The Creative Classroom: Time and Space for Self-Expression
Self-expression provides children with an opportunity to demonstrate their individuality and gain self-confidence. Self-expression also enables children to enhance problem-solving skills that help them cope with their feelings, relieve stress and anxiety, and develop a stronger sense of emotional well-being.
The classroom is an excellent place for children to practice positive self-expression through creative activities such as art, dance, and play. As they interact with their teachers and peers, young children will be learning how to manage their emotions, share and take turns, consider other people’s feelings, and practice self-control. These are the skills that children need to foster their healthy development and prevent them from engaging in risky behaviors now and later in life. These same skills also help children achieve the academic and behavior goals you have set for them.
Allow ample time and space for creative self-expression in your classroom. The following activities and resources will help you create a creative classroom.
Purpose: To provide children with time and space for creative self-expression.
In your classroom, schedule time for children to choose a variety of creative activities to demonstrate their unique talents and diverse ways of thinking and problem solving. This, in turn, will provide you with an opportunity to observe and learn about your students—what they like to do or what they might be worried about—and begin to personalize your teaching.
To encourage full creativity, give children the freedom to immerse themselves in an activity of their own choosing. Be nonjudgmental about their choices. The emphasis should always be on the process of creativity rather than the product.
Both your classroom and the school playground should have areas that are open for children’s interpretation: A large shade tree can become a kingdom with thrones made of roots, or a quiet corner filled with building blocks can become a city of tall buildings, highways, and homes. Keep the items and areas fresh by changing the material and rotating the types of play areas. A few possible spaces are listed below.
Dress-up Box: Costumes, old grown-up clothes, scarves, and hats give children the freedom to make up and act out new and different characters for themselves.
Puppet Corner: Through puppets, children take on different roles and create stories that grow with the number of children who participate and the variety of puppets available.
Music and Dance Hall: For young children, anything can become a musical instrument: pots, pans, and spoons or even wooden blocks. Provide these, along with toy pianos, guitars, and whistles, and watch children form their own bands, parades, and dance studios. If you do not have these items in your classroom, get creative! Have a variety of music available to allow children to explore new sounds and rhythms and to join in with their own instruments, movement, and dance.
Painting Place: Vinyl smocks, easels, and washable paints invite children to let their inner artist out. All you need to do is ask about their painting and then listen as they tell you about the wonderful world they have created.
Art Gallery: Art can be expressed through objects such as string, buttons, cotton balls, clay, paper, glue or even “found art” such as leaves and rocks. Children will add their imagination. It’s always a wonder to observe the fantastic projects children dream up as they build, balance, and shape old objects into new art forms. The stories they tell of their creations are even more wonderful and imaginative.
Sample Building Blocks Activity: Small-Group Dramatic Play
If you find that some children have trouble expressing themselves or joining in creative play with others, here’s a good way to engage small groups of two or three children in safe and creative dramatic play and storytelling.
Color printouts of several Know Kit Cards for 3- to 4-year-olds or 5- to 6-year-olds
Choose and printout several appropriate cards; for example:
For 3- to 4-year-olds:
- Thurgood surrounded by hats—“What would you do if you wore one of these hats?”
- Kristi imagining a dragon cloud—“What would you do if a dragon bumped into you?”
- Ali playing music—“What makes you happy?”
- Sandy with a fantasy animal—“Do you have an imaginary friend?”
For 5- to 6-year-olds:
- Mee performing—“What would you do if you were on stage?”
- Miguel dressed like a prince—“Who’s your favorite storybook character?”
- Kristi dressed as a chef—“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Mee playing in the sand—“What makes you laugh?”
- Miguel peeking under a rock—“What scares you?”
- Gather two or three students whom you believe work well together. Go to a quiet corner of the room while others are busy in different play areas.
- Lay several cards out on the floor, and have each child pick a card. Have the children talk about what they see and to imagine themselves in the same place. You can ask the questions on the front or back of the cards to stimulate conversation or have the children ask their own questions.
- If the card seems to spark their imagination, encourage children to begin their own stories about themselves and interactions with the characters on the cards. You may need to help them take on new roles by becoming part of the story, too. But give them the freedom to develop their own roles and stories.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign
- “Get Active,” from the Let’s Move campaign, describes the need for physical activity to protect against the risk for obesity and to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle.
National Association for the Education of Young Children
- “Creative Arts” is a resource for caregivers to enhance children’s creative expressions through different media channels such as online games, songs, and activities.
Mental Health America
- In “The Power of Dance and Movement,” the author describes movement as “every child’s first language” and how movement-based activities contribute to children’s healthy growth.
PBS.org: The Whole Child