Monday, April 25, 2011

Risking 'right'

A group of children sit in an art class after school. They tumble in raucous and joyful needing to run and roll the structure of their day onto the gym floor. They eat ravenously, warm yoghurt tubes and squashed sandwiches, chattering playground secrets and relief. Slowly the fidgeting falls away and there is enough calm to gather in a circle and begin. Our time together always starts with questions. What can you see in this painting? How does it make you feel? What do you like about it? What bothers you?  At first it is all averted eyes and shuffling. Then a few clowns take centre stage with the rampant playfulness of tweens. Snorts and giggles. Eventually hands are raised with hesitancy, and often there is a familiar lilt at the end of an answer. A hidden question returned to me, the teacher. Did I get it right? Is that what you wanted? Did I pass your test? Sometimes this goes on for weeks. Cautious. Restrained. Then finally something happens.  A child, usually a quiet one, speaks without raising their hand and blurts out a real answer, unfettered and confident. The room is quiet and the words hang unencumbered in the air. “I like it because it makes me think about my grandma, she was an artist and used to paint just like this. I feel happy to think of her” Everyone is listening intently. Bright eyes sparkle and there is a buzz of excitement and a new kind of focus in the room. An explosion of conversation and debate ensues.

They have incredible ideas these little philosophers, and their relief at expressing authentic voices and angles is absolutely palpable.  Having finally understood that the enquiry is ‘real’, probing and unlimited in its scope a room full of children come alive. School doors open to the world.  Kids sit taller, speak more clearly, and become animate and alert. Instead of searching for test paper comebacks and rote responses they begin investigating their own humanity and unique perspectives with enthusiasm. I live for this moment, when children reawaken to their own ingenuity and brilliance. It takes time, but after a while they are far less afraid to make mistakes, the payoff of risking ‘getting it right’ has proved worth it.

Last week Jo's youngest son experienced exactly this moment:

My 2nd born boy finally drew me a BIG bird...he had kept asking me to 'trace' an outline for him to colour in as he didn't know 'how' to draw a bird. He likes to get things right. He demands specificity about what is real and unreal (notice the grass and the sky). After having an older child who never once asked if his take on the world was 'right' it just 'was', and still 'is' (no matter if the sky is green and the tree upside down!)
For my littlest boy to make the leap to put texta to paper to shape his own imagining it was a magical moment of flight for us both.Is it birth order? Is it because his older brother can do it 'better'? Is it just different personalities? Is it a different way of seeing the world? Whatever it is, after months in the waiting, he loved seeing his bird fly, and oh so did I.


  1. Wow Jo, Sacha and Max are so alike! Max has to "get it right". It has taken so long for him to let go and just draw without rules. Now it's monsters and aliens on every bit of paper available... Sara S

  2. Beautiful post. You're doing something very special there. And that bird is just fabulous.

    Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.

  3. What a gorgeous post! It's so funny - we have the opposite in our natural learner's group. For a couple of terms we had a group art class run by a local portrait artist. She was quite teachery, but very lovely. It was the first time our natural learning kids had to put their hands up to answer a question. We had to help them a little on the first day but after that they got the hang of it. They are so used to the freedom of talking when they need to, ansering when they want to and asking whenever they like. Isn't it lovely when kids have the freedom to speak and create from the heart? Thanks so much for a lvoely, lovely post. Can't wait until your magazine hits the world:)


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