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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Do templates kill creativity?

I am no fan of templates, colouring books and the like - I would much rather encourage the children to create from scratch - in much the same way I would much prefer to provide home-made food cooked from scratch than prefabricated food...

BUT this post is to try and explore creativity from the perspective of children rather than from our own adult point of view. To do this I decided to go back to my own childhood, to root around in my own memories and how templates influenced my creativity - are templates the opposite of creativity? I feel there are many out there that feel this is true... and maybe to an extent I can agree.

But I surprised myself with my own memories - well enough to start writing this post anyway!!

As a child I absolutely LOVED colouring-in books - I spent hours and hours colouring in a whole variety of images. I did this not just to fill time, but because it felt like PLAY, I also found that the images inspired me to draw more and to draw with more confidence - the images that I liked the most I would trace so that I could colour them in again and again and again (my own children have their own rolls of baking paper to use as tracing paper - to copy their favourite images from comics and books etc so that they can colour in themselves) - the more I traced these images the more I started to dare to add my own twists, and also to then have a go at drawing without tracing, as I got used to the shape and feel of drawing the image - in a way tracing and colouring in (and using templates) was like using training wheels on a bike - they gave me the confidence to continue and to experiment and offered me the foundation to GET creative...

When we direct activities so that we are all doing the same thing there is the opportunity to observe and see how a friend is doing it and to test that out - a bit like a crutch to test a new skill, especially when you are not feeling confident... watching how a friend does something is an important form of learning... (I worked with a group to support them to stop whining that someone was "copying them" and to see it as being honoured that someone was being inspired by them)

without the opportunity to test new skills and refine them then we as teachers might be restricting a child's creativity by thinking that templates is the cause of creativity death!

Maybe creativity is being stifled by casting out the child into the great world of creation without enough skills - and the child then can feel overwhelmed and leans towards safe rather than daring to try out something new...?

Maybe children NEED the time to use templates every now and again, to be directed by adults in order to acquire new skills to apply to their own budding creativity...?

Don't get me wrong - I think templates can be abused, and are far to often abused and misused - in the sense that this is the only source of art children have access to - then the creativity is not coming from the child it is coming from the adult at all times -

even if the template offers a variety of the same thing (ie the tree/snowman,/turkey all have individual differences due to features being out in slightly different places etc) if the child is not given the opportunity to revisit the template in order to develop it further or enhance it, or to use the template as a source of inspiration for their own artwork then I feel templates are not a good option. Children need to feel they are allowed to deviate from the template, to mess around with it, to do their own thing instead.

I do feel though (going back to how I enjoyed using templates at home and in school) that they can be a part of a creativity development and maybe should not be viewed as evil, as I feel that some teachers have a tendency to view them as - but any method can be abused/misused, not just templates and adult directed art activities where all the children do the same thing...

I also see how my own son begs me to go online and print out images for him to colour in - how he fills his bedroom door with these coloured in images together with his own versions... all three of my children have enjoyed colouring in and using templates - all three have not shown any sign of this damaging their creativity...

oh, and if you think this is because I am creative and that is the reason then I can tell you about my childhood -

my mother was not in the least bit artistically inclined as an adult, she literally avoided it as she lacked confidence in her own abilities saying that she was not creative - my creativity comes from colouring books, from tracing again and again, from using templates and then adapting them for my own needs ... I made puppet shows cutting out images and sticking them onto sticks made out of rolled up newspapers, my sister and the child next door being roped into the process - my mother being the eternal appreciative audience... I made comics, I drew and drew, and built models with plasticine and home-made playdough and lego creation after another - I was apparently using perspective by the age of four (green crayon horses in the field behind my playschool) - but the feeling of play that came with the pages and pages of colouring in is a happy happy memory that makes me wonder why there is almost a fear of allowing children to use colouring in pictures because it might kill their creativity?

I think that my creativity came from time, from love. I had the time to play with templates and also lots of blank paper (I did not have access to a lot of different materials, partly because they were not easily available, they cost money that my family did not have when I was young and my parents did not even reflect on the need for different mediums)... and also love... the fact that my parents appreciated my efforts and encouraged my creativity.

As with everything - its the process not the result that is important - and sometimes the process of a group doing templates (all the same and yet not the same) could actually be the important part of the process - maybe the template allows the children to focus on something else -

For example when I provided a Mona Lisa template for a group of children, at their request, replacing the face with the face of the child, the biggest part of the process was the dialogue - the children discussed so many things together as they painted, that the colours felt old fashioned, and why they thought that, did the boys turn into girls now that they were Mona Lisa (the boys actually looked down at their own bodies and said no) - they discussed whether it was easier to paint the background first and then the figure or the opposite way round... they discussed different techniques of mixing the colours etc These are big thoughts - and sometimes these thoughts cannot be seen in the product - as they are a part of the process. This is why the process is always THE most important part of the activity/project (of course the product is VERY important to the child - and we should NEVER lose sight of that either). I find when the children are creating without templates then there is a lot more energy being poured into the creative process, and there is not as much space for the deep thinking (although that can come later).

I never thought I would ever write something positive about using templates... BUT maybe when we are reflecting and theorising about children and their creativity then we are separating it from their play... maybe play and creativity should be interlinked MORE... I think we often see the creativity in their play but are we equally good at seeing play in their creativity... does that stop us from using templates? Because we think the child cannot be creative in something that come from an adult? Doesn't that assumption also mean we are not viewing the child as competent to develop and enhance the template themselves... that they are only capable of following adults ideas... (and yes I know there are places that abuse the whole template idea and always control the creativity - and maybe this is where the fear comes from... that we as adults are not competent - that if we were to start using templates then we would become dependent on them and forget to allow the children to express themselves... what a low opinion we have of ourselves then? What is it that is feeding this fear and hatred of templates? - ooo I feel I could be stirring up trouble here, but I think I want to provoke) I think if an educator is ONLY providing art sessions where everyone is doing the same thing - following a template or only using colouring in pages as art lessons then they are depriving children of the chance to explore their own creativity - and if there is a right and wrong way of doing art then it can kill off a love for creativity... just as the right and wrong approach to maths seems to effectively kill off many peoples love and confidence in the subject (apparently as a child I was very good at math... at age 15 I was in the top 10% in UK I was told) but math was just so boring and I looked forward to dropping it... it was first as an adult I discovered that maths is really creative and should be played... and that school teaches in the form of templates - so in effect, templates killed my mathematic creativity. Of course some of the math templates were important to gain skills to then play with... but only math books with template after template effective killed my desire to do math.

Mandala play

This is how I feel about art... it is not the template that kills creativity but how they are being used. There are a great variety of templates out there that can be researched and found... to provoke thought about gender, or space, or occupations, or the water cycle or trees, or superheroes or princesses... it is how these images are woven into the play and the learning that will determine the impact they have on the children's creativity. And also if this is the only form of artistic expression then of course it will also impact creativity.. just as limiting children's play to board games and sports where adults referee...

Board games and sports are not bad - but if that is the only form of play children have access to then it is going to inhibit their creativity and imagination.

To the left, the child has taken a mandala but has started to colour in differently from the actual lines... adding an extra colour to the pattern. This group of children have free access to two books of mandalas which they can then, on their own, photocopy the pattern they want to. This freedom allows them to go back and colour in and recolour their favourite patterns an then to start playing with the template. Many children cut them out in different ways too.

Below the children have created their own template by drawing on plastic over their photograph... this template is then used to project onto paper hung on the wall to create a large portrait which is then coloured in. The plastic is also coloured in as a template. In this sense children are given the skills to create their own templates to make it easier... the template enables them to create a massive portrait than would have been much harder to do free hand.

own template making

Below is the Mona Lisa colouring in session I wrote about earlier in this post. The children had a copy of the original painting hung on the wall that they could refer to. I hung the image at the other side of the room, so they got up to walk over to look at it, so that it created movement in the room, and also so that it made the children think about the process.

We mixed the colours together... and then the children refined some of the colours themselves during the process.

Mona Lisa template

Can templates be a skeleton for children to hang their own creative skins on? Or do templates kill creativity?

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