The single most important thing I learned about building an appreciation for art in children, I learned from watching my children grow and learn and working with preschoolers and their parents.
Here it is…you have to walk away from paint and paper to have grand adventures before walking back towards paint and paper (and all the other options for creating art).
To fully embrace art as both an observer and a creator, I believe the process should begin with the great outdoors…city, town, neighborhood, or park. Wherever your outside is, begin there.
Experiencing the geography of the place a child lives begins an important conversation that is tangible. It is one of place, of body and mind. Distance holds meaning. Foreground is something that can be reached and touched.
The points where sky meets building or tree line and how these change depending on the light builds an experiential vocabulary for the child that can be connected directly through paint, clay, crayon, or oil pastel. While outside and moving, children are also increasing their gross motor coordination and stamina. This is true of all children moving and growing within the lovely range of abilities represented in humans. Each child will develop strengths and coordination in movement in his or her own unique way. Their efforts to connect and experience the world around them will tumble out into inspiration and more importantly provide them with the ability to express it.
Parents provide these opportunities for their children every day and the focus of these excursions should be set for a single purpose—play. It is through play that children gain information about the world.
Playing with other children in child-created scenarios (imaginary play) is best. Imaginary play expands minds and hearts and is the lifeblood of creativity and problem solving. Creativity and problem solving are so important in moving from appreciator of art to creator of art.
We move purposefully towards creating art, but we still have not picked up a paintbrush! This is because we first offer children a range of materials to play with inside!
Teachers call these manipulatives, but a better name might be knick-knacks. These can be as simple as kitchen utensils to more exotic materials like ice and mud! Most of the materials we offer in our classrooms are not found in teaching catalogues. We have cut sticks, collected shells, and stones. Other materials are purchased in craft stores.
Favorite items include glass pieces, marbles, and aquarium gravel. We set these out in bowls with spoons. A small collection of wooden blocks along with any other kind of materials that can stack are just the will complete the collection. Offering these kinds of materials builds the fine motor conversations children will need to move into the realm of creator of art.
Is it time for the brush? Yes and no. We offer materials like clay and play dough as a way to begin the art process. We may use tools with the clay and play dough, like scissors, rolling pins, wire, or sticks, etc. as these provide more variances and extends the exploration with the base material.
Then, when we finally move on to brush and paint or drawing materials, we have found that it is often helpful to sit down next to children and draw—not instruct them in what to draw, but to draw alongside them. This becomes a time of collaboration and grounds the activity in a place of treasured time. It becomes something that “we do together.” I do not often draw my own drawings, rather I attempt to draw how or what the child is drawing.
Beyond that, we must be prepared to embrace the many ways children express their ideas.
I often use this example with parents—I once asked children to draw a picture of their bedrooms. I supplied oil pastels and paper realizing only after I asked that this activity was quite limiting for some children. Some children would rather build their bedrooms from blocks, some can shape it from clay, others need tempera, and in the end, the oil pastels were certainly be used by some! Each resulting work, regardless of medium, had value.
Teachers and parents must be open to the full range of possibilities.
This openness and acceptance of the possibilities bring me to a final point. Advocating for art, in both the formal setting of the art room while still offering opportunities for art in the traditional classroom is the responsibility of every adult involved in raising and teaching children.
I have two ARTSblog posts (The Top 10 Skills Children Learn From the Arts and 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2012) bookmarked and saved in a folder named “Advocacy.” Please take the time to visit them and bookmark them yourself.
Think about how you can step outside, play, and then finally, paint.