When I was a kid (so very long ago!) I distinctly remember being irritated with the adults around me. They routinely dismissed me as “too young” to have a valid opinion. I hated trying to purchase something at a store, because even the cashiers would literally ignore me, standing there with money and patiently waiting my turn. And forget asking anyone a question – they wouldn’t bother to deal with me because I was “just a kid.”
Our society devalues kids. We treat them as “not-human” in a way – not worthy of respect, consideration, or personhood. We treasure our kids, we sometimes live through them, but most of the time we don’t treat them with respect.
Most adults view kids as divided into two categories: “not-quite-human-and-intensely-irritating,” and “prodigy-but-still-irritating.” Unless you’re in the Prodigy category you’re out of luck. And you’re still irritating. Simply because you happen to be a kid. That’s called ageism, and it’s a thing. A not-very-nice form of discrimination, actually.
I’m not ignoring the fact that kids have much to learn. They lack any serious experience to back up opinions, and they don’t have the practical wisdom that comes with living. That’s ok. They’ll get it eventually.
I had quite a few opinions about raising kids when I was a teen, mostly born out of babysitting. Some were short-sighted and clueless, but most of them were opinions that I hold today. Lack of experience doesn’t prevent someone from having an educated opinion on a subject.
As I raise my kids and teach this art class, I try to keep this in mind. The kids I’m teaching are bright – they are inquisitive, questioning, interested, and curious. Lack of years doesn’t make them less human, it only makes them less experienced. It’s part of my job to help them gain that experience.
Practically speaking, that translates to me having rather high expectations of my students. A lot of the projects we’re doing aren’t really elementary age projects – they’re actual fine art or high school/college level projects. A good half of them are born out of projects I did in college, and I wanted to share them with the kids because they’re cool and fun.
I don’t expect them to be highly technical artists – they’re still learning. I do expect them to experiment and try new things just like any college student should. And I’m finding that abstract art is a category they’re truly excelling at.
This image is a relief print. Put simply, it’s a plate of some kind of material (generally wood, metal, stone, or linoleum) that the artist draws a design on. Everything not that design is removed, leaving only the art. For a relief print, everything on the surface of the material, or the matrix, is what makes the print.
I may respect my student’s abilities, but I’m also realistic. I’m not handing them sharp carving tools at this age because their fine motor skills are still developing. Instead, we used Styrofoam. Meat trays, actually – the ones you get at the grocery store with ground beef piled high and slathered in plastic wrap.
It’s a very simple technique: drawn the design, ink the matrix, lay it on paper, and burnish the back to transfer the ink. Simple, but lovely results. This particular abstract design was created by my 4-year-old daughter.
One of my student’s grandparents made me blush with compliments – she approves of the class. And she pointed out that I don’t have age-appropriate expectations for the kids like most teachers she’s met. I expect them to try things and succeed on even the tough projects.
Honestly, it never even occurred to me to think “hey, maybe the kids aren’t quite old enough for this yet?” My focus is more how can I make this technique accessible for even the youngest kids? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes projects need adjusting or focus to help the kids accomplish them. That’s ok. That’s expected. You cannot plop a few kids down in front of the supplies and give them an open-ended project without 1 or more of them freezing in paralyzed anxiety.
So instead, I paint a broad framework. For the relief printing, I specified sizes of prints (our paper size.) I handed them specific tools – the brayer, the pencil and various sized paintbrush handles, and I suggested that they experiment with abstract designs first to get a feel for the technique. They took it and ran with it. And they discovered – all on their own – that designs needed to be drawn backwards to print the way they wanted.
It’s a good lesson – this reminder that kids are people too. We forget that. We fondly remember the tiny baby we created and we hang on to this sense of ownership. My kids. My family. My household. They’re not my kids in that sense. I don’t own them, but I do have responsibility for them. There’s a difference.
My job isn’t to fly for them. My job is to teach them to fly and let them go. They can’t fly yet, but they have the potential to. I won’t let my expectations cage them before they even have a chance to live up to that potential.
A little peace and quiet would be nice sometimes though, just saying.