Monday, June 13, 2011

"What Are You Making?"

We adults have a need to label. I'm not talking about labeling kids (although we tend to do that, too). I'm talking about kids' work.

"What are you making?" "What are you drawing/painting?" "What did you build?"

We are always asking kids to put labels on what they are doing.

But what if the child is not drawing/painting/building/making anything specific? What if he is exploring the how paints mix together or exploring how the different writing implements make marks? What if he is practicing drawing triangles or creating a pattern? What if he is figuring out how the blocks can balance and fit together?

"Just a design"

I've learned to change my conversation with kids. I want to engage them in talking about what they are doing. But I've been challenged to talk about it in different ways. My most common question: "Are you drawing/making/building something or just drawing/making/building?" We need to communicate with kids that it's okay to just use the materials without a specific goal in mind.

Encourage kids to talk about what they are doing, how they created the lines and colors they made, what they think about the materials. Often we stress that process is more important than product--that the doing is more important than the final result. I need to make sure my conversation matches that philosophy.


  1. Oh Scott thank you! ... Thank you! ... THANK YOU!! I cringe when I hear teachers ask a child what they have painted. Sometimes it is JUST PAINT on paper ... no story ... no destination ... it just IS!
    I wonder when will people get it?
    Donna :) :)

  2. I love that kids can simply experiment without needing to create a product! Process is indeed more important! I think asking questions like, 'What does it feel like when you push the paint around on the page?' or 'How does that colour make you feel?' is more valuable than asking what they are making.


    Thank you. Exactly.

    I find another way to start a conversation when a child is 'in process' is to either talk about the process itself- 'I like the way you've got that balanced'- 'wow, how did you make that colour?'- or to sit down and start using the materials myself; often the child will then initiate the conversation about the process, or I can say 'I'm doing it this way' (which also tends to provoke a response) or 'How did you do that? I want to try it like you did it'.

  4. Totally agreed! I always say quite simply, 'Can you tell me about this? Can you tell me what you did? How you did it?' or I will comment on something I notice such as 'I really like the red stripe in the middle' or whatever might be an interesting feature of their work. I like to find out what kids have running through their minds :)

  5. Great points, Scott. I'll often simply say, "Tell me about what you're doing..." hoping to leave it as wide open as their imaginations!