Creative Kids, in Prehistoric Caves or with an e-reader

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 10/01/2011 - 18:54

Can children learn to be creative in a world of e-readers? Prehistoric children did not run amuck; they went to 'school' in caves where they had art and writing lessons, according to a conference on the Archeology of Childhood. Some 13,000 years ago, in a cave in France, children as young as five years old may have gone for child care and been encouraged to make decorative and symbolic marks on the cave walls and ceilings. By moving their fingers through the soft surfaces of the walls, they created what archaeologists call finger fluting. One child created a symbolic image, called a tectiform, in what could be the earliest recorded "writing" of a human child. The caves have many marvelous drawings of mammoths, rhinoceros, and horses, made by skilled artists. The adult artists probably brought their children along with them to their workplace.

I feel a kinship with the parents of those children. The creative vision of children is so precious and it is never too early to encourage them to begin. From finger painting may come a great writer, artist, dancer, or musician. The children of the caves learned the family business--cave painting--by observation. I learned photography by watching and helping my artist-photographer father. My children were exposed to painting and photography from an early age; they are both talented, creative people as adults. When I helped the mother of my children create a mural using multi-colored, anodized aluminum, I made a piece with the help of the children, that showed the hands of our children in gold and bronze colors. The piece is shown at Inspired by the images of hands found in cave art, I was not aware of children's art in caves.

When I make a photograph or write an e-book, I am just continuing a long tradition of using art to tell stories. When children and parents share a smart phone or e-reader or pad, haven't we really just continued a long tradition of story telling and child care, rather than entered a new age? If we read together with our children, what does the technology matter--printed book or electronic device. If a child uses an e-reader to learn to read and use his or her imagination, is that not the same as learning to read a printed book? The danger is that we go for all the flashy, interactive excitement that a multimedia "book" can provide. Perhaps this creates so much "noise" that the child does not have the focus on reading and imagining. Perhaps this trend creates yet another electronic baby-sitting device, that deprives the child of interaction with a parent. Perhaps what is needed is a way to provide an opportunity for the child to interact creatively with the new medium, as well as with a parent.

Here are some extracts from the article, "Prehistoric pre-school."

According to Jess Cooney, one of the scientists, "Children as young as three were active in the caves along with adults and that there appear to be few, if any, boundaries between adult activity and child activity."

“The most prolific of the children who made flutings was aged around five – and we are almost certain the child in question was a girl. Interestingly of the four children we know at least two are girls. One cavern is so rich in flutings made by children that it suggests it was a special space for them, but whether for play or ritual is impossible to tell.”

What is the significance of finger flutings – which also appear in other caves in France, Spain, New Guinea and Australia? “We don’t know why people made them. We can make guesses like they were for initiation rituals, for training of some kind, or simply something to do on a rainy day. In addition to the simple meandering lines, there are flutings of animals and shapes that appear to be very crude outlines of faces, almost cartoon-like in appearance. There are also hut-like shapes called tectiforms, markings thought to have a symbolic meaning which are only found in a very specific area of France. When in 2006 Sharpe and Van Gelder showed that that some of the tectiforms were the work of children, it was the first known instance of prehistoric children engaging in symbolic figure-making,” said Cooney.

To see a video of the caves, go to: