Encouraging Your Child to be Creative Through Art
For parents who wish to encourage their children to do art at home, I'd like to offer some general principles.
The general principles include creating a work space for the art activity, responding to the child's work and saving examples of it. How the physical space is arranged depends, of course, on your living arrangements. In an apartment, you might set up a corner of a room. In a private house, a section of the attic or an enclosed porch permits a greater expansiveness.
In any case, there should be a table. Shelves are helpful too, since you'll want to store the materials. It's also important to establish a certain order or pattern for using the materials and cleaning up afterward.
Parents should be primarily aware that art is not about achieving craft-like results; that the emphasis should be on the creative process. When children are given art materials, they will find a way to put them to use. They will usually put them together in a way that is unique and meaningful to them. Let the children come up with their own direction. If they seem to be stuck (which doesn't happen often), a question about a favorite color or a trip they took can spur them on.
Your Response is Key!
Although praising the work may always seem to be called for, the way in which you respond is the key to helping your child's artistic development. Parents who focus on the work and give it serious thought go much further in supporting their children's efforts than those offering blanket comments like, "Oh, that's pretty," or "I really like that." Such remarks may in fact discourage the children who weren't thinking about pretty or producing something likable, but were trying to match up the edges of the pieces in their collage.
Instead of quickly declaring, "Oh, that's beautiful," pay attention to what your child is actually doing, then describe one thing you observe. For example, you might say, "I see you used three red patterned papers for your collage." Or, "I see that all the blue papers are different in their shapes."
Always place your emphasis on a positive aspect of the work and avoid being critical, such as stating, "Well, this is not such a good part." That can be defeating to a child who is involved with quite another aspect of the work. Focus on what is actually on the paper, not on your own concept of the work, your own agenda. If you start with what you want to see, your child may never meet your requirements and there can be disappointment all around. Some parents will talk about what their child hasn't really done yet. Stay away from referring to what is not on the paper, what the child didn't do. Avoid comments such as, "Well, you could put something up there in the upper left-hand corner."
Check Your Expectations
Some parents are always wishing their children could come up with art that has a better look to it. They wonder how the kids could get somewhere else in their work. Try not to make demands that the children cannot meet. If you suggest that something may be lacking in the work, your child won't be sure of what you want her to do. She may in fact feel she is letting you down. I believe that if you talk to kids about where they are in their work, they may get there. This happens when they're feeling good about what they're doing. Children who are feeling good are generally ready to move on.
If the children want to talk about their work, that's fine. But don't ask them to explain it. They really are not able to articulate what they've done. They have no clue as to where a drawing comes from. Neither do we. There is no barometer to measure that kind of creativity. It's the natural genius of being a child. Instead of asking such questions, enjoy the unique brilliance of your child's work, the playful images and visual stories. Marvel as I do at the creative center from which these impulses spring. In school I will sometimes ask the children such questions as, "How did you know to do that?" or "How did you ever think to draw this?" My questions are of course rhetorical. I am in fact commenting on the children's ingenuity. They understand this and are pleased with my response.
Cherish Your Child's Creations
The art of children can grow richly when someone is around to notice what is on the paper, to describe some aspect of the work and to save and treasure that work. There are two ways to cherish your child's work. The first is how you look at it and comment on it. The second is preserving the work physically. I highly recommend that parents -- even those in small apartments -- save some of their children's work. This lets the child know that you are responding to his efforts. It sends him and everyone else a message about the value and importance of his work. In school at the end of the class, if I were to let the kids walk out with their drawings and say nothing, they would get the idea that what they did was of no particular interest. Instead, I say, "I've got to have this. Leave your drawing with me. I need to took at it." (Sometimes I'll say to a child, "I want to make a copy of this for myself before I give it back to you.")
You can easily make copies of some drawings or paintings and send them on to grandparents, other relatives, and close friends. When my daughter was 6, she drew an angel with a long dress and funny little feet. I had it Xeroxed on the upper right-hand corner of some copy paper and it became my stationery for a year.
You can put the work up for display on the refrigerator, held in place with magnets. Or you might even frame a piece or two. Such endorsements should not be overdone, however. Displaying too much work indiscriminately can make it seem as if nothing has been singled out for importance, that one piece of work is much the same as another.
For saving some of the drawings, paintings, collages, etc., a special drawer may be set aside in a chest or a cupboard. I also recommend that you date the work on the back so that you can observe the child's imagery as it moves from a frontal view to a profile, then on to a more advanced rendering of the figure. Of course we cannot save everything, but a child is 5 years old only once. These drawings will never happen in the same way again. The work you save is a unique record of a human life.
To Participate or Not
I have sometimes been asked whether the parent should work alongside the child. I don't usually recommend this, although it depends on the spirit in which it is done. Many adults are afraid of art materials, so if they say, "I wish I knew what to do with these," sometimes the child can take the lead. I would hope that if you do participate, this would be in the same spirit of playfulness that most children express, which is to investigate and explore the materials at hand. Direct adult participation can also lead the child to realize that art is an interesting, serious, and engaging activity, no matter how old the participant is.
Although adult participation can be fun from time to time, if the situation feels competitive or controlling in any way, it should be avoided. It certainly is not a good idea if the parent seems to be saying, "You should do it this way. You have to put the roof on the house like this." This kind of approach locks the kids out forever. They will think that there is only one way to do something and it is the way the adult has said it is.
Some parents find that their kids are good at art. They are amazed at their children's ability and frequently ask me, "Shall I send my child to a special art class?" Such classes are available in some towns and cities under the auspices of museums, colleges, community centers, etc. (They may offer family art activities on weekends.) There are also children's museums and park department programs that feature summer art classes for children. Some of these are excellent, while others are not. You need to check them out.
Although advanced 9- or 10-year-olds might begin to take classes in drawing from observation, it is known that most children don't begin to see that way until they reach junior high school age. So I usually suggest that parents put off considering classes on drawing or painting from life for their children until then.