by the Editor Parents take heart – the alarmingly abstract masterpieces produced by your children could be teaching them how to reason like an adult.
A research project just completed by Murdoch University lecturer Caroline Nilson has suggested that encouraging artistic expression in children may play a key role in establishing critical thinking skills.
Ms Nilson observed the artistic endeavours of 150 children from four local schools who participated in the Mandurah Stretch Festival, a major regional arts festival that uses arts and culture to connect the community. She then surveyed a group of teachers and parents to explore their perceptions on how the children’s critical thinking skills had developed during the four month project.
“Surveyed teachers and parents agreed that at the start of the project the participating children were very passive, waiting for information to be poured into them,” said Ms Nilson. “However by the end of the project we saw the children had grown confidence in their artistic decisions and had learned a great deal about action and consequence, which are both signs of critical thinking.
“This study has shown that critical thinking abilities are developed in children as young as eight and nine years of age through engagement in creative arts. Every child needs to have critical thinking dispositions and abilities to survive in today’s rapidly changing world,” she said.
Ms Nilson, who completed the research as part of her Masters degree, is calling for teachers, parents and community leaders to recognise the vital role of art in the development of young children.
“The role of the arts in the community must be considered more seriously,” Ms Nilson said. “More must be done to fund and expand the arts to be accessible to all segments of the community and it is vital that home, education and community environments are focused on the early development of critical thinking abilities in young children.
Ms Nilson believes that currently art is thought of as an ‘add-on’ in the school curriculum but it should be considered as vital as mathematics or English in a child’s learning development. “Art is not just about creating charming pictures to hang on the wall; it is actually the process of thinking creatively which is so important, “she said.
Ms Nilson explains that kids should have the confidence and freedom to follow their imaginations rather than producing something perfect and representative for their portfolios. However not all primary school teachers have been trained to draw out the creativity of children and many schools do not have a dedicated art teacher. Ms Nilson hopes to see more emphasis on the importance of specialised art teachers in schools and the involvement of artists in community projects.
In the study, teachers expressed concern that changing times and a changing environment contribute to passive attitudes in children towards imaginative art. Children’s play is becoming increasingly structured and institutionalised. In addition, much of today’s popular technology entertainment does not require creative input.
However, children’s exposure to creative arts in the first five years of life has been shown to nurture imaginative and creative inquiry, enabling them to generate original ideas and thoughts, solve problems and make decisions. Creativity processes draw from knowledge and skills that allow children to see things in different ways and to think unconventionally, to break boundaries and go beyond information provided.
“Children are losing the ability to play freely and express themselves creatively, and this may have real consequences for developing their future skills in critical thinking,” she said.
Practical Ways to Help Your Kids Be Creative
1. Be creative at home. Finger paints and clay can be messy but fun.
2. Build things. Building blocks and connecting toys are great. For older children who can be assisted with hammer and nails, why not build something small with scrap wood?
3. Invent games. Make up the rules together and play. This can be a home-made board game, card game, skipping rope game, or anything!
4. Create stories. Choose or make up a story starter and let your kids finish it, using their own imagination.
5. Acting and performing - children love creating acts and shows. Make puppets for the show
6. Cutting out pieces of material to make a mural for their room
7. Sewing and knitting
9. Collect items from the garden or bush (leaves, twigs etc.) and make a collage.
10. Go to the beach and collect shells and different types of seaweed
11. Grow and care for vegetable/flower gardens. They can be grown in pots and baskets if living in smaller apartments.
The possibilities are endless and cost nothing (well, very little) but time! Very importantly, parents must provide children with time for play and creative thinking - don't always structure children's play, let them be in charge and reward creative endeavours and idea.
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