Friday, January 2, 2015

Let Them Be Kids

Christmas break is ending, which means I will get a break from an excessive amount of kids. There's been a few incredibly busy daycare days, but mostly it's been a lot of fun. There was only one point where I felt like I was going to cry......

The kids were in between activities and I set out paper, paints, and brushes to keep them busy while I got the next activity ready. Before all of the kids dove in, the two first graders I was caring for (one being my oldest son Max) came up to the table. Their eyes widened, mouths hung open for a minute, and with sparkling eyes asked "do we get to just paint?" I looked at them oddly for a moment. "Yes...." I replied, waiting for their punchline.

"Oh wow! Yes!!! We NEVER get to paint anymore!" they said excitedly. I thought this statement was odd, as my son had come home with a painted picture from art class just a few weeks ago, but shrugged it off. I listened to the kids talk to each other while they painted. Some spoke about Santa, some talked about their school and who got in trouble the most in their classes, others informed everyone what color of underwear they had on. The first graders conversation stuck out to me the most:

"We NEVER get to paint whatever we want anymore!"
"Us either!"
"My school has a lot of art supplies but we can't just try them out."
"Mine's like that too. We never get to paint like this."

I stopped setting up the next activity. What the hell? They're only 6 1/2 years old. How is it they don't just paint? Or just color? As I thought about over the last two years Max has been in school, I suddenly realized how little time in their long days at school they have to just do what they want. To paint a simple picture. To color the picture exactly how they want it. I thought back to all of the papers my son had brought home since preschool, all of the worksheets, all of the projects that told him how to do something the correct way. The proper way.

I looked at their papers. All different colors flowed together on their sheets of paper. One drew an intricate  picture of a house with people in the front yard. One drew a rainbow with Santa at the end (a mesh of Christmas and St. Patrick's Day). They painted picture after picture, each time taking the time to tell the other kids the story that went along with their paintings.

How is our education system failing? Like this. Six and a half year olds who have forgotten the simple joys of painting and the creativity the brush can bring. Kids who are told how to do something rather than finding it out for themselves.

On the last day of Christmas break we had a couple of activities on the agenda. After those were complete, for the remaining 6 hours of our day I set out a container of markers and a huge stack of paper. In that six hours the kids drew pictures for their parents, made each other cards, wrote out "menus" and played restaurant, attempted to write their own book as the older kids helped the younger kids write words on pages of paper, they played school and attempted math facts.

Next week when school resumes and my oldest son gets home from school, I'll stop pushing him to do his reading and math problems. Instead, I'll hand him a paint brush or a box of markers or clay and watch as he learns by just being a kid.