed art to special occasions like holidays in order to make gifts for parents, and then focus on child-directed art the rest of the time.

Child-directed art benefits children in many ways, the biggest of which is often simply motivation: children enjoy the chance to make their own decisions and explore materials freely much more than they enjoy following step-by-step adult directions, and they can take more pride and ownership in their finished products as well. This enjoyment motivates them to spend more time developing the creativity, attention span, and fine-motor skills that art experiences help build.

NOT CHILD-DIRECTED ART

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