Creating Together: Nurturing Self Expression Through Art & Play
February 1, 2023
By Lauren “Lola” Hemard, LCM Arts and Culture Director
If you’ve ever been to the Studio in the Park, you’ve felt how the atmosphere instantly changes. It seems to have its own micro-climate amidst the rest of the museum eco-system. Busy molecules in the air seem to pass into the studio, find less turbulence, and begin to gently hover. It’s a colorful, but clear-headed space that allows for visualization of ideas as they pop up. It’s not that it is necessarily less loud or active; there’s plenty of color and layers, but there’s a reverence and a collective understanding that the space is there for the artist inside everyone to express themselves.
Children have their own “Hundred Languages,” as described by the poem from Reggio Emilia co-founder, Loris Malaguzzi. Children are constantly in the process of discovering their personal “languages” of expression, so we tend to gravitate toward process art in the studio. This differentiates from product-focused art or craft making, where the steps to completion are quite laid out already and there isn’t the same potential for individual expression. Some activities have instructions to orient guests with materials, articulate aspects of culture, or learn new skills, but LCM’s Play Facilitators will always follow the lead of the child (within the bounds of safety and respect of course.) One can quickly see how art and creativity are important to the foundation of impactful learning experiences. Creativity connects as a synonym to Play, since both exist in a realm where, when judgement and perfectionism are removed from the equation, innovation and novel connections have more space to flow.
The Atelier, or Studio, is the central hub of a big wheel of learning, and creativity is valued as a regular aspect of regular thought processes. Creativity isn’t really something someone has or not. It’s a universal force that humans are born to utilize. Children are learning about the world, and about their relationship to it, and we as adults are there to follow along and learn with them. In the Reggio view, the child, adult, and environment are co-collaborators, all learning and exploring together. It is our honor and duty as caretakers to guide children to environments with novel, puzzling, informative, or delightful elements and see where the lead of the children will take us into discovery.
In the Reggio Emilia Approach, intentional materials, called Provocations or Invitations, are laid out to inspire curiosity, inquiry, and imagination. There may be an idea in the educator’s mind about a direction to point the activity toward, but openness and curiosity about new directions are a natural and pleasant aspect of this co-learning process. In that way it can be very improvisational, taking turns contributing and questioning and seeing what happens next. The process reveals creations that the educator could never have dreamed up on their own. That is the good nature of collaboration. Enjoy the chance to be a creative collaborator with your child. Soon enough in life, children realize that thinking differently from their caretakers won’t always be viewed as a positive thing and could even incur consequences. Art as a safe space is important for self-expression, and necessary for the development of a young person. To express yourself, of course you must know yourself (or be in the process of getting to know yourself, with which art can assist). If a child is always looking for approval from a caretaker based on learned dynamics, they may not be getting the time they need to discover what they think or wonder for themselves. There are, after all, no two snowflakes alike. Despite obvious uniqueness, there are also things to learn about physical structure and natural tendencies, for example. So, we gather a foundation of knowledge that then inspires and supports our expressions to be as creative and diverse as Nature itself. The snowflakes end up being a great metaphor to relate to the concept, but we also had an enlightening time creating “snowflakes” out of loose parts this winter with children who came to the studio. There were many unique iterations and expressions from the materials. And naturally, no two snowflakes were alike, though all created from the same basic elements.
One of the most beautiful parts about being around young children is getting to experience again that pure feeling of wonder in encountering the world for the first time. Children have all the languages they need, but they are looking to you, their caretaker, to foster a safe space for the vulnerability of expression. Creatively connecting with them is also an opportunity to offer that freedom to your own Inner Child. The process of growing to know yourself never ceases, so why shouldn’t adults continue to play and create? Your Inner Child still has a lot to share and express, and so does the young child in your life who is learning it all for the first time. So, when you come to the studio with your young artist, we invite you to sit in that calm, intentional atmosphere and see what unfolds. To express yourself is to know yourself. What interesting things will you learn about yourselves and each other while making art together?
Malaguzzi, L. (n.d.). One hundred languages of children. Retrieved from: http://www.reggiokids.com/the_hundred_languages_of_children.html