For young children, art making is their main means of expression. It is how they are able to share stories and it is how they reflect on their experiences to better understand their world. As a parent and teacher, it is often the adult’s responsibility to foster their interest as an artist and help them to grow as a well-rounded, happy individual.
Let’s explore ways to make art experiences enjoyable and productive.
When engaging in art activities with your child, study how they work and look for strategic placement of lines, shapes and objects. Look for gestural strokes of the brush and how they chose to use tools and materials. Notice their working habits and talk to them about it as they work. This builds their vocabulary and also helps them to be a mindful and reflective artist. If you are up for a big clean up, allow children to explore painting on their own before offering appropriate tool use. They may even teach you a new way to engage with a material. I have songs and phrases that help my students practice skillful tool use. I love to match a phrase or a direction to song or simple tune. I find the students retain much more because they repeat back the tune and the words that go with it. Children are inherent music lovers and respond well to tonal changes in your voice.
When you notice specific colors or shapes in your child’s art, tell them what you see: “I notice straight lines connecting to your circle.” Or “This blue line travels up and across your page and ends in the opposite corner.” Trace your finger over the object you are describing. This will not only give them vocabulary to use but will also let them know that you value their art, which is an important component in building self-esteem. If you are ever unsure as to what their art represents, simply say “Tell me about your drawing”. You should avoid asking “What is that?” Again if you are unsure, notice and ask “I see a lot of green lines in the center of your page. Can you tell me more about that?
If you would like to prompt a new way to create or a new use of color, make a suggestion like: “Wow, you have a large collection of red circles nested close to each other over here. Would you like to add more detail over there?” “You seem to enjoy painting with yellow; how about rinsing and exploring some blue paint?”
I will often lead a discussion about the power of positive thinking with my students where I talk about the plasticity of the brain. I tell them about an article I read in TIME magazine that proves how our brain can be affected by something as inconspicuous as a simple thought. Read the article here. I elaborate on how a negative thought can have an impact on our performance just as a positive thought can be a helpful motivation. I explain that if we say to ourselves “I can’t do it, I can’t do it” over and over, our brain will actually not be able to fulfill the task. We failed because we told our brain to fail. However, positive thoughts, affirmations and motivating words will help us achieve success. Taking small steps that lead to a complex finished piece will help form an enjoyable art experience and empower us to take on new challenges.