I had a wonderful conversation with a parent recently. It started with her revealing to me that she had been thinking about moving her daughter to another preschool. Day after day, her neighbor‘s child was coming home from their preschool with elaborate craft projects and worksheets filled with shape drawings. Her thought was that she really liked FUMP, but her neighbor’s child was bringing home so many great things and perhaps her own child was missing out.
She reached out to a friend and blogger who is very knowledgeable about child development. Her friend began asking questions about FUMP. Do they send home scribbled art work? Do they have sensory tables in the classrooms and change the materials in them regularly? Do they have playdough on the tables? Are the teachers highly trained? Are they accredited? And more. The answers were all yes. Her friend said that FUMP was doing it right, focused on child-centered learning. The parent was so relieved. She knew that she loved FUMP from her first visit, but couldn‘t articulate why. A year later, she is so glad that she stayed, and of course, I am as well. As we continued our conversation, I knew she had tapped into something deeper.
What does it mean to be a child-centered program? After 30 years in early childhood, “child-centered” is a term I use frequently; however, some parents may not have the same grasp of it. For this week’s column, I will expound on child-centered art. It is a tangible, visible example of FUMP‘s unique philosophy that illustrates the concept. More posts and columns will be coming your way as our child-centered philosophy is the common thread that runs throughout our program, from the babies to prekindergarten, and makes FUMP such a unique experience for children.
As I mentioned at the parent orientation meeting in August, your child will inevitably come home from FUMP with a completely brown painting and be thrilled by it. It will be covered with layers of once-bright tempera paints that have now been swirled and mixed into a top-to-bottom, wall-to-wall landscape of dull brown. While as a parent, you may think, “Ugh, that’s not one I am putting on the refrigerator”, it greatly illuminates FUMP‘s philosophy. Let me walk you through the experience through our eyes.
A child at the easel faces a blank page, pots of colored paints, and endless opportunities for learning. Here is a quick list off of the top of my head about the learning that happens here: 1) Fine motor skills of manipulating the brushes, 2) Gross motor skill of painting on a vertical surface (easel) rather than a horizontal surface (table), 3) Creative expression as there are no graphics or focused adult-selected objectives, 4) Drawing/writing skills as they form lines, shapes, symbols, 5) Science processes as they observe changes as colors, textures and paints are mixed on the page, and 6) Language as the teachers may ask the child about what they have drawn and dictate their response. Just like that, multiple areas of children’s development are addressed in one single classroom activity.
Further, children learn through repetition. The easel will be in the classroom all year, and the teachers will vary the mediums for children‘s use. What happens if you add shaving cream to the paint? Or use watercolors instead? Or add glue into the paint and paint on foil? Or use spray bottles with colored water? Or add an extract to create scented paint? A peer might even join to do a “partner painting”, which adds a social component.
These variations extend learning (building on the list above) and support further opportunities to learn about the properties of liquids and solids, art mediums, and more. This list is quite impressive, when you stop and examine something as simple as a child’s easel painting.
This is called “process-art,” a hallmark of a child-centered program. At FUMP, we cherish and nurture the process of creating and expression, not the end product. Parents can feel almost disappointment to receive muddy brown paintings day after day. However, each one is a testament to discovery, expression, and exploration.
Well, what about those perfectly-constructed spider crafts that your neighbors are bringing home these days? The key is to remember THAT IS NOT ART; not process art, anyway. They are an excellent measure of OTHER skills: following an adult‘s multi-step directions, practicing fine motor skills to assemble the craft, learning pre-math directional terms (above, below, beside), learning science concepts (a spider has 8 legs), etc. “Product art” has its place in the early childhood setting, but it has an entirely different end goal. Just last week, I observed in a classroom and the children were building skeletons with glue and cotton swabs. The teacher listed the activity under “Fine Motor Skills”, not “Art Projects”. I was delighted to see an example of the distinction on her lesson plans.
In fact, we could have the children make crafts for you each day at FUMP, and we would receive rave reviews for it. Many, many, many schools take this approach and do so successfully. However, we seek out opportunities to create child-centered, process-focused experiences for children. We prioritize children’s authentic experiences over more product-based outcomes, and ultimately the children have a richer, multi-dimensional and more meaningful experience because of it. Perhaps now you can see why the teachers gush at pick up time about the amazing muddy brown painting your child did that day – through our lens of valuing the child-centered experience.
So the next time you see a child’s carefully-constructed preschool craft project, perhaps this column will echo in your mind. Perhaps you will smile to yourself and think, ahhhh, that‘s not really art. And if you do, you will know that you are one of the precious few that recognizes the deeper value of a child-centered, developmental philosophy for young children. Now go forth and proudly show all of those brown paintings to all your neighbors!