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Interview with Shadi Manavi, Art Educator

This week we sat down with Shadi Manavi, a graphic designer and an art educator for children. Shadi has a Bachelor’s degree in communication design from Emily Carr University, and has received her second Bachelor’s degree in Art Education from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is currently teaching in MEC/British Council Bilingual Project schools in Madrid, Spain.

Tiggly: What is your teaching philosophy when it comes to teaching art to children?

Manavi: My goal as an artist and an educator is to teach children “learning through creative art” with an imaginary approach. Inspire, wonder, imagine! To me these are the fundamentals in children’s education.

In my classroom I always encourage my students to use their imagination and the creative side of their brain. Instead of trying to ‘teach’ creativity, we as educators need to consciously grow *imaginations*. I stimulate children’s imagination using different approaches and strategies and guide them to explore their strengths and abilities. I allow my students to experience what they are learning: ANY ACTIVITY can create experience for little kids. I let them express their emotions freely and expand their life experiences. I think the key is to give my students as many experiences as I can.

Tiggly: Tell us about the wonder box in your classroom.

Manavi: Wonder box has been created and decorated by students themselves. It’s basically a box full of random objects with many different colors, shapes, and forms. My children know it as our ‘special learning box’.

With the wonder box, we engage in activities to learn language art, reading, and writing skills. I also explore sounds, colors, math and letters in a manner that all my students have so much fun while learning. For example, every week we have a letter of the week. There will be so many objects hidden in our wonder box that start with the letter of that week. Children not only learn the alphabet, they also understand how letters feel and sound through the sensory bag.

Wonder box in my classroom – A great tool for kids to discover and learn new things.

Tiggly: As an artist, tell us where your imagination takes you?

Manavi: Sometimes I think about the places that you can’t even imagine. My imagination flies beyond. Sometimes the ideas come to my mind in my dreams, I wake up and write it down right away so that I don’t forget; those are my best ideas. Most of my paintings are from my imagination with all these imaginary characters. I live with them — they are now part of me. My students have a big role helping me to create my imaginary characters. In fact, most of my illustrations and characters are inspired from their drawings. Mr. Pimfolz is a great example!

To me, art is a synthesis of my personal feelings. Serenity and simplicity are my primary goals.

An example of one of my imaginary characters called “Mr. Pimfolz”

Tiggly: You shared with us some of your students’ work using geometric shapes to create imaginary people. Can you tell us more about the activity and how parents can engage in the same with their child?

Manavi: Young children use shapes to draw different subjects. They look for basic geometric shapes like lines, triangles, squares and circles. For example, one day I explained to my students that a person’s basic body shape if he were standing straight would be a rectangle; his legs and arms fit the basic form of a cylinder. But there is no rule for that.

Then I encouraged them to create imaginary people with any geometric shapes that they liked. I observed them as they were drawing different shapes and joining them together. Children were experimenting with composition by arranging their geometric shapes to show an abstract person. It was fascinating.

Parents at home can also encourage kids to be creative in many different ways. For example, young children have various facial expressions that they can experiment with in front of a mirror, and then draw an imaginary self-portrait using different geometric shapes, or creating imaginary animals using different shapes. These activities are endless. ANY activity can create experience for little kids. Parents should let them express their emotions freely and expand their life experiences

A great example of my student’s (4-5 year olds) work using different geometric shapes to create imaginary people.

Tiggly: I remember a story Bart told me about his brother’s application to 1st grade — the school asked him to draw something. He drew one black line on a white page (another kid had drawn a football stadium). His parents were horrified — should they have been?

Manavi: Not at all. Art is a process, not a product. It is the process of creating — exploring, discovering, and experimenting — that has the greatest value. What I always repeat to parents is that they should never compare their kids to others. Every child is different when it comes to learning.

His brother was in what I call the schematic stage. I bet he had lots to say about that line he drew. Children start with the scribbling stage, then the pre-schematic stage and then sometimes around 5-6 years old they enter to the schematic stage when they continually search for new concepts so symbols constantly change.

Tiggly: How kids develop their understanding or love of art, the different ways they express it, and what parents can do to cultivate it?

Manavi: I think art is just fun with no purpose or reason, just creating, getting messy. We can teach any subject through an art activity. Creating art expands a child’s ability to interact with the world around them, and provides a new set of skills for self-expression, emotion and communication. I think parents should constantly encourage their kids to be creative. They will be fascinated when they see the life skills that kids learn through art activities. Once a mother told me, “My kids express things through their drawings that they don’t even have the words for yet.”

It is important that parents show children different types of art to help them see that the free expression of ideas and emotions is more important than creating a replica. Always ask your children to tell you about their work while they are creating it, and give positive feedback. I also always tell my students’ parents to focus on the process of their child’s artwork rather than on the product. The journey (producing any artwork) is more important than the destination (the final piece).

Team Tiggly