I work with kids. I have for a really long time. While I do not have a formal education in early childhood education, I have learned some things through experience, through observation, and through research online.
I had an art program last night; my favorite program out of all that I have ever done. A friend and former co-worker came up with the idea for this program, so I can't take all the credit, but this program is brilliant. Basically, gather a bunch of art supplies. Like, anything. Odds, ends, leftovers, whatever. Set them out and let the kids have at it. They can create whatever they want.
For some children, this can be daunting. They are so used to being given instructions on how to do something that when I tell them they can make whatever they like, they look at me like, "What am I going to do?" I give suggestions, sometimes, but a lot of the time, after the initial shock, they get right down to it.
Kids are super creative, be they two or ten. They can use their imaginations like a pro, turn an old dowel rod into a wand, or a stirring spoon, or even a fishing pole (or a thousand other, more creative things). The kids who come to this art mix program love it. They always have a good time and head home with tons of smiles. I love watching them try to work out the process of how they're going to achieve building that construction paper house, or make that foam Christmas tree stand up. Sometimes they get frustrated, but there's nothing like the look on their faces when they finally figure out how to do something, when something works perfectly.
I get frustrated as an educator when children are in the process of learning, fail to do something, get upset, and then the parents rush in to make whatever the child wants, perfectly. Granted, this normally happens with very young children (toddlers, preschoolers) rather than with school-age kids, but there are signs that this happens in these kids' everyday lives (they ask me constantly to help them glue something, or wrap presents, or say, "I'm not good at this"). I understand why parents do help; no one wants to see their child get upset, frustrated, throw a tantrum, etc. But sometimes that blocks the learning process. Sometimes we have to fail in order to see how not to do something.
A lot of the time I like to take a step back, especially with the older kids (6 years and up) and just watch. If they ask me directly for help, I will talk them through, but in general I like to give minimal assistance. They learn so much more than they would if I were there doing it for them. Example; last night, a little girl built a house out of construction paper. Another little girl came up and asked me if I could show her how to do it. I told her the first little girl was a better teacher than I, because she was the one who actually made it! One little boy wanted help wrapping up his creation (like a present) and said I had to help because he "wasn't good enough." I told him I'd help hold the paper, but he had to figure out how to wrap, because how else was he going to get better than to practice?
I encouraged them along the way; there were so many creative pieces made from foam cutouts, construction paper, yarn, pine cones, boxes and beads. Every time I saw a creative use of materials, I would say, "I see you being creative!" Even if the final product wasn't perfect, or anything like I could make, why should I point out the flaws? I would rather encourage these kids to keep going. Demanding adult-standard perfection can be extremely daunting to a seven-year old (I definitely have experience with this... from the seven-year-old's point of view).
Now, I'm not saying that one should just leave children to flounder, by any means. If they are really struggling, help is obviously needed, but don't go and fold the paper for them. Try to talk them through the process, or show them an example of how it's done. And always encourage.