Why SPARK! Focuses on Older Kids

By Beverly Davis

I am often asked why SPARK! provides programming for children in second grade and older and doesn’t focus on younger kids.

Our concentration at SPARK! is on the creative process.  We define this process as: 

Inspiration with Iteration and Collaboration leads to Innovation.

We use the creative process to teach problem-solving skills. That means children need to understand how to set goals, focus on a task and stick with the process through rounds of iteration. The SPARK! age range was established based on the breakthrough research of Viktor Lowenfeld that shed light on the mental development of children.

Viktor Lowenfeld was a dedicated researcher, author of several studies and books on artistic development, and a professor of art education at Pennsylvania State University.  Lowenfeld helped define and develop the field of art education in the U.S. Lowenfeld mapped out the stages of artistic development. These stages have continued to be studied and refined, most notably by Marianne Kerlavage and Judy Burton. While many factors influence the rate at which a child develops, these stages attempt to place a developmental standard as a guide. 

 Ages 2-4 – Scribbling – Creativity is an enjoyable kinesthetic activity experienced through scribbles.

Ages 4-7 – The Preschematic Stage – Children experience their first conscious creation of form.  They’ve discovered and are understanding symbols.

Ages 7- 9 – The Schematic Stage – Children reach a “schema” – a definite way of portraying an object – their representation of a plan or theory expressed through art.  Art is used for communication. They enter a process through creation that has an identified outcome as the goal.  

Ages 9 – 11 – The Dawning Realism – Schematic generalization no longer suffices, and space is discovered. Children work to express more detail. They begin to experiment with individual styles and compare their work to that of others. They develop a passion for realism, have a vision in their mind and work to “make it come out right.” They learn to “see” creatively.

Ages 11 – 13 – The Pseudo-Naturalistic Stage – This stage marks the end of art as spontaneous activity.  Children now focus wholly on the end product. They begin to see things in 3-dimensions and experiment with creating in 3-dimension. Lowenfeld also calls this “The Crisis Period.“ It’s the beginning of adolescence, marking the end of artistic development among most children as they experience frustration at “getting things right” especially since creativity in schools is focused almost entirely on drawing.

Ages 14 – 16 – The Period of Decision – At this stage of life, children make decisions to either participate in a particular discipline or leave it alone.  If children are exposed only to disciplines in which they are not skilled, they tend to drop out. Natural development will cease unless a conscious decision is made to improve skill.  Lowenfeld’s solution is to enlarge their concept of art to include non-representational art and art occupations (architecture, interior design, handcrafts, etc.) 

From these stages, it is evident that children much younger than seven, in the “Scribbling and Preschmatic Stages,” are not yet ready to engage in a process that is focused on an outcome.  Lowenfeld defined “The Period of Decision” as the final stage and allowed for children anywhere from the ages of 14 – 16 to be in this stage. In our work we find this to be true and are even seeing the majority of children in the lower end of this age range making the declaration that they either “are” or “are not” creative.

Knowing that our primary focus has to be on children in the 11 – 16 age ranges, we strive to provide an environment that is attractive to them.  That means giving them space to explore and develop with their peers. At these ages, hanging out with, or sharing space with children under the age of seven is not attractive.  Therefore SPARK! was designed and is programmed for this group of older children.    

I hope that helps answer the “age” question. If you have children that have not yet reached second grade, be patient. They’ll be there before you know it and we hope they will come explore their creativity with us!