Colour Outside The Lines

Sometimes, the best intentions do end up leading the unsuspecting to that proverbial hot place. When my oldest was around 4 years old, I had her enrolled in one of those (famous name) preschools that falls on the more corseted end of the “by-the-book” spectrum.
My best intention of course was to provide her with a good start in her educational life – somewhere where her obvious genius could be harnessed and directed to productive ends (her mother had been ignominously stamped with the “could do better” tag on every single report card throughout her schooling – and beyond). Besides, this was exactly the kind of formal, humourless setting I had grown up in (hello, Collège Protestant Français de Jeunes Filles) and thought it was hence the best choice for my own daughter.
But then, I also signed her up for the extra-curricular “art class” taught by one of the teachers there. Now, mind you, the teachers at that school were absolutely well-meaning, and this one was intent on doing in this classes the same thing she did in her other classes: make sure her young charges could follow direction well and produce a disciplined result. In a nutshell, this is what the class was about: “Here is a yellow triangle, a red circle and a green square. Colour your triangle, circle and square the same way, and make sure you’re staying inside the lines”. See, that’s well-meaning, but completely misguided.
Reigning in a child’s attention in class to help her focus on completing the task at hand is a necessary part of formal schooling (although I came to realize belatedly a not extraordinarily helpful one at the kindergarten level). But reigning in a child’s imagination serves no purpose – no useful purpose that is.
So many adults complain that “they can’t draw/paint/colour” – I suspect it’s because someone, somewhere early on made sure they knew to colour inside the lines and to reproduce the exact model they were expected to copy. And stick to the same guidelines to govern the rest of their lives as well.
Today, my other daughter is enrolled in a cooperative preschool, where the teachers intuitively, implicitly, complicitly understand the value of a free hand – give the children the tools, a little guidance and let them explore.
Now, that’s a life lesson I want to live by.

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