One of the advantages to having a dedicated art studio in each classroom as well as a space unto itself is that we are able to offer children a wide variety of tools and media with which to express and explore their ideas.
We encourage them to work with something until they feel done—until they are satisfied—as often as possible. They can use all the glue in the bottle; they can cut the tape until it’s all gone; they can have more paint and more paint and more paint.
This level of trust and freedom is new (or at least rare) for many children, given that they are so often told, “That’s enough!” or “That’s too much!” However, when we decide for children how much of something they need, we take away from them the opportunity to discover and decide for themselves how much they need. We also take away an opportunity to practice self-regulation, planning, cause and effect, and decision-making, not to mention empathy and respect for others—things we all need practice in at some time or another.
It’s true that when children are given agency to decide for themselves how much is “enough,” we often see them using so much of a material that we feel it is being “wasted.” We forget that this is how we learn; this is how we find and define the boundaries of our world.
Of course, there are many things that children simply cannot and should not make their own choices about; we aren’t talking about those things. We’re talking about how much of an art material they use, how many necklaces they wear, how many crayons they need at one time.
Or, my personal favorite, how much glue is “too much” glue?
Glue is one of those materials that works as a medium unto itself. Glue is thick and sticky. It can leave a long, long line on whatever surface children are using. Glue puddles and runs; it oozes out from under things. It changes over night.
It’s also really inexpensive.
If you ever want to know how valuable and empowering having a sense of agency is for a child, look at their faces as they empty an entire bottle of glue onto a piece of cardboard. The look on a child’s face when she squeezes a long line of pristine white glue is focused and intense.
Sometimes “enough” means ALL THE GLUE.