Instructions and Examples: Does it limit creativity?


Does instructions and examples in art limits a child’s creativity?

That is a question that I often ask myself. I would love to give my child a piece of paper and some colours and expect him or her to draw something in his/her perspective. But, alas, no 2 child is alike.

There are children who are artistically inclined and they love to mess around with colours. These are the ones who will have no problem with self expression.

However, there are those who are less artistically inclined and these children needs some gentle instructions and suggestions on how to begin.

I am speaking from my experience with my 2 little ones. I do not claim to be an expert but I am really blessed to have 2 beautiful children who are so sweet in their temperament and yet so different in their interests.

I have LL(Little Lawyer), who is not artistically inclined at all. He feels more comfortable with his children encyclopedias and the computer. And he prefers anything logic and specific, like numbers.. compared to art which is pretty subjective.

Then I have my LA(Little Artist), who for some reason, these few weeks thinks she is a Little Penguin… :) She pretends to walk like a penguin, talks like a penguin by reverting to baby talk and calls herself a Little Penguin. And she comes to me and tells me “Mummy I want a Penguin on a Pirate ship cake for my birthday.”

So, let’s get back to our topic now that my 2 little stars has been properly introduced. Does instructions and examples restricts creativity? I don’t think there is a clear Yes/No answer on this topic.

For my LA, at times, she would just grab a piece of blank paper, her set of colour pencils and just sit down and proceed to draw and colour. When I see her doing this, I don’t interrupt her. It is up to her imagination on what she wants to draw and what colour she is using. If she thinks that the cow should be blue in this piece of art, so be it! This is what I call spontaneous self-expression. Anyway, show says cows can’t be blue? Just grab a remote and turn on the TV to the cartoon channel.

However, during structured arts and crafts time which I have planned a certain activity, I will give her specific instructions on what should be done. These activities will have a specific purpose. Sometimes it would be teaching a certain subject, or having her practice her motor skills in cutting straight lines, or maybe working in a new media. These structured activities will form a foundation on which LA could use during her spontaneous self expression “periods”.

I do the same for LL but he is less spontaneous in self expression through art. That’s OK. It’s not in his nature and I don’t force him to do so. I believe that art should come naturally and it should be fun… not forced.

But here’s the difference that I see in LL compared to LA. At times, he wants to do something artsy and craftsy… by himself. But he is not as spontaneous as LA. And therefore, he often comes to me with a blank piece of paper and ask: “Mummy, what can I draw today?” ┬áThen, I’ll give him some suggestions, ask him some questions and give him some guidance.

So, all in all, I would not say that instructions and examples limits creativity in art. Instructions and examples form a base where children picks up new skills and new knowledge on which with encouragement, they will then use it to enhance their own creativity!


A very good example would be as illustrated in the picture above. I was actually preparing materials for our next craft session which I planned to make a snail. LA saw me doing the preparations and so, she started fiddling with what I have… and told me: ” Mummy, this can be a snail and a tortoise!”

I went “‘Huh???”

And she had to explain it to me: “See, if you turn it like this, it looks like a snail. If you turn it this way, it looks like a tortoise!”

I was just simply amazed! And LA has not even turn 5 yet!