With plain white tiles, primary colour paints, brushes and our art table, I became suddenly irresistible to three very young children who I am sometimes lucky enough to spend my days with. On my white tile, I mixed yellow and blue paint and to everyone’s delight, the secondary colour appeared. “Green!” the children shouted, even before I had finished mixing (they are onto this colour mixing magic, and very interested in the topic right now).
By this time, my two older children had drifted over to the art table, asking to join in because the painting activity “actually looked kind of cool”. Out came more tiles to accommodate their involvement. I finsihed my brief demonstration and let the children have their turn.
And the play began.
Some of the artists were fascinated by shades alone.
Others found their fascination with the sensory experience…
using their fingers and brushes on the painted tile and discovering the visual blobs of colour they could create.
Some creations appeared abstract, completed in silence and deep concentration.
Others connected colour with life experience, and laughed and chatted about oceans- splashing their hands onto their painted water as they worked:
One artist discussed mosaics as his fingers swirled in the paint, and talked of faraway places as he brush stroked a scene from his mind.
Play is an artist’s work. Play is how children learn.
Children create, wonder, form ideas, test, invent and achieve satisfaction and inspiration to learn more, through the processes of play.
It’s how adults learn too. Through exploration, discovery, trial and error, formation of skill practise, further discovery. These are important endeavours at all ages, in all walks of life.
As a parent and educator, it can be tempting to adopt a ‘paint by numbers’ approach with an impressive outcome. What suffers is the process, and it is the process that connects us to our experience.
The process is the learning.
More than that, the process is kind of the point. Art is a whole act, far more than it is a product. Yes, there are skills to learn and master, and there is theory to know, but that is not the whole picture. Theory and skills change and evolve as artists play and discover new techniques, forms and genres anyway. Art is used in many ways, for many purposes. The best art tells a story… personal experience, collaboration, communication. The processes that drive the art are the heart of it.
Learning isn’t a product either. There is no specific ‘end’. There is no product a child produces that signifies they have now conquered art and can move on to conquer the next rung of their learning. The opposite is true. Playing and learning are lifelong endeavours.
So I show children how to mix primary colours together to create secondary colours if they are showing an intense interest in this science (as most children do). I guide them with the skills of holding a paint brush, recognising and blending colours. But I don’t tamper with the play too much. The play is theirs, it belongs to them.
Play is an art. We need it our whole lives and we are most satisfied when we immerse ourselves wholly. Who am I to stand in the way of a child’s art? Who am I to ‘paint by numbers’ with any child’s learning or life?