The Important Things Don’t Change

Today was the first day back to school for teachers.  You’d think that I would be drained and overwhelmed with all the teacher work that needs to be done.

Nope.  Not at all.  We talked about growing; both children and ourselves as teachers.  We watched a flower bloom.  We listened to a TED Talk on children learning.  The message encouraged learning by challenging children.  What if? and Why not? questions are critical.  Ask, question, learn.

The very first thing I wrote as a teacher thirty years ago spoke to the same subject:

Process Vs Product

When your child proudly shows you his/her art creation, and you can’t even begin to see or guess at what your child has made (“Oh, that’s a boat?  I thought it was a penguin!”), trust that his/her finished product is far better than if it really looked like a boat.  How can that be?  Isn’t something that looks like a boat better than something that doesn’t look like a boat?  Absolutely not!

The preschool years are the best years to develop self esteem and creativity – the two most important ingredients for growing up to become capable, confident and independent, and for being able to offer something to this world as an adult.  When we are three, four, and five years old, our physical skills are very limited and are still developing, but our minds are full – like giant sponges that never fill up.

So then, what happens when little hands try to create something?  If a child tries to duplicate a pre-made item, the end result is never just like the model.  Frustration sets in, a feeling of not measuring up develops and turns to apathy.  Who wants to do something that has guaranteed limited success?

Instead, if a child is provided with interesting materials and few, if any, restrictions on how to use these materials, the result is a happy child who has used imagination, cognitive thinking and energy to create something.  Why does it work this way?  Because the learning and the rewards are in the process, not in the product!  The doing, trying and thinking are the activities which build self esteem and creativity.  It’s the process a child goes through that is important, not the finished product.

If you watch carefully, a good teacher will introduce the materials enthusiastically and ask questions rather than give instruction (“What could we do with this?”).  The follow through is simply encouragement (“Sure you can: Let’s try together once more”) and praise.

The next time you look into your child’s art folder and wonder what in the world is contained within, just ask enthusiastic questions (“Tell me about your picture.  How did you make that?”)  AND REMEMBER, Process, not product.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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66 Responses to The Important Things Don’t Change

  1. Gee Jen says:

    A good reminder for me as I am trying to encourage my 4 yr old to practise writing his mame – with little success. Will try and focus on materials and process ☺

    • Jennie says:

      A good idea, Gee. Can I give you a tip on name writing? Pump a swing. It’s all in the muscle development. Kids who really pump a swing well typically are ready to write. Thanks for stopping by.p

  2. magarisa says:

    Yes, let’s not forget that the learning and rewards come from the process, not the product. Thank you for sharing, Jennie.

  3. Libby Sommer says:

    great post. so very true. the process, not the product. the journey, not the destination 🙂

  4. D. Metzke says:

    I love it! It requires patience, but so worth it!

  5. I am so happy to hear this. I always praised my children and the more I praised them the better they did. I always kept gold stars and happy faces and when they scribbled or colored I would give them either a gold star or a happy face. I always had one wall that we used as an art gallery and every drawing went up on that wall. I sang the Mr. Rogers song “I’m proud of you” throughout their life. Told them they were super stars. They all did well throughout their education. I have one that is a CPA, one is an Illustrator and one with a Bachelor of Science Degree. They all have good jobs, are married now with children, and guess what song they constantly sing to their children. Yep,”I’m Proud of You”. My two oldest grandsons are on the National Honor Roll and my ten-year-old granddaughter is a straight A student. The three-year-old is on her way.I have the pictures she draws for me hanging in the art gallery. I am a happy grandma. Thanks, Jennie, you made my day. xo

    • Jennie says:

      Oh, I have tears in my eyes, Patricia! Singing “I’m so proud of you”- that just chokes me up. Mr. Rogers is the epitome of how to best teach and raise children. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. Hats off to you!! You have definitely made my day! 😍

  6. lisakunk says:

    This is all so very true. One of my four children used to love art, drawing all kinds of things. When she was in elementary school an art teacher criticized her work when she wanted to make a vest for her penguin and have different colors on each side of the vest. Her teacher told her that she couldn’t do that. It had to be one color. This may not sound like much but to a shy child who was truly embarrassed and did not understand why she could not do her own picture the way she wanted to it was not a good day. Not long after that she was working on another picture and the teacher did something she did to a lot of kids who had not quite finished their artwork. She would have another student who had already finished go and help finish the slower students’ art. Therefore my daughter’s art was no longer hers because little Jami or whoever had added their touches to it. Imagination and creation are vital to our kids. This daughter has gone through life thinking that she had no artistic ability. As a 26-year-old woman in grad school to become a speech therapist, she decided to try jewelry making and guess what. She has a wonderful imagination and each of her pieces are quite unique. She is now a very popular jewelry designer and well on her way to making that a really exciting career. ( A speech therapist by day jewelry artist by night. ) I thought the teacher had squelched my daughter’s love of art forever. Thank goodness she overcame that. But it makes me wonder what she could’ve been doing all that time if she had not been made to feel bad about her abilities. Thanks for writing this. I think it is very important for parents and teachers to know how important their words and actions are. And I hope you have a wonderful school year.

    • Jennie says:

      Wow, Lisa. What a great story, beginning with a terrible teacher and ending with creativity finally being uncorked. You are so right that what parents and teachers do and say has a profound effect on children. I’m so glad your daughter found her passion. Thank you for sharing your story! 🙂

  7. Ritu says:

    Perfect advice Jennie. It’s hard enough cultivating their creativity in today’s world. We need to to give them the tools at a young age so they can continue to flourish!

  8. beetleypete says:

    As always, you get to the heart of the matter. The child is drawing something how they see it. That different perception is the window to their imagination, so always more fascinating than trying to replicate something closely. That insight into their thought process is always the best reward you can get.
    Best wishes,Pete.

  9. This is such an important thing to know. Too many children grow up insecure for the lack of being encouraged and allowed free reign.

  10. Dan Antion says:

    “What if? and Why not?” – I still find myself asking those questions. Good luck this year, Jennie.

  11. srbottch says:

    Wonderful reminders, Jen. I will share this with my son/daughter in law for their 10 mo old twins. Thank you. Have a great year of teaching/mentoring and leading.

  12. ‘process vs product’ is really the core of any (he)artistic pursuit, too. Though in this day and age art is judged as ‘successful/good’ more on its marketability or end ‘product’ more than the nature of artistic development, that being ‘process’.
    Anyway, I wonder if that’s the ‘childlike’ connection that makes a true ‘(he)artist as an adult…

    Best wishes as you begin a new school year, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      You said it perfectly, Laura. I like your (he)artistic. What about ‘heartistic’? A great word, I think. The successful/good judgement happens in art, music, writing… the list goes on. Whatever is popular. Sad. I am into children’s books like you are into music. I’m often disappointed at what comes to print. Yes, the childlike connection makes a true heartist. ❤️

      • So you just gave me ‘permission’ to leave off the parenthesis on my word…been a little reluctant to do so as I wonder if the concept gets left behind as well. I kinda like to think you and I came up with this ‘new’ word…with you being a teacher, it might just get into the mainstream vocab! HA!

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, YES! I have to find a way to incorporate our new and perfect word into my teaching. Have no doubt that it will happen. It just flows, naturally. Yahoo!

      • So I guess in a way, we are ‘team teaching’? HA! I’ll be there with you in heartistic spirit as you continue to grow those kiddos – such a gifted teacher you are! 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        We are, Laura! Yes, you will be there with me as I tell a child s/he is heartistic, and then make a big fuss. Thank you so much! 🙂

  13. srbottch says:

    I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, Jennie, but I just posted this to Twitter.

  14. mitchteemley says:

    Jennie, I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award! Should you choose to accept, please go here, follow the Rules, and answer the Questions. You’re adorable! https://mitchteemley.com/2017/08/29/im-adorable/

  15. Creating with children is the best thing ever, Jennie. I thought in our local Sunday School for five years and I really loved doing artwork with the children. I do what you suggested and ask “So what have you made?”

  16. Ah, yes, the process! It’s easy for parents/teachers to want to “correct” the child’s work. Thanks for this great reminder 🙂

  17. I’ve always liked the “tell me about your picture” comment and cringe whenever I hear someone say “what is it?” Children are sometimes the best artists out there, when they’re uninhibited and create from their hearts.

  18. reocochran says:

    Very valuable reminders of lessons needed and process versus product.

  19. This is very true Jennie and having trained hundreds of adults in the commercial world in various departments this approach actually works as well..obviously with equally enthusiasitic and attentive supervision… x

  20. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Monday 4th September 2017 – Paul White, John Howell, Jenny Fitzkee and Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  21. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Monday 4th September 2017 – Paul White, John Howell, Jennie Fitzkee and Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  22. dgkaye says:

    Fantastic post Jennie. You hit the nail on the head: the pre-school years set the tone for building self-esteem. I hope many parents pay heed to this. You reminded me about a kindergarten teacher I had who took a shining to me and gave me special attention. I didn’t know it then, but as I grew up I always remembered her kindness. I’m pretty sure she knew I came from a dysfunctional family. All these decades later I remember Miss Wagner. ❤

  23. Di says:

    Hello Jennie,
    A wonderful thought provoking post. And wishing you well in your new semester with some lovely new minds to nurture…
    Best wishes from Di ✨💐✨

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Di. Glad you enjoyed it. School started yesterday. Wonderful to see little glowing faces. 🙂

      • Di says:

        I did Jennie, absolutely. And how lovely for you.
        My son’ girlfriend is so excited to finish her studies and be in your seat as of the start of next year too.
        You are very inspiring.
        Enjoy getting to know your beautiful new class 💐💕

      • Jennie says:

        Thanks so much, Di. Your kind words are always appreciated. Your son’s girlfriend must be excited, indeed. My best wishes to her.

      • Di says:

        You are very welcome Jennie.
        Thank you, yes she is. She is ready for her own little class now. The Year starts here in February.
        Until next time,
        Di 💐

  24. dweezer19 says:

    I am not a teacher by profession but raised four sons. I always praised their creations as creations and asked them to tell me about them. Critically thinking Dads are often not so attentive with comments like, “Did you mean to make your pig look like a cow?” Cringe. Very wise words. I had a few teachers along the way like you but not nearly enough. Hope you have clones. 😉

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