The delicate art of assessing and nurturing children’s creativity

I was recently asked to assess art projects for end-of-term marks. I know that this is seemingly unremarkable, but since I have not had to do this previously within the art classroom framework, it made me look not only at the children’s work analytically but also think about the way I approach teaching creativity to children and truly contemplate the concept of assessment (or as I tend to think of it … judgment), which is something I theoretically disagree with. Theoretically. For when I gave it further thought I realised I am constantly assessing, but selectively, and hence at times I am not even certain of my own criteria. I assess children’s skills as regards cutting and drawing etc against my knowledge and what is expected for their age. Thereafter my reaction is emotive and highly subject.

I think part of the problem is that essentially I love children and as a rule I am wildly enamoured with children’s art. It is pure expression, honest and delightful. But without some form of critique we have no idea as to how far we have to go or how far we have come. It is only through being held to some goal or some ideal that we and our children begin to feel challenged to grow. This does not entail the pressurised environment of high expectations or perfection, the place where children are pushed to become textbooks and machines, but rather offering inspiration and skills to improve their own understanding. Yes, inspiration not intimidation. Therein hopefully instilling an internal discipline, an internal desire to evolve.

So how do we evoke this?

With great care and consciousness in order to prevent the onset of anxiety in our precious babes. Anxiety. It’s the killer. I have seen its ugly head far too often. Children become so fearful of their own imperfections that these marvellous, creative beings are reduced to questioning every mark their pencil makes and still unravelling at the results. So we tread with compassion and care.

This ties into nurturing critical thinking in children. In the context of an art class we have to be careful that it does not become a free-for-all, a chance for children to ridicule the work of others, lose faith in their own, or to focus only on the positive for that alone does not engender critical thinking, the language of art or creative exploration.

I want them to have informed responses not only to the work of others but to their own creations.

So we go around our circle pointing out observations, mostly positive, offering advice, affirmations and interpretations. Often the children will notice small details I have not seen. Periodically they even translate the image for me. The outcome is never finite, or dictated but rather open-ended.

I would like them to develop artistic skill, certainly, but equally I would like to aid in nurturing children who can assess their work and the work throughout their lives with an open heart and an open mind, but with the skill to do so. I suspect the same applies to me.

Image – AFP