What I Learned about Imagination from my Students

Phase One of my Winter Artist in Residence at a local  Montessori school finished last week. This phase consisted of workshops for two different age groups: primary children (ages 3-6 years old) with their parents and the elementary school kids (6-9 years old) by themselves. I created this workshop speicifc for this school and age groups. The workshop is called Connect to Nature through Art where we discuss thinking about your favorite place in nature, remembering how it makes us feel and then using our imagination to create art showing this special place.  I taught them how to tear construction paper into small pieces and glue the pieces onto a larger sheet of thick watercolor paper as their canvas.

Mother and daughter in the workshop holding "Hawaii Sunset"

Being a witness to their imagination and creativity at work was truly inspiring. At this age, creating art is like thinking. There is no anxiety or artistic blocks. There is no hand-wringing of... maybe I should do this or maybe I should do that. It was more like ..."I got an idea and let’s go..."  Once they got an idea they started immediately to tear the construction paper.  Got to love that confidence.

Each workshop had a special highlight for me specific to their age group. In the first session, we had the children come with a  parent or grandparent to help with the project. My friend who works at the school helped me run the workshops. We both commented about how special it was to see the children huddled up with their parent/grandparent  talking about their favorite place in nature and quietly working towards the goal of gluing all the torn pieces of constrution paper onto the watercolor paper. They were really talking about a special place for their family. All their favorite memories were based on time spent with family at beaches in California, Hawaii and  on Lake Michigan, a Mountain, a river in Wisconsin, or their favorite tree with a blackbird nest in their backyard. 

Gallery of Artwork from Primary Students attended the Workshop

The second highlight for this session was at the end of the class we gathered up and the children showed the group their Art and give their artwork a title. We needed the title because all their art is hung up in the gallery wall at the school. It was interesting to see that at the beginning of the class some kids didn’t even want to say their name but by the end they were proudly holding their art and talking about where their special place. It was magical.

The second workshop was for older children without parents. We did a little less talking and a lot more time for just creating their vision. Again, the imagination of these kids was beautiful to see. They made up their minds quickly about what they wanted to create and went with it. Again, it was almost like yeah, my favorite place in nature? Boom... I got an idea." Their imagination is in peak performance shape. Then it was just tearing up the paper and starting to glue the pieces together to make their vision. Their nature interactions were very action oriented. Some of the examples were fishing in a boat, hunting for squid to eat calamari, walking in an oak grove. We also had imaginative  salt water in the ocean, a favorite tree and a kaiju Japanese sea monster on a beach and the Beach of Happiness. How is that for a selection... As I said earlier, it was inspiring to behold their imaginations at work. They all were very conscientious artists and took all the available time to add in details like an anchor for the fishing boat hanging off the canvas itself and hand drawing in two different artist self portraits of themselves in a boat, and balls of white paper for the salt in the ocean.

At pick up time after the workshop, some parents were surprised about their child's pick of favorite place of nature. They had more active ideas of interacting with nature- fishing or even using their imagination with fantastical features. I always give the artists free reign. That beautiful imagination is precious and I would never squelch anyone's creativity. All types of interacting with nature are welcome. Even the imaginary ones.

Working with children and creating art reminds you of the power of imagination and just taking action. I was preaching to the choir talking about using your imagination. Kids get it. As always, every time I teach I am so inspired by everyone’s unique creativity. There are as many kinds of creativity as there are people in the world. We are all creative in our own way. It’s an honor to witness this process at work and see these children who are Connecting to Nature through Art using their imaginations to the fullest to make art that was personal to them. Doesn’t get better than that.

More details on Phase Two of the Winter Artist in Residence next month.