I’ve recently had some Mom friends ask for my thoughts on approaching art with their kids. I thought I’d pull a few of my own ideas and beliefs into a readable post to help you dive in and start making art with your own child(ren). The most important thing to remember is that your kids are always watching and learning from you, so as long as you are exuding a positive and creative spirit, you’ll do no wrong.
1. Set up (or designate in your mind) an art space. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. But you should be able to automatically know where you and your kids should be headed if you are going to work on a project. This could be at your kitchen table, on a cheap-o $7 ikea end table, in the grass outside, or even on the floor on a shower curtain or old paint drop cloth.
2. Make your art materials easily accessible. There’s nothing worse than getting things out to start a project and having to hunt around for something while your kids are impatiently waiting. I like to have a bin or box designated as the kid art materials box (necessary for me since I have to actually distinguish, sometimes, what supplies are for kids and what supplies are just for me!). A medium size rubbermaid from target can easily contain everything you need to make fun projects with your kids. You don’t need a full on craft room to have fun being an artist!
3. Gather materials so you have the tools you need to make art. Here are my favorites:
- paper- white, cardstock, construction, tissue
- watercolor paper
- stretched canvas in any sizes
- painters tape
- clear tape
- glue- elmers, glue stick, hot glue
- watercolors (the crayola trays are my favorite or if you are into DIY click here for my homemade watercolor recipe)
- paint (acrylic if you like to live on the edge, tempera if you have a fear of mess)
- paint brushes and paint sponges
- crayons, pencils, markers
- glitter, if your husband allows it in your house 😉
- air dry clay (crayola brand is easy to find and works well)
- recylced materials- cardboard tubes, newspaper, magazines, bottle caps
- natural materials- sticks, rocks, leaves
4. Mentally prepare yourself for talking to your kids about art. Here’s the fun part: your kids have no idea that you are not Picasso. Chances are, they will actually think you ARE Picasso after watching you show them the ropes. My Mom was my art-idol growing up. I remember being absolutely sure that she could make absolutely anything and always wanting to make my projects look just like hers. Is my Mom some kind of prodigy artist? No. But I never knew that!
I like to hear adults telling children that they are being “creative artists”. If I had a dollar for how many times I’ve heard a CHILD say, “I’m not creative” – I’d never have to work again. But there is simply no reason a CHILD should grow up thinking they aren’t creative! When I hear that come out of a little ones mouth I want to find out who told them that and duct tape their mouth shut. WE ARE ALL CREATIVE. Teaching art, for me, is all about helping children tap into their creativity and discover how to use it. I also like to ask lots of questions during the making process. “Do you like using a paint brush? Is a paint brush more fun than a pencil? What are you making? How does that gooey stuff feel on your skin? What does your picture smell like? Tell me about your drawing. Who is in your picture?” Help your child think about what they are expressing in their art.
5. It’s ok to be better than your child. You are, after all, a gazillion years older than them and have a gazillion years more experience making marks. It’s not ok (in my opinion) to constantly “do it for them”. Taking over for a frustrated kid only sends the message that they are NOT creative and that someone MORE creative (read; Mom) will jump in and take over when they are stuck or stumped. “Let me show you” and “let me help you” are easy outs for you here. Be your child’s guide. Give them examples. Physically hold their hand if they can’t make a circle or cut out a shape. That’s how kids learn! Give them positive feedback. Tell them what they are doing well. Explain why their artwork looks good or is interesting. Comment on the colors, the shapes, the ideas. Don’t get stuck in the, “Oh my! That’s beautiful!” trap. Their artwork may be beautiful to you- you birthed them. But it is probably also interesting, colorful, bold, wild, fun, exciting or fascinating too. Maybe it makes you feel happy, sleepy, scared, warm or sad. Broaden their “beautiful” horizon with a wider vocabulary of descriptive words. This helps your child think about art as more than “pretty” or “beautiful”.
6. Having something to hang on the fridge or send to Daddy’s office is awesome, but it’s not the most important thing in the world. If your child just spent an hour cutting paper into a million tiny little shreds- you’ve just moved a mountain. If your picky-about-being-dirty drama queen daughter just “finger painted” for the entire afternoon- covered in paint and mess- you’ve done a good job. This is emphasizing PROCESS over PRODUCT.
7. Let your child lead. One of the most exciting parts of teaching, for me, is watching children make things. Presenting a child with a box full of materials also presents endless possibilities. Given the opportunity, most children will dive right in and start to make something. Follow their lead. Ask questions. Help problem solve. Chances are, there is an idea in your little ones head and you can be a great resource in helping them express that idea in their art.
8. Try to let go of any preconceived notions about your own art abilities. Easier said than done, I know, but really, consciously try. No one is watching you and no one is there to judge! Modeling confidence for your child is incredibly beneficial in helping make them feel confident too.
9. Save projects to pull out and work on some other day. Something I wish kids were more open to is the idea that art isn’t some final, finished entity never to be touched or worked on again. Draw into an old watercolor painting with chalk pastel. Add crayon to your last marker drawing, paint over top of a canvas you already worked on. Glue collage materials onto the picture that you made a few months ago. Cut up some old drawings and use them to make something else. Help your child to see that their projects can be works in progress and that the creative process never has to end. That being said, if your child is sick of something, or they tell you they are “finished”- that’s ok. Move on. But give them an opportunity to come back to it later- later in the day, later in the week, or even later in the year. It’s remarkable how much children’s abilities, especially in the case of very young children, change throughout the first years of life. Their motor skills are still developing and they are learning more and more control every single day.
10. HAVE FUN! “Art” doesn’t have to be stressful or rushed. In fact, if you are feeling stressed or rushed, it’s probably not a great time to try to do art. Find a time when you are relaxed and calm THEN start your projects. Same goes for your child. If 12 o’clock noon is right before your child’s nap time, and they are hungry and in full on meltdown mode- step away from the art materials and save them for another time. Choose a time when your both ready to concentrate.
I’ll contradict myself slightly to give a little advice: though I think it is easier to start a project with a happy, receptive, and calm child, sometimes making something can help to CALM DOWN a wound up child. Give their hands something to keep busy with. Channel their energy into a project, give them something to focus on. I teach preschoolers who are wonderful and sweet but they can be completely wild (as all children can). Handing them a big old ball of clay is something magical. Both hands get occupied, and attention totally shifts from outward energy toward inward exploration of something new.
I hope, if nothing else, that this post has given you something to think about in regards to approaching art with your own children, in your own home. As far as what to actually make, follow my boards on pinterest and be sure to subscribe via email to this blog! I post all of my preschool art adventures, which are easily adaptable for home art exploration, and also post the projects that I make with my own toddler, Lilly. Go ahead… jump in and have fun!