Sunday, October 24, 2010

Learning to Engage and Persist in the Studio and at Home

The second habit of mind is engage and persist. It relates to the development of focus and concentration as well as frustration tolerance and the ability to work through a challenge using creative problem solving skills. I think of my own household and my desire to develop a can-do attitude of stick-with-it-ness in my kids.
In the studio we find attention spans grow over time as children become more familiar with the tools and materials. So setting the routines and expectations as discussed in developing craft helps set the stage for engagement.
One important part of the engage and persist habit in the studio relates to a commitment to the process rather than the product. One of my favorite quotes from the clay table "I like it here because you are allowed to smash what you make." This came from a very accomplished young clay sculptor. With clay there is a time to keep going and a time to wedge the clay back into a ball and begin again. She understood this and would often begin her clay work with several playful sculpture before settling down into a piece she planned to save.
Play can also be an important component for the child who has trouble beginning, often because they are worried about whether they will do something correctly or well enough. I remind kids that artists often begin by playing with ideas and materials and that they may want to do the same. Once they get over getting started they can engage in the process.
Set backs are a natural part of the creative process - it is how we deal with challenges that determines success. Modeling problem solving, error recovery and that it is okay to ask for help or take a break can help kids to work through frustration. The studio is a good environment to practice creative risk taking with a supportive environment other artists.
By mid-way through our sessions, I find it challenging to ask artists to disengage when it is time to clean up. When kids are very motivated in a creative activity, it can be difficult to transition to something else. I find that routines help here too; we can offer reassurance that there will be time to come back and continue. At home this might mean having a display shelf for in-process lego creations as well as bins for loose parts. It is much harder to disengage if you fear your hard work may be lost. Discussing, writing, or drawing next steps and even gathering or listing the materials that will be needed can also help children to disengage and be ready to step right back into their work when they return.

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