Building Positive Relationships: Allowing Children to Be Creative

Every Thursday we will have a post dedicated to fostering positive relationships between teachers and children. I hope that you enjoy this series.

What does it mean to allow children to be creative? My experience has led me to believe that it means allowing children to be themselves. Take, for example, a circle time activity. A group of three- or four-year-olds, rattling off answers to flashcards, but showing nothing more than their ability to give correct answers. Is that creative? Does doing it day in and day out promote creativity in children? Are there other ways to teach the same skills that allow the children the freedom to answer questions and apply knowledge in creative ways?

I once worked in a classroom of four-year-olds as an assistant teacher. Actually, I had just started the job and was a floater at the time, so technically I was intended to assist her. The lead teacher in the classroom was a huge fan of cookie-cutter crafts. You know the type that I am talking about: the teacher has pre-cut pieces of an object that the children then glued to paper. Except that the teacher dispensed the glue to one child at a time ad directed the children as to where the pieces needed to go. A flower craft took the class 45 minutes to complete, and the entire class was made to sit at the tables during that time. The class was bored. They were hitting, kicking, and messing with one another. The teacher had to constantly admonish the children. Punishments were doled out in the form of outside time taken away. Needless to say, there were no positive relationships being built. And no creativity was being expressed, with the children using items that the teacher cut out, with glue that the teacher gave out. The children definitely were not allowed to be themselves because any child is going to have an extremely hard time sitting still for 45 minutes.

Respecting where children are in their development is one of the keys to building positive relationships with them. Likewise, recognizing that they are capable individuals who can create on their own is key as well. Their creations may not look like a cookie-cutter craft, but when we get down to it we realize that the children’s involvement in the craft is certainly minimal at best. Chances are, the teacher had cut out all of the pieces, and the teacher was the one who was doing all of the gluing. While children of that age may not be able to cut out the shapes needed to make a cookie-cutter flower, what they can cut out is uniquely THEIRS. And if they are given open-ended materials with some tape, glue, an scissors, they may create a flower that surpasses anything a teacher could come up with. Or a robot, or whatever they want to create, because they are allowed to be themselves and be capable.

Imagine for a moment that your boss told you that you needed to make a lesson plan for your classroom, but then they did the lesson plan themselves, gathered the supplies you needed, and stood behind your shoulder and told you exactly how to implement the activities. Wouldn’t that be demoralizing? Why do we do that with children? Why do we tell them where to paint or how to build? Children need opportunities to do things for themselves and to prove to us and themselves how capable they actually are. If they do not get a chance to prove themselves or do things for themselves, they often develop the frame of mind that they can’t do it.

I’ve seen it a few times in my career, usually with children that are three or four years old. They seem to have an attitude of “I can’t” hanging around them, and it almost dictates how they will respond to any new experiences – by an initial attitude of “I can’t do it”. And once they hit the age of four or five, that attitude is very hard to break through. But children begin developing an attitude of independence and of a wanting to do things for themselves at the age of 2. While I have yet to apply this theory (and I do not intend to apply it myself for obvious reasons), it would seem that if the two year old does not have the opportunity to assert his independence and try to do things for himself, he will develop the “I can’t” attitude – because by the time he hits age three, he will really feel that he can’t. He won’t have had the opportunity to prove that he can. This can and will lead to a general lack of confidence when it comes to trying new things, or doing things for himself. And a lack of confidence affects relationships with others, because if he doesn’t have the confidence to do things for himself how will he have the confidence to embark in relationships with others?

I have heard over and over again in my career: “Set them up to succeed.” It took me a couple of years to realize what that meant. Setting children up to succeed means realizing their potential and their limitations, and setting up activities, experiences, and expectations accordingly. When this is done, children blossom and show us skill sets and intents that we would have never known they had otherwise. They become more engaged with us and with others, because they have the confidence in themselves and their surroundings that allows them to be more open and involved in learning new skills and participating in new experiences. We see the joy of discovery and the concentration on a new task in their faces, and each of those sights is something to behold in a child.