Letting explore vs Showing

by Roberta Pucci

Should children be shown what to do… or be given the time to explore?

This question, summed up by Suzanne Axelsson after a live meeting of the “Grammar of Drawing” group, implies a reflection about the role of the educator before and during the creative process of a child. Bringing it to excess, we could consider it as the opposition of two sides: total freedom vs structured guiding – even if neither exists in an absolute sense (there will always be a tiny percentual of freedom and personal variation even in the strictest guided process, as well as there will always be some kind of limits even in the freest context).

In fact, it is not about choosing the right or wrong side, totally excluding one or another. What interests us is the “positioning” of the educator according to each specific context and child: what actions and words can better support a meaningful, independent and involving process of playing and creating?

I think that, first, we should consider if children asked us to show them something. If so, why do you think they did and what did they precisely ask? How to use a tool or a technique or what to do, what to draw? These are very different questions that imply different needs and approaches.

For example, if a child asks us to show how to use scissors, why shouldn’t we? Another case: what if a child is stuck with using scissors but does not ask? I would just say: “I see you want to cut some paper. Would you like me to show how I do that?” And I would  show only if she gladly accepts my offer.

A completely different situation is when a child asks us how to draw – for example a cow or a horse or whatever. There can be many reasons for this request. Maybe, the child is dealing with the realistic phase of the drawing development, so is genuinely interested in this kind of research. Or he could be afraid of adults’ expectations within a competitive classroom. Thus, the knowledge of drawing development (by Lowenfeld) can assist us as a compass for contextualize the child’s request.

Drawing by Linda, 5 years old – “Le Betulle” preschool, Cavriago (Italy)

While working as an atelierista, I remember a group of children making the portrait of some peers in a yoga position. The teacher entered and noticed that a child was drawing even some parts of his friend’s body that he could not see (because those parts were hidden from his point of view). The teacher insistently suggested to the child to look with more attention and to compare what he was drawing with what he was seeing. But the aim and the interest of the child were not about a realistic representation!

As adults, we always tend to consider the “visual realism” as a goal itself, while it is just one of many developmental stages, that will come with its time (usually after the preschool period). So we should ask ourselves: why am I suggesting or showing that?

Now, let’s think of another kind of request: what about a child asking what to draw? As Nona Orbach wrote in her post “Two stories: what should I create now?”, it means that she hasn’t an inner motivation and looks somewhere outside for it. Or maybe, she is just looking for the permission to draw whatever she wants.

And what about children that never ask for your support? How do you face with your role of educator? Do you feel useless? Are you tempted to show something or to speak about something, even if children are not asking? Why? Do you think your intervention is “silently” needed? Did the child seem stuck or bored to you? Can you “endure” when children say: “I’m bored?”

Try to really answer, they are not obvious questions.

Finally, we should also consider our approach as adults when switching “on the other side”, for example while attending a training course: what do we expect from our educators? Have you got an active researcher approach or do you expect the right, ready-made solution?

The way of being “student” is connected to the way of being “teacher” or “educator”. Investigating our inner student-child will help us to better understand our way of supporting a child, and the reason for our choices.

Cover drawing by Arianna, 5 years old – “Le Betulle” preschool, Cavriago (Italy)

This post is written as part of the project Grammar of Drawing and as a reply to this issue emerged in an online discussion.

Nona Orbach’s post on this is here 

Suzanne Axelsson’s post is here