Last week I popped in unexpectedly on a good friend of mine, an artist and potter. As I walked up her garden I could hear the hum of the pottery wheel. She was absolutely immersed in what she was creating and it was a delight to watch. I remember thinking how she reminded me of the little ones at my nursery, completely lost in creating but also in the sensory experience. What also struck me was how messy she was (she had clay on her face, in her hair and all over her linen dungarees) and how rarely we see adults in the midst of full, messy commitment to a creative project. Because of this, I think we forget just how messy experimental creativity is. My friend was not wearing an apron. She was wearing her pottery clothes. Far more comfortable and fit for purpose.
At both Seasons and Barn Cottage we have a clear message about aprons. We don’t use them, children instead have ‘nursery clothes’. Aprons interrupt creativity and send a negative message about creative play. Every day, at both settings, we have creative and messy activities to invite the children’s curiosity and learning. We may have clays or dough, paints, printing, coloured foam, flour or mud for example.
When a child approaches the interest spot, their imaginations are sparked. When they begin their play process, their sensory experience deepens their playing and thinking. Their brain is focused and their imaginations are alert. This is the point at which I teach my educators to step back, observe and if necessary gently scaffold and promote learning through parallel play or conversation. This is not the point to stop, hold the child back, put on an apron because ‘otherwise they will get messy’ and then continue. At best, this is the point at which their idea stream is broken, their creativity dimmed. At worst, they refuse to wear an apron or decide they would rather do something else. In both cases, their play is replaced with a clear message. This sort of play is messy, should be moderated and should be careful.
I’m not saying children should be taught to not respect their environment or start throwing paint and rolling around in it! But what I am promoting is a deep set respect of the careful and considered, delicately experimental play process and sensory experience which often accompanies it. This sparking creativity is the basis of child-led, investigative and problem solving growth mindset. The very essence we foster in the early years to be built upon in schools and which enriches and supports creative and STEM activities which when combined with growth mindset will propel children from empty vessel learners to problem solving higher level thinkers who are willing to try, fail, try, adapt, try, experiment, try, analyse, try and succeed!
And all this from an apron!? Yes! Absolutely. And the only downside is that you’ll need to put up with a little more laundry and some stained clothes. Clothes can be changed, a creative mindset lasts a lifetime.