“When are we going to do art again?” asks a brown-haired girl as I walk into the elementary school courtyard. It’s been two years since Sarah was my student in art class, but she greets me every morning at drop off. She’s not the only one. Last year, a little red-haired boy clung to my legs after school on more than one occasion, begging me to go with him to day care to do art projects. Another mom comes up to me at a child’s birthday party and tells me how her son talks constantly about “Miss Grace’s art lessons.”
I’m not a certified teacher. Nor am I a trained artist. In fact, I haven’t taken a course since high school. I am a volunteer art docent, and my lessons come from a binder of photocopied instructions provided by the PTA. I share these anecdotes in hopes of illustrating how much young children enjoy art and crave the chance to create it.
With my own children, I began creating art before they could even hold a crayon. Is that too early? When should parents introduce their children to art? “As early as possible,” says Dr. Kerry Freedman, Head of Art and Design Education at Northern Illinois University. “Children learn visually before they learn textually.”
Simple Ways That Art Can Bring Parents and Children Closer Together
Talk with kids about their creations. The key is to describe what you see in their work and ask open-ended questions, instead of asking if their scribbles are a bird or a tree.
“This tells the child that you are looking carefully and are interested in their ideas, developing their feelings of competence and confidence,” says Molly H. Campbell, Programs and Operations Manager of the San Francisco Children’s Art Center.
Make art together—at home and in the classroom. With budget cuts and increasing constraints on public school curricula, art education is often one of the first subjects to go. If you are able, ask your child’s teacher if you can volunteer to help provide art lessons. And if you’re not able to visit the classroom, you can still provide basic art supplies at home. Sit down with your child and create something together. “It’s very encouraging for children to know that their parents are willing to participate in activities with them,” says Adrianne Russell, a Kansas City, Missouri-based arts consultant, “especially if it’s something the adults have never done before or have little experience with.” Painting, drawing or sculpting force us to stop multitasking and focus on the project at hand, as well as the person we’re doing it with.
Show youngsters art as an expression of culture. Tangible objects make the abstract idea of tradition real to preschoolers. Point out the different styles of textiles, pottery, or painting used in your family’s heritage and in traditions from different parts of the world. Holidays often bring excellent opportunities for multicultural crafts, such as decorating sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos or making kites for Japanese Children’s Day.
Visit art museums as a family. Gone are the days when galleries were by definition child-free zones. “In the past ten to fifteen years, there has been a growing consensus among museums that providing informal learning experiences for young visitors is vital,” explains Russell. Many establishments, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to local institutions, now have hands-on workshops or storytelling programs geared to the smallest guests. Log on to the museum’s website ahead of time to check for children’s events and to see if there are any family visitor’s guides to download. Preview the current exhibits with your children and let them help decide which ones to visit. Weekday mornings are often the least crowded time for museums, and often when preschoolers are most attentive.
Grace Hwang Lynch is a writer, consultant, and mom based in the San Francisco Bay area. She blogs about Asian fusion family and food at HapaMama.com.