What was once a wise recommendation to support children’s drawing without drawing images for them seems to have gradually evolved into a powerful absolute with regrettable consequences for teaching practice. When I heard of a centre where this guideline has been extended to an instruction to ‘never, ever draw with, for, or near a child’, I was galvanised to explore why it is that I sometimes do draw with and even ‘for’ children, and why I instinctively feel that it is of value.
What are the perceived hazards of drawing with a child? Primarily, children will think that yours is ‘the right way’ and will slavishly imitate you, thus cramping their creative self-expression and motivation to discover for themselves.
Being creative in front of children
Should one then also not assemble a train track, sing, make mud pies, dance, or tell a story in front of a child in case they conclude that these are ‘the right ways’ to do those things? Will children therefore think their own efforts will not be good enough? How does one scaffold creativity? And what if Grand-dad doesn’t know these principles? What is the danger if younger children emulate older siblings and peers? What happens when a child receives five different impressions of how people sing, draw, work in the garden, use playdough and tell a particular story? Clearly children successfully cope with this, just as they are able to learn three languages before they are five, simply through exposure. Should we stop being creative because children are watching? I believe the reverse is desirable: that we should model (and advocate for) creativity. And challenge, as Simon Nicholson did when he proposed his theory of loose parts, the elitist mindset whereby ‘the vast majority of people’ have to leave creativity in music, painting, architecture, literature, and the sciences to the ‘creative gifted few’.