Over March Break I took the kids to a craft workshop. Mr M had no interest but Miss M jumped right in. The craft was to glue two parts of something that looked like egg cartons together, paint blue spots on it, then glue the supplied googly eyes and ears on to make a cute cow. There were printed instructions and examples scattered around the table so everyone could see how to do it. I glued the egg carton things together and then I showed Miss M the instructions and handed her a paintbrush and blue paint to get started but she shook her head. Nope, she didn't want to do it. She had changed her mind.
I encouraged her to keep going. We'd driven twenty minutes for this fun and free activity! She started to get upset so I asked her what was wrong. She told me she didn't want to paint it blue. She wanted to use pink. A well-meaning neighbouring parent showed her the instruction sheet that demonstrated that the cow had blue spots and pointed out all the other kids were painting blue spots.
Her lip started quivering and I could see she was getting upset so I told her she could paint her craft however she wanted. She calmed herself down and started painting the top pink, then she did the bottom yellow. Then I told her she could add the googly eyes and ears now and I saw the wary face again.
"You don't want to add the eyes? Look! They're so cute!"
She shook her head, "No I don't WANT to make a cow."
Fine, I confirmed that she was done with her half pink/half yellow egg carton craft (that looked NOTHING like the cow example) and we moved on. When we got home she rushed up to her room with her craft. I checked in on her awhile later she had cracked the glue I had put on it to allow her to open it and store several tiny trinkets in the craft.
I asked what she was doing and she told me that she had made a treasure chest. I told her I loved what she had created and that I was proud of her for seeing something different and making something outside the box. I told her that it meant that she could see things in ways others couldn't and that was something to be proud of.
Miss M is typically a rule following child who gets very concerned if she or anyone else is not doing things as they are supposed to so this was particularly heartwarming to see her stand her ground when it came to her creativity.
When I got my Early Childhood Education Diploma one of the lessons drilled into us was to provide children with plenty of opportunity and supplies to create art as they wished. It was also encouraged to allow children to deviate from the directions in a craft if they were so inspired, even if it meant that the end result looked nothing like the example. And, let's be honest, the only person who really appreciates it looking like the example is the parent so we can easily identify what our child made! Luckily there are lots of great open ended questions you can ask your child to discover what their free range art is meant to be and you may be amazed at what they create when given the freedom to do what they want.
Don't get me wrong, there is definitely a place for learning how to follow directions and complete a task as it's supposed to be done (hello, none of us would ever finish a piece of IKEA furniture if we didn't learn that skill), but there's also a place to allow children the freedom to create and to veer off the path a little.
We all see things differently and the earliest ways most children learn to express that is through their art. While one child may end up with a cow, another may end up with a treasure chest that sparks imaginative songs and play. Guess which kid will likely cherish that project much longer than the one who made what they were told to?