About Early Years Arts
Here in Sticky Fingers we are passionate about early years creativity and we want you to feel the same way. This section of our website will explore all things early years, ranging in content from essays to organisational profiles to photo galleries. If you have any suggestions for content, please do get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image © Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts
Roisin Cotter is a parent and creative practitioner working in early years settings through environmental and visual arts. In 2011 Roisin completed the Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts 'Developing Creativity in the Early Years' module course, certified by Stranmillis University College.
The Arts Council of England's 'Reflect and Review Report 2005' tells us that "creativity is one of the characteristics which define us as human beings. It is available to everyone, not just the talented, and can be taught and encouraged."
Before I began to explore creativity in the early years I had a narrowly defined view of what creativity meant. Having never considered the concept of creativity in any depth before, if asked to define or explain the concept, I would have said that it was more or less to do with the arts, with talented 'artists' creating work, whether visual art, literature, music, dance, drama or architecture. Perhaps with a bit more reflection, I would have considered the creativity of inventers, philosophers and business entrepreneurs, and said that they were showing creativity in their fields, what Craft refers to as 'big C creativity'.
If I had been asked to consider the way our children learn or interact in their educational environment, in relation to being or acting creatively, I probably would have thought of the 'art works' they produce and carry home on a regular basis. As parents, we naturally treasure these and take them as evidence of our children's creativity. On further reflection I now see that the opportunity for our children to manifest Craft's 'little c creativity' can often actually be restricted during their time in school. Previous to exploring these new (to me) concepts of creativity, I, like most parents I know, would have viewed the walls of identical templates in our local primary school as charming examples of early years creativity in art. It seems ironic that it is only when children reach the older classes in school that they are then allowed more freedom to be creative, no longer required to stick to the colouring/art templates of their early years, when they are so full of what Craft calls 'possibility of thinking'. Clearly the arts offer opportunities for young children to be creative, but I now realise that creativity is so much wider than the arts activities we usually see linked with early years education practice.
As a child, I was an avid viewer of BBC's Blue Peter and perhaps as a consequence always had a 'making box', full of bits of string, pieces of cardboard, empty Fairy Liquid bottles and of course the absolutely essential inner tubes of toilet rolls. The contents of the making box were for use in my many attempts to emulate whatever lovely present for Mum or Gran the presenter was making that week. However, my efforts over the years never really matched up to those shiny TV gifts (Perhaps my inability to source the compulsory double sided sticky tape had something to do with my lack of success?).
It is only with the gift of hindsight and my recent reflection on creativity, that I now also see that my home was a hotbed of creativity during my teenage years. Two of my sisters went on to study fine art and were constantly painting, sculpting and being generally arty, while another wrote soul searching poetry and made small ceramic pots. Alas, modern day Brontés we were not, but there was a lot of creating going on in that house. Perhaps my own hobby of constructing dazzling (or so I thought) items of clothing from the richly patterned upholstery fabric our father used in his furniture business, persuaded me of my equally creative brilliance, or more likely, I just never thought about what we all did in our spare time. Now in later life, with small children of my own, I look back and marvel at that ability we had as children to create so easily. Is it something we seem to forget as we get older?
The 'All Our Futures Report 1999' states, "Creativity is possible in all areas of human activity, including the arts, sciences, at work, at play and in all other areas of daily life. All people have creative abilities and we all have them differently". But what an immense shame that as our children grow older, it seems that what they once did so instinctively can so easily fall by the wayside, be disregarded, not nurtured or even just forgotten as they are encouraged in their pursuit of more academic knowledge.
If only that way of thinking, doing, knowing, even of being, as Craft puts it, that comes so naturally to young children could continue to be nurtured and developed from the early years upwards and become a priority in later school life, then what a difference it could make to our education system and consequently to society as a whole.
While the importance of nurturing creativity in the care and education of children under six is recognised and endorsed by government frameworks and publications, I believe that the nurturing and promotion of creativity remains a huge challenge for our education system. It is no wonder that the government believes creativity should be high on the agenda when it is so obviously necessary in the fostering of business development. This is a time when the creative vision of entrepreneurs and inventers is more vital than ever for the future health of our economy/society, and I am encouraged by the fact that Craft's 'little c creativity' is available to all of us.
Craft's view is that creativity involves a "lifewide approach, self creation, imagination, path finding". To my mind, the many problems that we encounter on a day to day basis when dealing with institutions, government departments, local authorities and even private companies are caused by the 'can't do' attitude engrained within many of those organisations. It seems clear that people have not learned to operationalise their 'little c creativity' in their daily lives. If we want adults who are creative, imaginative problem solvers, then we must start nuturing these traits in their earliest years. In fact, Craft suggests that to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century we all need to activate our own 'little c creativity'. To develop a society of resourceful, resilient and confident citizens who can deal with the many situations our fast changing world will throw at us, this modest goal seems essential for all levels of both our education system and our government to take on board.
Roisin Cotter © 2011
Arts Council England (2005) Reflect and Review: the arts and creativity in the early years, London: ACE
Craft, A. (2002) Creativity and Early Years Education, London: Continuum
National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. London: Department for Education and Employment.
Personal Perspectives on Creativity
Image © Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts
Gráinne O'Donnell is a gardener with Newry and Mourne District Council with experience in developing and delivering environmental arts projects with young children. In 2010 Gráinne completed the Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts 'Developing Creativity in the Early Years' module course, certified by Stranmillis University College.
Many public places are defined by their titles - football pitch, amenity area, play park, nature reserve or picnic area - they don't overlap or merge together, each stands alone. The 'Developing Creativity in the Early Years' course has shown me this need not, and indeed should not, be the way forward. The boundaries need to be blurred, there is no reason you can't have wild flowers around a football pitch, art in a nature reserve or fruit trees around a picnic area. We have gotten stuck in a rut and continue with what has been there before without thinking how to make outdoor spaces work for the children for whom they are supposedly intended. They should not be disused, historic monuments to the planners and health and safety officers who missed out on creative play as children, seemingly becoming concerned citizens at eight years of age.
Duckett says: 'We need, in many ways to get off the beaten path, to walk the track and into the woods.'
It is no longer acceptable to present children with a fenced off play area with four swings, a slide and roundabout built from hard wearing steel and painted in primary colours, covered in safety matting in the middle of an open windy space. It wouldn't be considered for adults yet no one thinks twice when children are the primary users. We take them to the park as a treat….
During the 'Developing Creativity in the Early Years' course, a group of us were playing with clay and other materials to create subjects for a story. This task changed the way I looked at how children play. No one was a great model maker but whatever shape was created, once it was named it became that figure for everyone in the group. This was how you then related to the amalgam of clay, lollypop sticks and feathers. As the story evolved all the slightly battered shapes became integral to the storyline, it could not exist without them.
It is our own perceptions we need to challenge when working with early years. They build and create to their own scale and needs. They do not share our concepts of time or understand why they cannot be allowed to finish the work they have started at their own pace. Giving a group of adults five minutes to complete a story forced us to rush the ending leaving it incomplete and some how unsatisfactory.
Giving time is one of the most important things we can do. Allowing children to interact with their surroundings outdoors, using natural materials, getting dirt under their fingernails and having different experiences supports their development. 'It is now generally accepted that being outside is beneficial to our mental and physical health' (Linda Lines).
Children enjoy exploring, hiding and creating spaces for themselves and yet in local authorities we remove and prune trees and shrubs to keep sight lines open and prevent antisocial behavior such as teenage drinking. For early years everything should be on a different scale. Small hidden spaces won't be attractive to the six foot teenager with a bottle of cider looking to hang out in a group at the weekend - they need their own space. We cannot continue building play areas that supposedly cater for everyone from six months to sixteen years - 'furniture and equipment should be appropriate for the child's age' (Carmen Anghelescu).
We need to help children develop their inherent creativity and inspire them in natural surroundings to make learning meaningful and enjoyable. Marrying this with existing local amenities calls for a change in planning and management. What we might see as an untidy, untended area of grass is for children a wild place to explore and hide in. Leaving an area of grass uncut is hardly a major policy change but could transform a play area for children at no cost in a very short time. Neither do we need to invest in expensive toys. Whenever my nephew would visit my mother he would get outside and start to gather small stones. Even if he was told not to lift them he would say they were a present for Granny O. When he had enough for a small pile he would go through them carefully and select three or four of the best to give my mother, telling her all the things that made them special. This could keep him happily occupied for quite a while until he had collected all the stones that interested him - only then was it time to play with toy trucks.
We need to offer children challenges, new experiences, space and security. Getting the balance right may be a challenge for us but it is one we should embrace - many of the happy memories we have of childhood are inaccessible to today's children.
Maybe we should ignore those adults who want everything 'tidy', perhaps they were never allowed to lie in long grass looking up at clouds.
Gráinne O'Donnell © 2010
Carmen Anghelescu: The grass roots. Early education in Romania. A small space to grow.
Robin Duckett: Elemental experiences. Refocus Journal Winter 2006/07
Linda Lines: The Real and Hidden World of Nature. Refocus Journal 2007