Thoughts on my travels – part one

I’m in Stornoway this weekend to take part in the Stornoway Half Marathon and 10k (guess which I’m doing!)

As I was whiling away the journey on board the MV Loch Seaforth I wandered into the gift shop and saw these bags available:

What caught my attention wasn’t the money making cartoon characters displayed on the front but rather the proudly displayed words “mess free”!

I can’t imagine that a child would choose this based on the fact it’s not messy, this is purely as a final hook for parents to the pester power of their children.

But should we really be encouraging children to be “mess free”? Surely the route to creativity in children should be in making glorious mess as this is their way of exploring and working out what things can do. Why do some adults restrict this area of learning just because they don’t like mess. As Greg Bottrill explained in his book “can go and play now?” as adults we can simply work around the children and tidy up as we go along.

Mostly we should just relax ignore the apparent “mess” and revel in the wonderous learning opportunities for children.

Guest Blog: Creativity in the Early Years


Early Years practitioner and author of ‘Can I Go And Play Now?’ Greg Bottrill shares his thoughts on creativity and how the essence of freedom needs to extend out from the creative area into our general continuous provision.

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way…” Edward de Bono

The more I work with young children the more I’m astounded by their ability to see the world in a different way to the adults around them. Equally I’m also astounded by the way adults tend to overlook the magic children bring to their settings and instead ‘impose’ their way of thinking and doing instead.

I see this no clearer than when it comes to the one place that children should absolutely have freedom of expression – the ‘Creative Area’. It’s possibly a bitter irony that adults tend to remove any semblance of creativity from it!

My interpretation of creativity centres around curiosity, imagination, interpretation and the opportunity to see things differently and uniquely. Creativity should surprise us. It should make us view objects in an alternative way. It should jolt us into a new realisation either of the art itself or of the person who made it or even ourselves.

It’s why children’s true creativity is so powerful. They have a way of viewing the world that adults cannot plan for or define. All too often I see adults trying to plan creative activities that have the same outcomes for each child, with the TA dutifully on hand to ensure that paint or glue goes onto the right spot or the right colour is selected. The adults see art as something that has to be accessed by other adults – something that has clear meaning and neatness, something that can easily be interpreted by other adults. This approach denies children their true creative selves. Children want to explore, merge, build and experiment. They don’t need a world that is presented to them, they need to present their own world.

When we see children’s self-chosen artwork or box constructions we seem to be looking for the end product to ‘be’ something that is obvious to us. We seem to want immediate meaning and often this is only clear to us if the product is neat and tidy. Yet children don’t have this in their minds. They are experimenting, taking risks, applying their curiosity, their ‘language’. Children’s creativity doesn’t fit neatly into our preconceptions and neither should it. Yes, children need to be exposed to new skills such as how to use tools like staplers, split pins, hole punches, clay, woodwork but they should then be enabled to use these skills to propel the ideas from their minds into reality. Creativity isn’t 30 same-shade yellow sunflowers drying on the paint easel, it isn’t 30 identical Mothers Day cards. Creativity should have personal significance and should be the outcome of the individual not of the collective.

Ultimately art is freedom. It’s why its outcomes shouldn’t be planned for. It’s why mess is okay. It’s why failure is acceptable. It’s why children need to be at the centre of their learning. It’s also why our wider thinking about Early Years needs to bring practice back to this sense of child-led exploration. It needs to be extended out from the creative area and into small world, the outdoors, the sand, the water, the role play in a fact all areas of continuous provision. The moment we plan is the moment that we jeopardise freedom. The magic of children is before us each and every day – it’s time to shrug off adult preconceptions of what learning is or isn’t and embrace the ‘language’ of children. When we begin to have faith in them children will open up a world of surprise for you…