Using Art to Build Self-Assured Critical Thinkers in Early Childhood Centers

The art hanging on the walls of The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom is child created.  Each piece of art is unique and developmentally appropriate for children ages 2 ½ thru Pre-K.  No two paintings or drawings or collages look alike.   You may think that every preschool could say the same and that there is nothing unusual about our walls.  Think again.
Far too often, emphasis in early childhood centers is placed on creating crafts that seem to demonstrate to parents that a lesson was learned that day.  When learning about animals, adults seem to feel compelled to grab the cotton balls and have everyone glue them onto construction paper or paper plates. Sheep are not made of cotton balls.   The children know it.  We know it.  Yet, many a cotton ball has given its life to create cloned sheep.  Taking cotton balls and gluing them teaches the children only to stick cotton on paper.  If we want children to learn about animals, we need to show them real or, at the very least, pictures of real animals.  We need to listen for their questions and respond to their curiosity.  Last week, our Pre-K class was learning about cardinals.  They saw pictures of cardinals and we talked about their characteristics.  We gave the children an opportunity to create their own cardinals.  We put a plethora of materials on the table and let them choose how they would make the birds.  Some students immediately grabbed red materials and began to cut & paste.  Other students decided upon different colors.  No two birds looked alike.  When I asked the students who selected blue or green or yellow what a cardinal looks like when we see it outside, every student said, “It is red.”  Selecting other materials did not mean that they did not learn that cardinals are red.  They simply didn’t want to create a red bird.  Likewise, just because a child paints a blob and calls it a car doesn’t mean that they cannot identify a car in real life.  Adults need to accept that projects that look cute to us, that look like the sheep or the cardinal, do not indicate that any in depth learning has taken place.
One might wonder what benefit it has to let the children use materials of their own choosing or create a product that does not resemble an adult concept of a particular item.  Children who create crafts and are not restricted by pre-cut parts become confident decision makers.  They discover that their thoughts have value and that they have power.  They develop critical thinking skills.   The moment we place the glue for them or insist that the eyes go in a certain position on the face, we have taken their power away.  We have created a situation in which they can be wrong.  They become concerned with being right and pleasing the adults.  They become passive learners instead of active thinkers.
Letting go of the concept that crafts indicate learning is one step in the process of acknowledging that our children are independent thinkers and can explore topics in ways that do not include pre-fabricated figures and school glue.  Whether you are a parent or an educator, I hope that you will begin to help build children’s self-esteem by letting them create things that have no right & wrong and think independently.  The students at The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom take great pride in their crafts.  They love when we hang them in the hallway.  They invite their parents into their classrooms to see the amazing things they have made.  That sort of pride and self-esteem will travel with them into their elementary school years.  We take great pride in that.

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
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  1. Excellent blog Cindy, thank you.

    1. Thank you! I write approximately every 7-9 days. You can get updates by joining my Facebook group:

    2. Excellent. Thank you. I wish everyone understood that the purpose of "art class" is the same for all the disciplines: to "become confident decision makers. They discover that their thoughts have value and that they have power. They develop critical thinking skills."

  2. Wonderful article,Cindy. You offer a clear explanation of the necessity of and reason for open-ended materials, inquiry, disovery, and supporting children's creativity, curiosity. I will share it with teachers at my temple early childhood program many but thankfully not all of whom adhere to the cotton ball school of early education. I've noticed, however, that even teachers who do understand how children learn and the importance of process revert to artsy craftsy, product-oriented approach when focusing on Jewish learning. Lots of professional development work to do!

    1. I have worked very hard to get my staff members away from the product-oriented approach even when the topics are Jewish.


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