Tuesday, July 13, 2010

5 Ways to Teach Your Child About Art

One of the things that inspires me as an artist, and a father, is the creativity that courses through the veins of our children. There's a wonderfully vibrant sense of awe and astonishment, as well as accomplishment, that radiates from children when they see that they have created something beautiful and thoughtful with their own hands. It's art in it's purest form.

Flawless Technique

As artists, and art lovers, we adults can often lose sight of that pureness. That shouldn't blind us from ensuring that we work to incorporate as many artistic journeys in the lives of our children.

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Is Creativity and Art Important for Children?

You bet it is. Art teaches a number of crucial skills. Here are a few from Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. As referenced by Sapiens Tribune:

  1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

  2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

  3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

  4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

  5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

  6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.

  7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

  8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

  9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

  10. The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

None of this is new nor is it news.

That doesn't make it less important and it certainly doesn't make it less noteworthy. What it may, however, do is help to bring forth ideas and actions that can help you harness the arts in ways that can teach your children life long skills that will better equip them to excel in life.

Here are 5 ways you can harness the arts in your child's life:

Museums and Galleries

Show them art. Everywhere. Let them look and talk about and ponder the art that surrounds us in our daily lives. This is easily done. But a step further, one that can truly help to spur further creative thinking in your child, is to take them to museums and art galleries.

Art Galleries and Museums are not just for adults! There are many museums who have special areas or even wings devoted to teaching children about art. We have a "Children's Museum" in the town I live in and we often seek out other children's museums when we go on vacation. Our kids absolutely love them. The children's museums are often filled with hands-on activities and play areas that are designed to stimulate learning and creativity.

Many art galleries also have special tours for children so it's simply a matter of checking out their websites or giving them a call. Ask them when the best times to bring children are and they'll most likely help you plan a trip. We find that taking our kiddos in the middle of the day in the middle of the week is best (in our town) as it's less busy and we can talk with our kids and answer the questions that they have without disturbing anyone. Be courteous. If one wing or area has a few people in it then see if there is another wing that doesn't. Being able to have the freedom to let your kids talk about what they see is worth the extra hassle of working around the other art enthusiasts.

Bonus activity: Once you are back home with the kiddos give them a chance to further explore their thoughts and feeling on what they saw. Give them some paper and crayons/paint/whatever and let them go to town. The art is fresh in their minds.

Art at the Park

Art at the park can be as simple as taking an easel and some paints to the park and letting your child go wild. They can use their hands, feet, brushes, whatever! Put them in some old clothes and let them be free.

Looking to be less messy? You can do sidewalk chalk or take butcher paper and spread it over a picnic table with a handful of crayons.

The idea though, is to get them outdoors away from their "normal" environment. Their minds will be stimulated with fresh ideas and you'll be able to hang some wonderful "landscapes" on your fridge.

Be kind to the environment. This is an opportunity to teach your child about the arts AND about our environment. If you are using paints seek out biodegradable and non-toxic paints as they are bound to soak into the ground. Here are a few sources:

Environmentally friendly art supplies

Earth friendly art supplies

EcoArt Works

Scavenger Hunt Collage

This is a project that was a HUGE hit for our kiddos. Super simple and super fun.

Put together a scavenger hunt for your child to collect things from the outdoors. These can be leaves, flowers, twigs, grass, etc. Help them collect and help answer questions about what they're finding.

After they've collected all of their "finds" you can take them home and put it all together in a collage. Help them paste the objects on a heavy paper or cardboard and you've got a wonderful work of art that captures an entire day's worth of fun.

Children with Cameras

Because children are smaller and have little preconceived notions of how art is "supposed" to look they often turn out to be stellar photographers. They see things so differently than us normal adults do. Harnessing the little shutterbug in your life is easy and can be as inexpensive as you wish.

Point and shoot and "throwaway" film cameras are pretty tough and can withstand the jostles and bumps that a child will put them through. They are also very inexpensive. The bonus is that with film you will have actual prints for the children to hold and admire and kids really need that feedback.

We did opt to get our child an age appropriate digital camera (Fisher Price Kid-Tough in Pink) even though they tend to be gimmicky and not of very good quality. The upside is that they can snap away without any thought of running out of film. The downside is that you will need to put in a little extra effort to get those images on your computer and get them printed. I find that many people don't do this with their own cameras so I have doubts that the average person would do this for their child. If you go this route please prove me wrong. Your kiddos will thank you.

Give Them Gallery Space

Once you've started incorporating so many artistic journeys into your child's life you'll no doubt end up with tons of their artwork all over your home. That's a good problem to have!

While most parents reserve the refrigerator as a space for showing off their child's accomplishments why not give them a proper gallery space to show off their artwork? It would be easy enough to designate a wall in their room for this purpose.

I think a better idea would be to designate a space outside of their room if your house can somehow allow it. Think of it as their first chance to put their artwork in a public display.

It could be your room in a special corner or perhaps the hallway would suffice? The idea is to help them be proud of the work that they do.

They can help manage the space by deciding which pieces will stay and which will have to come down to make room for others. Involving them in these types of decisions teaches them about scarcity and other grown up decision making processes.

Teaching your child about art will do one big bonus for yourself: You'll re-discover how to look at life and art through the eyes of a child. There is no greater gift that a child can bestow on a parent than to teach that parent how to be more like a child.

Damien Franco is a contemporary artist in the heart of West Texas. While not fending off tumbleweeds and oil tycoons with his camera he also edits and writes online photography tutorials and camera tips.

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