Coloring Creativity Into Your Curriculum

Coloring Creativity Into Your Curriculum [Moore, T. 2000. Coloring Creativity Into Your Curriculum. In Children and Families, 14 (Winter): 24-25, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

Two children paint at an easel. One inadvertently mixes yellow with green, then tells his friend, "Look, I just made blue!" That illustration demonstrates how easily open-ended art projects can teach children about other areas of the curriculum. Our young artist enjoyed an early science lesson by mixing colors. When he described what happened to his friend, both gained social skills. By "open-ended" art, I mean art projects that have no set outcome.. If every child fashions essentially the same potholder according to the teacher’s model, opportunities for discovery are limited. But if you ask each child to bring an old piece of clothing from home and paint it in class, imagine the variety you’ll uncover while you teach about recycling! Several studies have shown that by exploring art, children develop into creative problem-solvers and creative thinkers in general. Still, you might feel apprehensive about using this "unstructured" approach to art if you never had the chance to make open-ended art during your childhood. It’s not too late to start now!

 Here are ideas for you and your class:

1. After a field trip, invite children to create art about what they’ve seen. Children can visit an art museum, then make their own paintings; visit a park, then make a nature collage with magazines photos; visit a fire station, then make their own rescue scenes with paper and tissue.

2. For outdoor fun, ask children to "paint" the side of your building using brushes and buckets of water you provide. What happens to the water in warm weather? In cooler weather?

3. Play a tape or CD of lively music the children might not have encountered before. Any instrumental music -- classical, jazz, rhythm ‘n blues -- works well. Ask the children to paint what they hear. You’ll see wonderful designs emerge, some abstract, some recognizable. Communicate that abstract images (wild squiggles, for instance) and concrete images (a recognizable house) are equally valuable. Do that by avoiding statements in which you impose your meaning onto the children’s artwork. Say "Tell me about this drawing," not "What a wonderful cat." The artist may inform you she has not drawn a cat, but a car, or the wind, or what she sees with her eyes closed.

4. Be mindful of a child’s heritage when you look at his art. Don’t be worried, for example, if a child says his favorite color is black. He might simply be aware of the red, green, and black used in his home.

5. Remember messes and cleaning up are learning opportunities. Children will learn they must care for something they value -- in this case, art supplies. You can make a simple science lesson out of how paper absorbs spilled paint.

6. Invite recognized artists and parents who create art into your classroom. Ask them to bring their paintings, sculptures, weavings and quilts, and explain how the pieces were made.

7. Parent coordinators can encourage parents to designate an art drawer at home. Parents can fill this drawer with small paints, scissors, glue, scraps of fabric or wrapping paper, yarn, even egg cartons. Now they have the makings for fun and easy art activities with their children.

8. When giving presents, parents can ask children to design the wrapping paper. This can be as simple as coloring on paper bags, then cutting the bags into sheets of paper. Art is one of the most adaptable parts of the curriculum. Children can use it to show what they’ve absorbed about a new experience, to demonstrate their awareness of new textures and materials, and to feel good about themselves and the world. The artwork can be a gift to someone they love, which imbues it with deeper meaning. It’s not a far step from solving problems at the easel to solving problems on the playground or the neighborhood. Creative thinking in one area can lead to creative thinking in all.

© Thomas Moore, 2000 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.