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36  chapter 3 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL under their own direction. Sometimes the sensory experience is all a child may be interested in—not a finished product. Such situations may challenge your personal comfort or your beliefs about art education. Just as we teachers offer children new learning experiences, we ourselves face new chal- lenges, learning opportunities, and experiences alongside the children. Art exploration is a great way to understand your own ideas and limitations. Try to be open-​ minded, reflective, and thoughtful about your teaching practice as you experience art with your students. Different teachers have widely varying comfort zones. Sharing your thoughts with coteach- ers may be helpful in defining or broadening your art boundaries. Child-Directed versus Cookie-Cutter Art Independent decision making and free use of art materials can be difficult for adults to adapt to. But they are vitally important for young learners! Early on, try to impress upon your children that they are in charge of their art explorations. Ask them, “What will you do?” Remind them, “You are the artist!” Although you may set out the materials, and you may have a general idea of what children will do with them, ultimately you should leave it up to the children. They may try out the project as pre- sented, or they may come up with their own ideas. Children often choose the latter when they have the freedom to do so. It doesn’t take long for children to understand that they really are artists and that their creativity lies within their own hands. The central question I always ask children is “What is your plan?” If they can answer that ques- tion, then I say, “Go for it!” Some children don’t un- derstand that question right away. So I ask, “Well, what will you do with that paint? What is the plan?” Then they get it! Soon they develop a goal and de- cide how to get to it. The goal may be simply to explore, and the plan may change several times. I ask them about their plan just to get them thinking consciously about what they are doing. I stretch my questions as far as I can to help children develop creativity and confidence. If you let them, children will come up with goals and develop plans to achieve them. (They will mas- ter execution of an idea.) Enjoy the process of chil- dren’s art. Enjoy the way they experiment, question, plan, and develop understanding. Without jump- ing in to answer, listen to their questions and mus- ings: “Hmm, what color paint do I want?” “What color will it make if I mix these together?” “Let’s mix this and this and see what happens!” Cookie-cutter art is the opposite of child-di- rected art. It involves shapes that teachers design and provide for children to decorate. But decora- tion is all this is. It is neither art nor education. A classroom festooned with twelve cute, nearly identical teddy bears is a reflection of the teacher, not the children. The same is true of coloring sheets, coloring books, and all adult-designed materials in- dicating exactly what children should do. A child cannot exercise creativity or learn anything mean- ingful from such projects. In fact, cookie-cutter art leads young children to believe that all art should look the same and that it should look how the teacher wants it to look. It limits children’s learn- ing and stifles their creativity. Cookie-cutter art is not developmentally appropriate for preschoolers or younger children. Art should give children the opportunity to be creative and to produce original work. It should employ authentic materials and inspire trial and error. True art develops confidence, a love of art, and critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. As teachers and caregivers, we have a responsibility to foster these important skills every time we invite children to the art area. One student of mine rarely came to the art cen- ter at the beginning of the year. I suspected that his interest simply lay in other areas. Art wasn’t COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL