As I read Tom's post, my mind drifted back a couple of years...to L. She was (and still is) a wonderful girl, a born artist if I've ever encountered one. I was always interested to see what she would create. She would take the basic materials on a table or in the room and create elaborate projects.
Here she is in action:
I provided triangle paper and collage materials to create "mountain pictures." L created a river and meadow on her mountain. She drew a man. In this picture, she is cutting out a shirt for the man to wear. Here's a closer look. (Yes, she did make pants and a hat for him, too.)
What I remember most about L is the question she always asked: "What are we supposed to do here?" I'm a strong advocate for kids following their own ideas, so my answer to this question was something like: "When I put these materials out I thought you could [make a mountain picture or whatever]. But you can do something else if you choose."
L would always make one of whatever I suggested. (It was almost as if she did it just to humor me.) Then she would usually launch into more elaborate creations. One day I watched her create a hat from scrap paper and tape.
As I continue to think about L, I evaluate what I do. Am I pushing my agenda on kids? I never require a child to do things in a way I planned. I encourage them to think and create using their own ideas. But, in the intervening years, I've noticed some subtle shifts in the way I talk about my ideas vs. their ideas.
I try to engage their thoughts before interjecting my own. "What do you think we could do with these materials?" I'll ask in response to their "what do we do" question. Usually they will mention an idea similar to my thinking among their other thoughts. If they don't, I'll include my idea among their own - but I'll try hard not to imply that my idea is the "right" one or somehow better than theirs.
It's a delicate balance. I want to stretch their thinking or nudge them beyond their own perhaps limited (because of their years) ideas. But I don't want to impose my ideas on them or crush their own thinking. And usually, my ideas get tossed into the mix and somehow made better.
Wait a minute. Just who is the teacher and who is the learner here! : )