Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Do templates kill creativity?

Mats Anderson posted this image together with the following words "barns egen kreativitet och skaparlust eller likriktning och mallar? Studiebesök på en förskola i Bologna" (children's own creativity and desire to create or regimentation and templates? A study visit to a preschool in Bologna - (part of a Reggio Emilia study trip)) - this was posted on a Swedish Reggio Emilia group, to stimulate thoughts...

It certainly got me thinking...

I am no fan of templates - I would much rather encourage the children to create from scratch - in much the same way I would much prefer to provide home-made food cooked from scratch than prefabricated food...

BUT, instead of thinking as an adult about children's creativity and what they need from my adult view - I decided to go back to my own childhood, to root around in my own memories and how templates influenced my creativity - are templates the opposite of creativity?

I think I surprised myself with my own memories - well enough to start writing this post anyway!!

As a child I absolutely LOVED colouring-in books - I spent hours and hours colouring in a whole variety of images. I did this not just to fill time, but because it felt like PLAY, I also found that the images inspired me to draw more and to draw with more confidence - the images that I liked the most I would trace so that I could colour them in again and again and again (my own children have their own rolls of baking paper to use as tracing paper - to copy their favourite images from comics and books etc so that they can colour in themselves) - the more I traced these images the more I started to dare to add my own twists, and also to then have a go at drawing without tracing, as I got used to the shape and feel of drawing the image - in a way tracing and colouring in (and using templates) was like using training wheels on a bike - they gave me the confidence to continue and to experiment and offered me the foundation to GET creative...

When we direct activities so that we are all doing the same thing there is the opportunity to observe and see how a friend is doing it and to test that out - a bit like a crutch to test a new skill - and without the opportunity to test new skills and refine them then we as teachers might be restricting a child's creativity by thinking that templates is the cause of creativity death! Maybe creativity is being stifled by casting out the child into the great world of creation without enough skills - and the child then can feel overwhelmed and leans towards safe rather than daring to try out something new...? Maybe children NEED the time to use templates every now and again, to be directed by adults in order to acquire new skills to apply to their own budding creativity...?

Don't get me wrong - I think templates can be abused - in the sense that this is the only source of art children have access to - then the creativity is not coming from the child it is coming from the adult at all times - even if the template offers a variety of trees as above if the child is not given the opportunity to revisit the template in order to develop it further or enhance it, or to use the template as a source of inspiration for their own artwork then I feel templates are not a good option.

I do feel though (going back to how I enjoyed using templates at home and in school) that they can be a part of a creativity development and maybe should not be viewed as evil (as I feel that some teachers have a tendency to do - but any method can be abused/misused, not just templates and adult directed art activities where all the children do the same thing...) I also see how my own son begs me to go online and print out images for him to colour in - how he fills his bedroom door with these coloured in images together with his own versions... all three of my children have enjoyed colouring in and using templates - all three have not shown any sign of this damaging their creativity... oh, and if you think this is because I am creative then I can tell you about my childhood - my mother was not at least artistically inclined, she literally avoided it as she lacked confidence in her own abilities saying that she was not creative - my creativity comes from colouring books, from tracing again and again, from using templates and then adapting them for my own needs ... I made puppet shows cutting out images and sticking them onto sticks made out of rolled up newspapers, my sister and the child next door being roped into the process - my mother being the eternal appreciative audience... I made comics, I drew and drew, and built models with plasticine and home-made playdough and lego creation after another - I was apparently using perspective by the age of four (green crayon horses in the field behind my playschool) - but the feeling of play that came with the pages and pages of colouring in is a happy happy memory that makes me wonder why there is almost a fear of allowing children to use colouring in pictures because it might kill their creativity?

As with everything - its the process not the result that is important - and sometimes the process of a group doing templates (all the same and yet not the same) could actually be the important part of the process - maybe the template allows the children to focus on something else - perhaps in this tree template the focus was to observe foliage, or how the sky looks - is it above, behind etc the tree, how do flowers grow around the tree, are they the same size as the tree, do they only grow in lines across the bottom or how does perspective work there? These are big thoughts - and sometimes these thoughts cannot be seen in the product - as they are a part of the process. This is why the process is always THE most important part of the activity/project (of course the product is VERY important to the child - and we should NEVER lose sight of that either).

I never thought I would ever write something positive about using templates... Mats Andersson has really got me thinking... and maybe it was not the way he intended? BUT maybe when we are reflecting and theorising about children and their creativity then we are separating it from their play... maybe play and creativity should be interlinked MORE... I think we often see the creativity in their play but are we equally good at seeing play in their creativity... does that stop us from using templates? Because we think the child cannot be creative in something that come from an adult? Doesn't that assumption also mean we are not viewing the child as competent to develop and enhance the template themselves... that they are only capable of following adults ideas... (and yes I know there are places that abuse the whole template idea and always control the creativity - and maybe this is where the fear comes from... that we as adults are not competent - that if we were to start using templates then we would become dependent on them and forget to allow the children to express themselves... what a low opinion we have of ourselves then? What is it that is feeding this fear and hatred of templates? - ooo I feel I could be stirring up trouble here, but I think I want to provoke)

Can templates be a skeleton for children to hang their own creative skins on? Or do templates kill creativity?

12 comments:

  1. So funny, this is my view and has been for a long time, we not long ago wrote a blog on the same thing. If templates are a problem, it is not in the template, but rather in the delivery from the directing adult. Children aren't born knowing how to create and templates can give them a creative springboard, and confidence to extend and enhance their creativity. Thank you for you blog, I really enjoyed reading it.
    Bec

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    1. glad you enjoyed the post... and there is always that balance between templates being a scaffold for creativity and stifling creativty... it is all down to delivery, and knowing your children.

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  2. Finally, someone else who will openly admit to loving colouring in! I still do, only now I colour in reproductions from old decoupage books to decorate furniture, as well as colouring in books such as The Human Brain Colouring Book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Human-Brain-Colouring-Coloring-Concepts/dp/0064603067 to help learn anatomy.

    There is nothing wrong with templates!

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    1. glad to hear you still enjoy colouring in

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  3. I always thought, maybe it was our old time when colouring books were seen as fun ways of extending children's fine motor skills. I have used templates to extend children's knowledge on the topics that they were showing interest, such as Dinosaurs and for Christmas decorations. Some times it becomes difficult to fool our smart pre-schoolers that few lines they have drawn looks like a Christmas tree. They want to learn to draw properly to bring perfection in their work. In such case templates serve that purpose(!?) While saying this I also think we should provide other provocations to support children's imagination and logical thinking rather, providing them simple techniques. They may become lazy to use their own creativity.

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    1. yes I agree, as long as the template is scaffolding the children's creativity and not taing over it, so the children become dependant on them, then I think templates can have their use...

      I tend not to use them, but only when I see the need for them.

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  4. I know this is an old post, but I just had to leave a comment- I love your view on this, especially the question about whether "creativity is being stifled by casting out the child into the great world of creation without enough skills"...I often wonder about this very thing!

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    1. I keep sharing this post every once in a while, so in a way it is never old ;-)

      I think equipping children with the skills they need to BE creative is essential.

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  5. I am another adult who loved coloring books and finds them soothing, helping my mind to wander off creatively. They make experimentation easy to try out. Now I am a drama teacher who makes costumes for my students. If I could only make costumes by drafting my own patterns, it never would have happened. Instead, I let the patternmakers supply me with endless opportunities to make dressup clothing. And quilters? Much of the joy is seeing what happens when you change the colors or otherwise make variations on the templates. Thoughtful discussion which is one of Reggio's greatest contributions to the field of learning.

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    1. Yes, if the templates are guides then they can offer a great deal of excitement... it becomes the creation of more than one person's thinking... it is always essential to support children in their creative development to dare to make changes, to enhance, to deviate ...

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  6. I am always hesitant to be so black and white in my thinking. I feel if you think purposefully about what templates you use for the children, there is a place for them in scaffolding the children's learning. I too spent many happy hours 'colouring in; developing both my fine motor skills and my imagination. Some colouring books offered a return to known and loved places, others inspired me to develop my drawing skills. I have always been guided by what the children show me, and they have shown me that they are an enjoyable and engaging tool that the children can use to develop focus, collaboration, relationships with others, and gain 'new knowledge'. As we all know, learning happens for children through a myriad of different experiences, and templates can play their part in this, as their completion reflects the uniqueness of each child.

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  7. Colouring in is definitely therapeutic without doubt, just look at the amount of colouring books targeting adults in our shops today! As for educational value, I believe anything which allows ‘me time’ for children is good for the mind, good for the soul and good for the confidence. Like other comments, I believe 'sheets' should be used sparingly and when they scaffold an educational content agenda. Many of my children used to flee to the colouring pages during Golden Time (remember that) and while away time, it was lovely to watch.

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