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.”
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.