I have a guilty confession to make: I sometimes take control of my child’s art experience. There I said it. It’s something that I try really hard not to do and I don’t most of the time, but yesterday I found myself in a situation where I completely took over and the result is everything that this blog is NOT about.
I’ll explain what happened. I took my daughter, V (5 years old) to a craft class at a local big box art store for a 2 hour craft activity class. I had intended on dropping her off, browsing in the store and staying close by, but since she didn’t know anyone there I decided I would stay until I knew she was comfortable.
The craft of the day was making an Eiffel Tower using Perler beads on a peg board and the class was for kids ages five and up. An instruction sheet was provided as a guide as to where to place the beads. The materials were set out and the kids began placing the little beads on the pegboards.
That’s when I should have left. Note to self: “Next time leave!”
Feeling a bit insecure about the new environment and whether the task was age appropriate for my five year old who doesn’t share my attention for detail, I stayed and offered my help. Other moms stayed as well and many of them ‘helped’ their young children too. The result was a bunch of perfect Eiffel Towers!
Don’t get me wrong, I find value in these sorts of activities. Particularly for fine motor skills and practicing following directions in pattern making to achieve a desired image. A couple of the children in the class, in the six year old age range, were able to complete the task independently. As for the others, the moms helped which turned into doing it for them.. that’s where my guilt lies..
As I helped V by offering direction on where to place the pieces she increasingly lost interest as time went on and asked for more help and more until she got to the point where she completely lost interest. Starring into space, she repeatedly asked me to help and got to the point where she just wanted me to do it for her.
There’s so much wrong with this picture that I don’t know where to start. I’ll break it down with the problem and offer my solution for next time! Please offer your thoughts in the comments.
Problem 1: The craft activity was difficult for my child’s age / skill level.
Solution: Show the child the task and explain what they are to do: place the beads on the board to create a pattern. Explain that the beads need to be touching in order to stay together once complete. Offer them the image of the tower or whatever they are creating but explain that they can follow this model or not. The expectation might be to follow the instructions to make the tower but if it’s too advanced we’re just setting kids up for disappointment. If that’s the case, encourage them to try their best or forget the pattern and make their own tower or whatever they decide to create.
Problem #2: By helping my child she lost interest in the activity and became focused (as I was) on getting it done as shown in the picture which resulted in continually asking for my help. All engagement in the activity was lost.
Solution: Step back from the start. Be there to assist through guidance and encouragement but don’t do it for them. If the goal is to complete the task as shown offer suggestions as to how to reach that goal but only if asked. When faced with the plea “It’s too hard. I can’t do it myself, help me!” I’ll remind her that she doesn’t need to make her tower look exactly like the picture. I’ll say “You can make your own tower however you want and use whatever colours you want!” I know that will empower her and excite her to create.
Problem #3: I completely projected my personal need for perfection and exactness onto my child’s project and took over the experience.
Solution: Back off and let this be their experience. It doesn’t need to look like the picture.
Problem #4: When children see us creating a craft or artwork with much more ease and speed than they can, they feel discouraged.
Solution: Demonstrate when necessary, for example how to put the bead on the board, but stop there. This point might be debatable. Part of me thinks that it’s good for children to see what others are capable of and what they can achieve with practice. Like at the park when V saw other children successfully swinging from the monkey bars she carefully observed their technique and with practice has been able to master the monkey bars as well. The distinction, for me, is the difference between demonstrating and taking over. Plus it’s one thing for a child to see another child achieve something than it is for their parent to take over their own project.
Problem #5: A result of all of the above.. When children decide that they’re just not good at art.
Solution: This is the saddest outcome of all and it happens all too often. How many people do you know that say they’re not good at art? I know A LOT. Sadly, I wonder how many of them would think otherwise if they were given a chance to play and explore while art making without placing any focus at all on the outcome?
Okay, so now that I feel completely terrible and guilty about what I’ve done, I’m going to try to make it right by keeping in mind the following:
I have an eighth although it’s not so much a rule as it is a reminder: Not perfect is okay. In fact it’s better.
What’s kind of scary is I know all of these things but I fell back into the pattern of working toward achieving the desired outcome. This blog is completely about eliminating this type of experience for all children. I’m pledging to never fall into this behaviour again! What about you? Have you found yourself in this situation? Please tell me I’m not alone.