"Do you like my penguin, Mummy?" our daughter asks me as we walk out of her French kindergarten in Rome and she waves this drawing under my nose.
"Gorgeous," I answer (obviously).
"OK," she tells me as she trots along breathlessly beside me, "I'm going to explain to you just how to draw one. You start with two ovals, then you make a small round head, then the eyes and a beak pointing downwards. NOT upwards, Mummy, listen carefully, but downwards... "
Without even pausing for breath, she continues with her instructions: "Then you can draw his feet, but be careful that they are not stuck together! They need to be separate, otherwise the penguin cannot walk properly and will trip and fall. Finally, two wings like this, even if penguins can't fly..."
I was speechless.
Not because I was impressed with the little girl's artistic capabilities.
I was stunned because I never expected a teacher to believe it to be educational to teach a child of 4 how to draw.
Actually, I was indignant. And unable to hide it.
"Maybe at school that is how you draw penguins, darling, but you know everyone actually is allowed to draw or paint them exactly the way they want. There are no rules. So, at home we're going to make penguins in a thousand different ways, maybe square ones with big heads and stripy beaks pointing upwards... and maybe with purple bellies covered in orange dots!"
I won't bother describing the look of total confusion that came across the poor girl's face when she heard my words. But I couldn't help it.
Creativity shouldn't be piloted; it shouldn't be channeled. It needs to simply flow. That's the true beauty of childhood, seeing as we spend the rest of our lives following rules and instructions.
If kids cannot even now create their own 'personal penguins' in their imagination, when then?
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget used to say that the goal of education was to create people that were capable of doing new things -- people that are creative, inventive and discoverers -- not people simply capable of repeating what other generations have done.
While Pablo Picasso famously said: "I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them," I say, bring on a stripy, dotty South Pole ASAP.