Letting go to let creativity flourish

My daughter is an arts-and-crafts-aholic.  Anything that allows her to be creative, she dives right into with bliss and enthusiasm.  Painting?  She’s addicted (and according to her is much better than colouring because you get to create your own colours).  Play doh or modeling clay?  Sign her up.  Cutting and pasting?  Why not?  Drama and dance?  Every day if she can.  You get the point.

The thing is, only a year ago I would have told you that she was the furthest thing from artsy that there was.  She had zero interest in the art activities we set up and only mildly interested in those that were done with friends at their houses.  I know for years I just assumed some kids were artsy and others weren’t and my daughter clearly fell into the second camp.  Maybe one day that would change, but I didn’t imagine that happening for a long time.

Then something happened.  Well, two somethings really.

Somethings that changed everything.

The first was that I let go.  I stopped being the one to come up with art activities and try to get her to do them.  For ages, I thought I was being the good parent who brought out supplies to create a thing.  Maybe a card, a painting, a puppet… whatever it was, it was me who had decided ahead of time what our art time was going to look like.  When I thought my daughter was not into it, I just decided my time was best spent elsewhere (like science experiments that need my involvement) and stopped planning art time.

It turns out my daughter’s problem with art wasn’t that she didn’t like it, but rather she wasn’t interested in doing a cookie cutter bit of art.  She wanted to explore on her own and see what she could come up with.  A paper bag tiger puppet is cool and all, but if that’s not what excites her, then she’s going to balk at doing it, and if the only chance she has to be creative is to do some form of predetermined task, she’s always going to balk.

The second thing was that I set up the art stuff in a way that was 100% accessible to my daughter.  She didn’t have to ask me for paint as it was right there on the shelf in front of her.  She didn’t need to ask for tape, glue, paper, stickers, beads, play doh, costumes, anything.  Everything she needed (minus the glue gun because that requires adult supervision) was totally open to her.   I did this because I planned on not doing more tasks so just wanted it to be there in case she ever changed her mind.  Her supplies being readily accessible means that she can be inspired in one moment and simply go in to create without having to think it out or stop to ask for help to get something down.  Her creations are very truly her own and she is given the time and space to do her works without intervention or interruption.  In turn, what she creates continues to impress and inspire me.

It turns out that what Maria Montessori and other pioneering educators advocated for long ago in letting children have free reign to their materials is true: Kids who can see their tools and access them without help will explore in ways that excites them.  And when kids are excited and engaged in what they are doing, they learn and improve in ways you can’t teach.