Art and mind of a child

It was my first time teaching a parent-child art class and something extraordinary happened. A parent came to me recently and told me he had never forgotten this class that I taught years ago because it changed the way he raised his child. We were making baby ducklings out of model magic clay and an egg shell for them to sit in, made from a Styrofoam bowl with the rim cut off.

I passed around chunks of clay and demonstrated a very simple, optional way to make a duck. As the children were working on shaping their clay, parents started taking the clay out of their child’s hands and making the ducks for them the “correct” way. So…I passed around more clay and invited the parents to join in, but to make their own ducks along side of the kids.

When we were finished we lined up the ducks, children’s on one side, parents on the other. I honestly didn’t expect what happened.

The ducklings the children made were wildly painted with stretched necks and adorable, silly bodies and wads of clay. Some didn’t have recognizable parts, but they sure were colorful and special and a child made them. A few were down right glamorous. Some had paper clips. One had lots of eyeballs. Wacky colored feathers, sequins, beads and other bits were attached to many. These were quirky, lovable ducklings. A few even had names and entire life stories.

With the exception of one, the ducklings the parents made were all yellow with yellow feathers and orange bills, very orderly and acceptable ducks. It was as though they had just come down the conveyor belt in a duck factory. The one parent who had made a red duckling had taken notice of what was happening before he finished. He’s the one who told me he would never forget this class. I’ll never forget it either.


2 Responses

  1. Those are the best experiences! I’ve had that happen with other things — to see the freed mind be creative — gotta keep those parents away from stifling those little artists!

  2. Great post Kim.

    I’ve been invited to teach workshops at my son’s elementary school in the past (long past) for a yearly event called “Art Attack”. On one occasion I decided to delve a little into what art is or can be all about. I had two workshops that day and in each I intended for a collaborative effort in making a sculpture of assembled wood parts from a large supply I had brought in.

    Before the children good get their hands on anything I led a discussion on what it was like to be a child and to be growing. Everyone was pretty vocal and we had a great discussion. Then I led them into some ideas about expressing some of those thoughts and tried to convey some of the importance of consensus decision making (ultra simplified, but consensus is very important to children at that age).
    I then let them have at it. In each case I thought all of the talking before hand had gone out the window as they eagerly sorted through the parts and started using the hot melt glue guns. But in each workshop I had the most amazing experience. One had really focused on growing and finding out new things and their group piece became the most amazing tree sculpture.
    The other group had dealt with some of the anxieties of growing, some of insecurities of living in the inner city and a lot of heavy issues. Their piece evolved throughout the session into a house like or maybe a bridge like piece.
    Afterward I had the kids discuss their work and even they hadn’t been aware of what they were making until they had a chance to stop and take another look.
    I had forgotten how wonderful it can be to work with kids in doing art.

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