Freedom + Structure = Creativity

Freedom + Structure = Creativity

Peter Klam, Middle School Head

Young children can draw, sing, and play, blissfully unaware that their efforts may be judged by others. Many adults, on the other hand, have a keen sense of their talents and weaknesses, and they engage in or avoid activities based on these understandings. Great singers sing. Talented artists don’t hesitate to draw and share their drawings. But how often do we hear adults sing who struggle to carry a tune? The experiences that happen between childhood and adulthood can be critical when it comes to giving students the courage and confidence to engage in genuine creative self-expression. 

Middle school is a tricky time for the arts. As students become more aware of themselves, as they gain the capacity to see themselves as others see them and to step outside the here and now to reflect on their place in the world, they often recoil from activities that expose themselves on a personal level to criticism or ridicule. Young teens often question their talents and abilities, and without the right environment, they can shy away from activities where those talents and abilities are put on display. 

Middle School is about building structures where tweens and teens can learn to be creative and offering them safe spaces where they can develop the courage to share. 

Structure is an essential component if students are going to create. A blank page can be as paralyzing for creativity as a color-coded coloring book with lines to color between and numbers telling you which crayon to use. Students need a happy medium—enough freedom to allow for creativity and enough structure to get them started. In his music classes, Jeremy has students remove some of the keys from xylophones, leaving them with only a pentatonic scale. All of the notes on the pentatonic scale are harmonious, so students with only these keys can inevitably create rhythms that work. In his photography classes, Victor often tells students what kinds of things to look for when taking pictures (details, faces, landscapes) or which Photoshop tools to experiment with. By giving students limits and structures, Jeremy and Victor give them a foothold so that they can express themselves. The clear boundaries of the assignments give them the structure they need to express themselves. And as they develop a keener sense of creative expression, those parameters are loosened, giving them more freedom as their capacity to use that freedom grows. 

And Green Acres offers the safest of spaces for creative expression. It is remarkable that a strong majority of our 7th and 8th graders choose to participate on stage in the 7/​8 musical. Given the choice, they want to perform even though they run the risk of hitting an off note or forgetting a line. And in photography, students submit their photographs for judging by professional photographers in Victor’s class competitions as well as in the Scholastic Art Awards. Our students feel safe enough and confident enough that the reward of accomplishment is worth the risk of exhibition. 

This sets them up for a future where they have the skills and the courage to find ways to express themselves. Having developed their skills of self-expression and confidence in their ability to create, Green Acres graduates are poised for success in modern lives where out-of-the-box thinking and the willingness to take risks can help to hone their true voices and to stand out from the crowd.