Leaving the “I dunno” reflex behind

When put on the creative spot, many kids respond with a shrug, a shuffle and an “I dunno!” What do you think we could put on this poster? What kind of card would you like to make? What would you like to write about, draw or create? “I DUNNO!”— the response of someone reluctant or unfamiliar with the creative process.

before LO

From our very first Little Opera class every year, we ask for many creative opinions. The kids make everything up, and we start right away asking about settings and characters. There are always the shufflers or the shy ones, and kids who lack confidence or experience in the creative process. Children don’t start life afraid to make things — that creative spark atrophies with lack of use. The adult who says, “I am not creative at all” was conditioned to be that way.

If I ran the schools instead of just taught in them, I would guarantee every child from day one got daily access to toilet paper tubes, assorted junk, instruments, recorders, spaces to dance, and many opportunities to make up “stuff,” whatever that stuff might be.  I believe the core of what we do as teaching artists is give our students the experience of making stuff up. Lots of stuff. 

Little Opera is the ultimate creative experience because it starts in a plain old room with a tool box of raw materials, a computer loaded with examples of creative pieces, a few adults and a room of kids — some of whom are more eager than others,. There are always a few very creative students who will be the temporary leaders, and a few who have no idea where to begin. We bring in master teachers, we share the dilemmas and challenges, and we get excited when a melody or a phrase or a costume idea or a movement is created from scratch. And then more stuff is created and discussed and tinkered with until a rough idea becomes something more. At that point, the line between the creative kid leaders and the “I dunno” kids blurs. Yippee! The formerly shy shufflers are declaring their preferences for specific creative processes and going off into corners to tackle some particular piece of the project, sometimes without any adult supervision.

After LO

A notable 3rd grader from last year, whose mantra at first was the classic “I dunno,” has returned as a 4th grader, and she is a changed little human. She was changed by the creative process into someone who never says “I dunno,” anymore, although she might say “This is hard,” “Oh, lets come back to this,” or “I am not as interested in composition, so I want to work on the movement section instead.” She  has proudly declared several times this year, “I am really into making movement and writing libretto,” or “What if we sing that part like this?”

Voila! One less “I dunno” person in the world. That’s why I love Little Opera.

– Suzanne Vradelis, Little Opera Teaching Artist