martedì 8 dicembre 2015

If we remembered who we were: re-discovering the Creativity

I had to write something about children rights, children protection, strategies to allow them to have a good childhood. I thought that the most important right we can recognize is the right to be "themselves".
"We have to recover the child we were" - Freidrich Froebel said - "this is the only way to be happy".

I talked about it on the 5th of December at Akademia Pedagogiki Specialnej "Marii Grzegorzewska".

Since the born of the contemporary society, the International Community made lots of efforts in order to promote child rights: in 1924 in Geneva was adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a quite simple document with very basic – but even concrete – protections. As now is taken for granted, “The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped”. Then, in 1959, the original document – signed even by very important figures as Janusz Korczak - was expanded and the updated and latest version was developed in the 1989: the Convention of the Rights of the Child, became famous for the large acceptance it received in the world.

Janusz Korczak and his children, all died on Treblinka.
All of these documents draw up the rights and the needs of children in order to act in the best interest of them. The innovation of the 1989 Convention was the introduction of some modern principles, as the right to life, the right to have a name and an identity, the right to have privacy protected or the right to express opinions and “to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate”.  
It is understandable that all these rights developed in an era when basic rights – as food, health care, family, education – were already granted. Everyone knows that there are some areas in the world where not even basic rights are assured and lots of children are submitted to hunger, to lack of pure water or where they are forced to grown up without education or even obliged to fight: but for today my attention will be focused on our so called “developed” society and on its responsibilities and duties.

Especially, I want to focus on the article 13 of the 1989 Convention:  “the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice”.
When I read this for the first time, I did not understand properly what it means. I was too young and it was so difficult for me to imagine a child who “impart information and ideas” to someone else, as it was difficult to confer such a big importance to their expressions: I wandered on my old paintings – piles of colorful sheets, mostly copies of some pictures on books, left on the top of some closet and forgotten there – considering them just the production of a flourishing creativity, but nothing more. Just the hobby for a little zealous girl.

Then, one day I went to a kindergarten for a work project and everything changed. 
Opened the main door, I was suck down on the childhood vibe: little chairs, little desks, little coat hangers, little armchairs. All the stuff and the materials necessary put in very low shelves that I had to be careful to avoid. This is pedagogically perfect, as Maria Montessori suggested in “The Discovery of the Child”: “open and close drawers, doors and windows, tidy up a room, arrange the chairs are exercises which permit the body to move and in this movement the body and the mind are perfecting”: everything has to be “child friendly”.

I became an adolescent with two little siblings so I was constantly involved on childhood mechanism. But probably for the odious jealousy typical of brotherhood, I never empathized with their age. That day, I was shocked to re-discover such a tiny and minuscule world that I completely forgot. And moreover I forgot how much these colorful sheets were important for me, when I was a child.

Drawing is important, in whatever position...
Serena Saligari © 2015
It is not common to talk about and to take children creativity into consideration. Maybe because we are used to consider their fantasy as strange, weird, illogical if not ridiculous. We mock them if they are talking with their imaginary friend, if they make their puppets speaking, if they imagine to be doctors, nurses or teachers. This is a very important component of their social development, as Jean Piaget said about symbolic play. But we are astonished to look at them playing, impressed by the expressions they use – often repeating, copying, mixing the adult behaviors – and especially not conscious we did the same. It is like if, when we are grown up, we are ashamed by the same things we used to do.

It is very important, instead, not to judge their conduct but rather to leave them free to express theirselves in any manner – of course in a polite and proper way.

A “right to be creative” must be added and enshrined in our societies and law.

As Ken Robinson says, creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value”. 
Basically, as we said before, every child is provided with this baggage of creativity competences that is our responsibility to encourage. Be creative allows to built new worlds, to create things that are not in our reality. Be creative allows to find different points of view, to see beyond common things, to be visionary. Be creative introduces to the “divergent thinking”, the ability to see lots of possibilities to answer a question. Guilford, the creator of this expression, in the far 1950 underlined the positive effects of this activity, that leads our children to be innovative, elastic, able to adapt in different situations. 
These are the reasons why we have to encourage their natural talents, abilities, skills: maybe this stimulation seems useless, without significant results  but it will bring lot of positive effects in their future.

To see the whole video, click the link below.

But exactly, what to do?
One of the best way to stimulate lateral thinking is to ask “stupid questions”: not in the meaning of “daft”, “non valuable” or “foolish”, rather in the meaning of “basic”. Sometimes we forget to go deeper in the basic concept of what we are doing. “I am working on imagination”: but what “imagination” is? “I want to stimulate their fantasy” but what “fantasy” means? Which is the difference between “fantasy” and “imagination”? We are so sure to know what these words mean, that we do not care about the real sense.
And when we try to define them, we remain powerless in front of the evidence we are not able to do that.
For that reason we have to teach children to go deeper in the etymology of their actions – even if it seems ambitious.

At a later stage, the main role of adults is to provide materials, settings, experiences in which children could perfectly fit. Then, give them basic rules - as to show respect for other children, for other works, for the environment and the material.
But we do not have to say them what to do. Our input is just to put them in the condition to be creative.
Instead, we can stimulate them by giving some general precepts they have to pursuit: “work on the shape” or “work on the dimension”: basically, “change it”, “give it a different function”. Very general rules that can help them to focus on a certain way, without compromising their will.

When a pestle becomes an enchanting flaute.
Serena Saligari © 2015
If children have the possibility to grown up in an environment like this, the formae mentis they will develop should give them lots of advantages on their normal future life: problems solving, prevent risks, think positive.

We do not have to be scared by all this nameless stuff they produce, that for sure will fill our armchair until the top: Bruno Munari provided a precise definition – a thing we suggested to do talking about “stupid questions”. It could be called “invention” – the act to produce something that there wasn’t before, that works even if it is not esthetically good. We can call it “fantasy” – the act to think about something new without limits of feasibility. We can call it “creativity”, the union of fantasy and invention that is feasible and esthetically good.

Serena Saligari © 2015

In any case these activities allowed children to distinguish between improbable and fantastic, to understand that the reality we are constantly undergone is not the only possible.
Creativity could be even a “sacral space” where children can express their feelings: this is a “sacral space” on the meaning of “being separated from the ordinary space”, as Van der Leeuw defined, so a place where cultural and social rules and roles are suspended in order to be free from every kind of duties.
Thus, in a painting, in a certain way to dance, in some expression used to tell a story we can find clues referred on their emotional condition, on their identity, on their personality and temperament.

Moreover, there are well known potentialities on the therapeutic drawing, used both as diagnosis and as therapy. Looking at some children paintings we can infer things they are not able to tell for some psychological blocks or for the scare of the consequences.
“They became painter for the reason there is something that is not possible to say”, Rainer Maria Rilke said.
Lot of us do not have enough competences to use this kind of tools, but in a certain way we can become more sensitive on the potentiality of the art therapy.

Gianni Rodari, Italian writer, poet, pedagogue, wrote “Fantasy Grammar”, a book in which he tried to find the common fantasy and creativity mechanisms, considered as a basic component of the human being.
In his opinion every person should have the opportunity to keep going on the creative process because of its positive consequences: the joy of expression and of playful fantasy’s game.

And if we will be perplexed, it is just enough to search on Google  "The Luncheon in Fur" by Méret Oppenheim, “Le violin d'Ingres” or “The flexible Mirror” by Man Ray, “The cork hammer” by Chaval or “The limp typewriter” by Claes Oldeburg, the “Codex Seraphinianus” by Luigi Serafini: for sure the following sensation will be of amazement. We discovered our children to be like artists because of the similarities with these well known art works. So your certainty that your child is crazy will rapidly decrease!

"The luncheon in fur" Méret Oppenheim, 1936
Sometimes creativity means “destroy in order to rebuilt”: the socio-cultural frames and the recognized knowledge have to be subverted, overturned, mixed in order to see a different perspective, as in the former artworks.

And be open: it is enough to look at the nature to find “art” and splendor that you suppose were only in your children mind. Bruno Munari and Leo Lionni in “Good Design” and “Parallel Botany” try to make us astonished at such weird shapes, colors, functionalities which are possible even in our terrestrial world.

From "La Botanica Parallela", Leo Lionni, 1976.

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