“The field of creativity that exists within each individual is freed by moving out of ideas of wrong-doing or right-doing.” – Angeles Arrien
“I made a juice box,” J said as he shared with the class his memories of our time together. I giggled at his response and the reactions of the people around who were clearly very curious and confused about how this related to the mural project he had been asked about.
Just the day before in our team meeting I had shared with my co-teachers my plan to create a mural with the children that depicted some of the things they wish could be part of our outside community. I remember very passionately describing some of the visions I already had for what ideas the children would share, the discussion we could have about connecting our ideas, and the deep meaning this mural would hold for the children and our school. The vision, for that moment at least, was bright and beautiful in my mind.
Still sitting with J and the rest of the children, I laughed a little more when other children from my group excitedly shared that they made a juice box too. Memories of our whole group started to flood my mind. I could still see them all sitting so focused on the floor, inspired not by my words but by what seemed like such a random and silly idea from one of their peers. A room full of juice boxes; who would’ve thought that’s where our planning would go.
The question I had asked them was what they thought a community mural might be about, and what we wanted our mural to do for the people seeing it. We had talked just minutes before about some of the murals around Long Beach and how murals like those could make people laugh, feel happy, remember something important, or see something beautiful. Naturally I expected the children to follow my lead on this and start to share similar intentions for their own mural, but working with children is always full of surprises.
At first I was met with “bring people together” a beautiful sentiment that was right on track with what I had hoped for the group. Feeling a little giddy that they had picked up on things so quick I asked the next child to share their idea. “Flamingos!” she exclaimed, clearly passionate about this original vision. “Princesses!” said another child before I could even call her, and “Batman!” yelled another. My face started to scrunch as I thought about how I could possibly shift things back to the intention and vision I had entered the space with. Then another child shared, “Whales. It should be about whales!”
Remembering this moment I almost laughed out loud. Our ideas had moved so far from my original vision to the point where I just had to accept defeat, pass out paper and pens, and let the children’s ideas flow. I had tried a couple times to bring us back to the original question I had in mind but we were already in too deep with their ideas about animals, swirls, and the infamous juice boxes to return. I was forced, as much as tried to fight it, to let things go and to completely follow the lead of the children.
But was that a bad thing?
Sitting on the rug with my group, I looked around at all the children’s faces and smiled as they looked at me with joy in their eyes. It’s was a different joy than I think I had imagined we’d feel but it was joy nonetheless. Just seconds before when my co-teacher asked all the children how they felt about the plans they had done, my heart skipped as everyone in my group put a thumbs up some of them even putting two. They had enjoyed the plan we had done, they had enjoyed their time together, and they enjoyed collaborating even if it was in their own way.
As I reflected on the reality of this plan, and how different it was from my expectation, I realized that the joy these children felt was really what was important. In coming to this plan with my own vision, I almost missed a perfect opportunity not just to let the children be children but also to enjoy that feeling with them. If they had allowed me to do this I realize I would have missed all their quirky ideas, the passion in their voices, and the closeness that I felt between us as we worked and laughed together.
Looking back I am so happy that my expectation wasn’t our reality. It is easy to want to put those expectations on to children (in more ways than one), especially as adults. We have a lot of our own ideas, usually accompanied by a need for control or predictability, but what does that really mean for the children? When I took a step back to look at this process and what it would have done to their children’s flow I realized that our experience would have looked less engaging and a lot less genuine.
Because the children were too passionate about their ideas to let me sway them, they had created something that was about their vision instead of my own. They had explored their imagination, sparked each other’s curiosity, and inspired each other in the most wonderful ways. They had formed ideas that were completely out of the box and started to build an idea that was unlike any I had ever seen before.
So what does that mean for us moving forward?
Well, what I can guarantee as we move forward is that the vision we follow will be one created through all of our ideas and passions. It will be created through laughter, through challenges, and hopefully through joy. But most importantly, it will be one that is uniquely ours; a mural that comes from the children because that is what its about, the children…and juice boxes too, of course.