I have been writing all week about young children as quintessential artists – naturally curious and endlessly creative. I have also stressed the fundamental importance of physicality in art and music. You have to actually make music and art to understand them, both in real time and in developmental time. What does this mean in an increasingly virtual world?
My message to parents is – you know what’s best for your baby. In fact, YOU are what’s best for your baby.
Children need real time experiences in a three dimensional world with face to face interactions to develop normally. Babies need the touch and smell of their caregivers to form normal attachments. They need to look into their parents’ eyes and watch their expression as they listen to them sing a lullaby. Artistic expression is uniquely human, and happens in community.
All or Nothing?
I am decidedly old school on this one, but that doesn’t mean I live in a vacuum. I know children are intrigued with technology, I am intrigued with technology, and technology is a pervasive part of our world. It would be naïve to suggest that children can or should be restricted from technology altogether. Of course they need to be savvy in order to negotiate the terrain of life in the 21st century.
There are new software programs in the arts that facilitate creativity too, combining computer science with composition in the creation of computer generated works of art and music. The openness of the platform is one of its strongest advantages – young creators are given the tools and an open canvas on which to paint, albeit virtual. Kids love to use these programs and can produce some really inventive results. They can also be self-directed and independent and have something impressive to show for their work.
However, when it comes to young children and their growth in the arts, there is just no substitute for direct physical experience. Children learn lots of things by just watching, but depth of understanding only comes with direct experience. The younger the child the more important the direct experience. Babies learn so much more from live people than from virtual ones.
Comes Down to Community
I recently had a conversation with a parent at my school about her babysitter who was always on her cell phone during the toddler art class. The parent explained to me that the caregiver was taking photos of her daughter making art and texting them to the mom during the class, to show her what a good time her child she was having while the she was at work.
While I truly and personally appreciate the relief that comes when you know that your child is happy in your absence, I felt compelled to explain that by putting the phone between herself and the child in that moment of art making the caregiver compromised the child’s experience, because the adult was not fully ‘present’, not fully able to focus on what the child was doing, on what the child needed.
I have struggled with this myself. I remember when my daughter ate her first meal of solid food, I spent so much time trying to videotape it that I never really got to sit with her and commune over this momentous meal. I regretted that. But at the same time I cherish every photo of her and all of her life events that I have on my phone.