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Raising a Creative Child

Discussing The Prospect Of Art Classes With Your Preschooler

Carrie Meyers Smith of Landaff, N.H., remembers the day her 4-year-old became an architect. On pieces of paper, her son drew blueprints, walls, the roof and a chimney. He carefully cut out each piece and, using slits in the paper, he slid it all together to make a 3-D house.

Kids love creating. There's no doubt about it. And what's not to love: markers, pencils, pens and clays come in every color. Some are even scented or have special textures.

On the surface, art helps children create something that is enjoyable to look at, but underneath it all, so much more is going on. "Art teaches preschoolers to believe in themselves, to try new things and to trust their own imaginations," says MaryAnn F. Kohl, author of twelve books on art, including Preschool Art: It's the Process, Not the Product and The Big Messy Art Book. "Art teaches preschoolers that there are surprises, possibilities and wonder in imagination, and they can control how it all happens."

But what projects are best, and what if there doesn't seem to be any interest? With a little guidance, you can ensure that your child is gleaning all the positive influences that the world of art has to offer.

The Materials

"Preschoolers love art," says Debbie Parker, a certified art teacher from Danielsville, Ga. "They love to get their hands dirty and really experience art with all their senses."

And what better way is there to do this than with finger paint? "Finger painting is an old favorite because [kids] are allowed to get dirty when they paint," Parker says.

Don't let the potential mess cause you to avoid this classic form of artistic expression; just make sure the paint you purchase is washable. Set up shop on linoleum floors or other surfaces that are easy to wipe clean. Use large sheets of paper to minimize the opportunity for paint seeping off the edges, and don't forget to dress your child in comfortable, old clothes.

Even with all the precautions taken, finger painting might not be something you want to experience every afternoon. This is where the simple joy of markers, crayons and pencils comes in.

Provide your child with a wide array of drawing tools. Washable markers can be found with tips of all shapes and sizes. The same goes for non-toxic crayons. Then, throw in a set of colored pencils for even different textures.

Half the fun is drawing on all sorts of paper. From construction paper to old checks, your preschooler will have a blast experimenting with splashes of color. Stock a drawer or cupboard with scrap paper, old checks or deposit slips, surveys, index cards and, of course, traditional coloring books and drawing tablets. "Just keep lots of construction paper and recyclable materials on hand," Parker says. "And using your imagination, you can create hours of good family fun you will all remember for a long time."

The Projects

Many parents worry that every venture into the world of art must be accompanied by a project. After all, a glance around any preschool room will find potato turkeys, paper plate sunshines and even shoebox houses.

You might be glad to know that while an enjoyable activity for preschoolers, projects with a planned outcome are just as well left for special occasions. "Remember, for preschoolers, it's the process of exploring and creating, not the final product, that counts," Kohl says. "Products are inevitable, and they are fun too, but the exploring and creating is what matters."

In other words, it's quite all right if your child would rather scribble randomly on a piece of construction paper, and your input and direction is not really necessary. "Join in, but don't make models or samples for them to copy," Kohl says. "Engage in conversation and laughter with them as they create." If your child asks for help, Kohl advocates offering suggestions, but she firmly believes that parents should never write on, cut up or transform the child's art work.

The Classes

During the preschool years, art is about experimentation and pure fun. Formal instruction does not need to be a part of this. Yet, preschoolers that are allowed to enjoy art often develop a real talent for the subject. Eventually, the question of formal art instruction might come up. If you find that your elementary aged child continues to have a passion to produce artwork, it might be time to discuss the prospect of art classes with her.

This is exactly how Joyce Roberson, of Albuquerque, N.M., handled her son, Carter's, artistic talent. "About a year ago I realized that Carter had definite artistic abilities," Roberson says. "I asked him if he would like to take art lessons, and we discussed the commitment that would be involved. He agreed and now attends art classes one time per week for 90 minutes."

Roberson points out that it hasn't always been smooth sailing. "He often balked at going to his art lessons, and I struggled with my own dilemma: Do I push him to continue, or should I let him quit? It was a real battle at times, for both of us."

So how do parents respond to the age old dilemma of simply encouraging vs. blatant pushing? Roberson decided that the happiness and pride associated with the art classes and the products were enough proof to reinforce with a push, here and there.

As parents encourage their preschoolers to participate in art, Kohl has a few parting words of wisdom. "This is a time when [children's] minds are open to exploration and discovery. We want to encourage this as a life-long ability. And through art, they can see that taking risks with creativity is a captivating way to jump right in."

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