Art lesson: Free exploration/ working purposefully

Published by Lori Pickert on February 24, 2008 at 07:41 PM


Imagine two children who are asked to paint a picture of their house. The first child hasn't used these paints before, or for a long time. The second child was given them to play with yesterday.

The first child is a bundle of frustration. The paint colors are running together! My house is beige, not brown, and I can't make the color I want! I used the black paint and now I've ruined the yellow paint. And now it's all dripping on the floor! I quit!

The second child learned a lot yesterday just by playing with the paints and painting several pictures. She waits for one area to dry before painting next to it with another color. She mixes new colors on a clean sheet of paper. She cleans her brush carefully between color changes. She is working intently. When she finishes her first painting, she talks about it and then asks for another piece of paper. She's ready to try another.

The child who was given time to play and explore can now work purposefully.

If you paint two big wet spots next to each other, the paint will run together. Imagine how interesting and fun this can be when you are just playing and experimenting — watching the yellow paint swirl with the blue, and then the center is turning green.

Imagine how disappointing and discouraging this same effect is when you really wanted a yellow dress covered in blue flowers.

The lessons we learn during play, we apply when we are working to create something important to us.

To work with a purpose is to choose deliberately, with a definite goal in mind.

Imagine two children sitting down to draw a bird with a collection of pencils. One child hasn't used these pencils before; one has. Who will be more successful? Even pencils have different personalities — hard and soft leads make different kinds of lines, we can apply too much pressure so they break or make a hole in the paper, color can be dragged across with the edge of our hand and spoil our work.

To work purposefully is to reach for a material or a tool confidently, choosing it because we know what it will do.

We cannot work purposefully until we have become familiar with the materials and tools.

Free exploration means we have no goal in mind, we're just seeing what this material can do and what we can do with it.

We learn through play, and what we learn, we can use when to create work that is important to us.

(W)ith a sense of certainty, play is almost always mindful. People take risks and involve themselves in their play. Imagine making play feel routine; it would not be playful. In play, there is no reason not to take some risks. In fact, without risk, the pleasures of mastery would disappear. … We tend to be more adventurous at play because it feels safe. — Roger Kelly, Leisure

(Did you figure out this was a lesson for you and not for the children? :^D)


Comment by Megan on October 6, 2008 at 07:34 PM

(yes I did) *grin*

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 6, 2008 at 07:38 PM

(i'm glad) :^)

Comment by SnippetyGibbet on October 23, 2008 at 10:27 PM

This was such a wonderful entry. I so believe in this method of teaching art to my preschoolers. So often I find art teachers not knowing how to work with these little ones and they revert to horrible projects that copy the teacher more than allowing them to explore.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 24, 2008 at 03:09 AM

thank you! and you are so right .. i remember an art teacher posting on an online forum that teaching art to *kindergarten* students was a waste of time. so incredibly sad.

thank you for your comment and for visiting my blog! :^)

Comment by Homegrown on Si... on March 31, 2009 at 04:30 AM

I am new to the Reggio approach. I am very interested in using it in homeschooling my children. I am currently awaiting the arrival of two books in the mail I am very excited about, "It's not a bird yet" and "The Language of Art- Reggio Inspired Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings."

Let me tell you about my Amazon experience. First a little background. My daughter (6) is starting to like drawing, but often will say, "I don't know how, or I don't know what to draw." A friend of mine had sent us a book for christmas about how to draw forest animals. She really found this useful because it showed her step by step HOW TO. So, knowing how much my daughter loves fairies and mermaids and such, I went to Amazon's children's books and got all caught up in looking at those flashy, cute books for children about HOW TO DRAW FAIRIES AND MERMAIDS, and DINOSAURS, PIRATES etc. There were so many I just couldn't choose. Then I just stopped myself. For some reason I thought I was doing it all backwards. So, I went to the Reggio books instead for inspiration. What do you think about those flashy HOW TO books? Is there a time and place for them? How do I help my kids learn to draw without them? I can't wait for these two books. What do you think?

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 01:54 PM

i am not a fan of how-to-draw books. children use them to draw in a formulaic way, rather than drawing with their own creative style; they strip out the learning.

i love ursula kolbe; i think you will love her book!

another good beginning book i would recommend is “bringing reggio home”.

as to introducing drawing and other art media, you might want to read these posts of mine:

let me know how things progress!

Comment by Maryam on September 23, 2010 at 06:05 PM

what a wonderful post... all so true and well put. thank you!

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