Creating with children and how to encourage even the reluctant ones

I have recently been visiting schools for library week in Scotland and talking to children about illustrating stories and how to create and explore illustration. This was a brilliant time but got me thinking about how to engage with as many children as possible and get them excited about creating.

In a class there is obviously going to be a range of abilities and interests, some will be raring to go and jump in and make things, others are hesitant and want much more direction and encouragement. Then there are the ones who I really love to spend time with. Those who say ‘I can’t draw’ at first it seems really sad but actually these are the people who will benefit the most from a little time and thinking out of the box.

My first visit was to P1(5-6yr olds) and P1/2(6 and 7 yr olds) class with the added bonus of the P6 buddies coming to help too. The teacher had told me their theme was super hero’s and they had spent time working with ‘Supertato’ by Paul Linnet and Sue Hendra. This was a series of books we had never really touched and let me tell you they are hilarious! Also the teacher said they are great for teaching themes like friendship, relationships and problem solving. So if you haven’t come across it before, its well worth a read.

I like to base my visits on something the children recognise and so I ran with the Supertato theme.

So how to get creating….

Relax – We had fun chatting about our favourite books and looked at a few different styles. I find it helps to relax the children and to get away from the idea of somethings being right or wrong. We talked about what we liked about the pictures too. If you have more time I would get lots of books out and see a big range of styles, but its best not to rush this. It’s almost an afternoon activity of reading and looking at books.

After this we got to work focusing on what we liked about ‘Supertato’ and how fun it was that a vegetable could be a super hero!

Give them something to work with – I created a background for them to work with. It was based on the ‘evil peas’ escaping into their classroom. It was really fun to talk it through and the kids all got into it. Having the background ready means the children didn’t have the fear of a blank piece of paper, and those who were stuck or still could at least colour and feel they were beginning when it came time to work.

Make it simple– I worked with the kids to break down the character into shapes that they could recognise and then showed them how to add to it. For the ‘evil peas’ we used green dot stickers and added faces, arms and legs. They could identify the circle for the peas and the oval for the potato, the rectangles and the squares. It was easy to simplify these wonderful characters but I think you could do this with most characters to make them accessible to the kids. It wont be perfect but that is ok.

Get them moving – As I demonstrated to them how to make the characters I asked different people to get up and adding to the character. So to start with I drew the base shape (circle or oval in this case) then called various children to come and draw on the details – making sure no one child would have the whole responsibility of drawing in front of the class.

Demonstrate – Finally I showed them the final piece which gives those who need it a plan to follow but allowing for those who want more freedom to do it their own way. My demonstration piece had only 3 peas used and each child got 5 so they could have that freedom if they needed it.

Creating – Now its time for them to go off and create. The wonderful thing was the teacher (who knows what I’m like) had covered the tables ready for mess and the chairs were tucked under so most children stood, I like this because it gave those that needed it the chance to move around a bit. It was a fun and as I walked round chatting with kids many were taking the idea and running with it, and those who were worried were keen to try.

There was a wonderful energy to the whole project and I was so happy that many were inspired to try to make something. It was quite prescribed but for this age group and the number of children it needed to have boundaries and guidance, for old children I would encourage more freedom. It is important to remember it is not always easy for everyone and for some they just freeze or have a big blank. Creating an accepting and adventurous atmosphere allows kids to try and not fear how it will come out.

Let me encourage you to keep trying and not putting huge pressure on yourself to create fridge worthy pieces and just enjoy exploring. Over time styles and loves will develop. It’s the saddest thing to hear people say they aren’t creative and don’t want to even try to draw. Just do it, it might not be perfect but its yours and that special.

These are my peas you can find on plates and bags over at ArtWow

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