reflections – let the art live!

Checking the art against the rubric (Jessica Carlucci also judging)

Earlier this week I enjoyed the privilege of visiting Nelson Elementary School, where I’d been asked to help judge the Reflections contest, sponsored by the Parent Teacher Association.

Reflections (which originated with the Colorado PTA in 1969) is designed to “encourage students to explore their talents and express themselves by giving positive recognition for their artistic efforts… and to enhance quality arts education for students in Pre‐K through grade 12.”

Cordova Park Elem. – Naomi was 8

SPLASH THE COLOR! I remember Andrew and Naomi participating when they were kids, both in visual arts and literature. It was important to us as parents to make sure they were exposed to the arts, and to value the investment of their creative energies.

So I was very glad to be invited to take a look at what’s going on in 2012.

2012: The art that I judged this week was a real treat to experience. But I have three observations that I believe say something important about child development:

  1. First (and foremost), I believe that an enthusiastic exploration of the arts is worth celebrating regardless of technical ability, because unbounded expression is critically important to the developmental process.
  2. The work in the Reflections competition, by and large, represented less freedom, less of the “this-is-fun-I’m-just-going-to-go-for-it” element than the level I was looking for.
  3. There were (and this is echoed throughout the county) not nearly enough entries.

Here’s what I think: If the majority of children are not engaging the experience, then two things are going to be missing: first, the benefits to development; and, secondly, enough soul-level art to raise the bar for everyone.

  • But don’t blame the teachers. Educators are now required to focus so much of their energy on paperwork, documentation, pin-point “competencies” and teaching to the test, that classroom whimsy must be either a specific FCAT skill they can check off on the clipboard or it’s a luxury that they have to check at the door.
My new friend Tye, proudly pointing to his most excellent work (don’t worry, I’d already turned in my grading)

MICROCOSM: This is a microcosm of one of my biggest concerns for childhood in the USA (and it’s another one of those challenges that needs to be picked up by parents because – ultimately – it’s their responsibility). It appears that we are well on the way to becoming a society where there is not enough room anymore for play, spontaneity, free-form expression, unbounded creative exploration, imagination, trial and error, and the entire continuum of “natural” learning that is nigh-impossible to measure.

It appears that we are well on the way to becoming a society where there is not enough room anymore for play, spontaneity, free-form expression, unbounded creative exploration, imagination, trial and error, and the entire continuum of “natural” learning…

BLOCKS: This is one reason we purchased our grandson, David, a set of wooden blocks for his first birthday (and will continue to give such gifts), and why we are so thankful that his mother is such a free-spirited artist and that his dad loves that aspect of family life. We simply must – as a society – provide more room for imaginative, curious play.

David in Connecticut. Imaginative play = “knock it down!”

So thanks, Deb Jackson for organizing the contest; thanks to all the Nelson Elementary School children who participated; and thanks to the contestants who fired up my imagination.

But – and this is for all you parents out there – don’t let your child’s imagination get run off the road by the juggernaut of standardized testing, overly programed schedules, and a calendar too full with narrowly defined activities.

Let the art live! DEREK


  1. The consuming electronic environment stifles creativity at nearly every level. When infants are given computer/smart-phone look-alikes, the kind of exploration you advocate is stifled — maybe permanently! I believe this is ever-so-sad, tho’ there may be a few compensations.


    • Thank you for being one of the judges. My daughter was awarded 2nd place at Nelson. Her third time entering. Twice for first place twice for second. U made her smile cuz she gets a ribbon


    • This is why I was thrilled that my children wanted music lessons for their birthday present. They didn’t want the latest toy that would be thrown by the wayside after a few days. It may turn out to be the most expensive birthday present I ever give them but what they will gain is priceless.

      By the way, their interst in musical instruments was nurtured by listening to the music in church.


  2. Hi, Derek,

    The arts are really the fields that really (GASP!) civilize people. Art, music, dance, drama pay great dividends in helping people think creatively. That’s why my personal library contains a lot of art, literature, and music. And I probably have one of the best classical music cd collections in Lakeland, if not all of Polk County.. All of this is my refuge and I cherish what I learned in Art Appreciation, Introduction to Music, Literature classes, and the two Symphonic History classes I took at College. Now that’s stuff that counterbalances this crazy world. And I think that you are a similar treasurer of the nurture that even simple crayons bring. Precious posting, Derek!!

    Peace and Blessings,



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