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Making Thinking Visible

Dear Elizabeth,
My 2-year-old loves anything to do with art, painting, drawing, cutting out shapes & all craft projects—but is he really learning anything?
Shawn Senavinin
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Give them uninterrupted & unhurried time to create artwork
  • Provide a variety of open-ended materials & space to leave their work
  • Encourage & value their unique forms of expression
Expert Advice
Dr. Daniel Siegel
Dr. Daniel Siegel
Artistic Expression
Artistic expression is the way a person communicates what’s inside them to others. What makes that expression “artistic” is that new ideas and combinations of things can be created. These creations can be in so many forms: music, dance, drawing, art, and even telling stories.

When children create, it’s like “brain food.” The brain is able to make new combinations of ideas so that problems can be solved and emotions can be expressed. Having “free-play” time -- time to explore without strict directions on WHAT to do -- helps a child grow emotionally and socially. It’s actually necessary for their brains to develop properly.

There are great benefits to different kinds of artistic expression. Music lessons are wonderful for helping children become focused and disciplined. More free-form expressions—like painting and drawing that are offered in a way that is playful—not practicing but creating—can also be essential for a child’s development of self-expression so that they can become more themselves. When we encourage art that is not based on words—like drawing, painting, music, and dance, we are supporting the development of the right side of our brains which often is left out of everyday school activities. Developing the right side of the brain in art along with the left side for language helps children to become fully developed. As children learn in all these ways, they can become more themselves—the best “me” they can be. This is essential so that children can know who they are in this busy world filled with “do this” and “do that” which often do not encourage children to learn who they are.

How Art Makes Thinking Visible
When we allow our brains to create new combinations and then express them to others through art, we are making thinking visible. Our minds are more than what happens inside—we need to find a way to share our internal thoughts and feelings with others in a safe and supportive place. When we encourage this artistic expression—as the Blue School is based on doing—we are helping kids to grow emotionally, socially, and even academically.

Forms of Artistic Expression
“Art” is a word that means more than just the visual creative expressions of painting and drawing—it can include any way we express our creative instinct: We can dance, play music, build buildings, write poems and even cook food. Art lets our imagination run free and communicate what we come up with to others. When we see that “art” is a form of free-play, we can understand how important it is to let children build their brains through artistic expression. So much pressure is on kids to NOT play—and as adults we need to see that play is brain food! In these ways, art in all its forms helps bring the inside out and builds strong minds and better brains.

Helping Children Make Their Thinking Visible
When you consider how to help children make their thinking more visible, remembering when you were young can be a good place to start. When we become adults, life can get pretty serious in so many ways—especially with all the worries in the world these days. But children need us to support their seeing the world with fresh eyes. Your children look to you for guidance, and being interested in what they are interested in is an important place to start. Then ask them about their thoughts, their feelings. I remember the word “sift” to help guide me in talking with my kids—and even myself: ask about sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts that a child may have. This is how you can teach them to sift their mind! This is a great way to get artistic expression going.
Child Care Provider Comments
Matt Goldman
Matt Goldman
Cofounder of the Blue School
The way you can best support your child’s artistic expression is to let your child take the lead. Be there and be supportive of your child. Give focused time. I see it in my son all the time. He'll come up with these surprising new ways to tell stories, to play, to express his feelings with his dinosaurs, or whatever and we’ll get lost in play together. I have fun with him. It's beautiful.
Phil Stanton
Phil Stanton
Father of a 19-month-old
Finger-painting is one of my son's favorite activities. I like finding out whatever it is that he seems to be excited by. This isn't an artistic thing, but he got excited about the idea of the moon. So every time he goes out, he's always trying to find where the moon is. The great thing about it all is that it loops back around and causes you to become reacquainted with your own sense of wonder.
Sheri Griffin
Sheri Griffin
Cares for 2-year-old twin nieces
I try to encourage my nieces’ artistic express by giving them blank pieces of paper and encouraging them to scribble. If they are talking about colors of a rainbow, they often make pictures that have to do with a rainbow.

When making art, there is a certain freedom. There are things that they have to do in their daily lives like getting dressed a certain way, but, with art, they are free. It gives them creative freedom. They get to use their imagination and become more in tune with that.

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Making Thinking Visible
5096 - Making Thinking Visible Featured Video:
5096 - Making Thinking Visible
Topic: Play & Creativity
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