Give Children Art at Home
What are we hoping to give children when we provide them with art experiences? As an artist myself, I have been working to find ways to give my child (I will refer to her as M) what she needs to delve into this arena without me becoming an obstacle. I have some transferable skills that I know I want my daughter to absorb over time, no matter what:
I want M to be able to make choices, have preferences, and generally develop her limits, ideals, and aesthetics. As I am a trained artist and designer, this is the domain in which I can most readily help her develop.
I consider problem solving to be the core of so many key meta skills: grit, risk-taking, resiliency, and learning to deal with life on life’s terms. Art making is a constant collaboration with circumstances, your personal skill level, and the data coming in from the world; it is an ideal venue to learn how to think creatively in a low stakes way.
M is a really secure little kid, which I hope is partly because she has had this arena where she could experiment, make messes, make mistakes, and find solutions. I work to help her deal with disappointments or unexpected results with her composure intact.
Responsibility & Accountability
M is able to deal with materials and tools because I have taught her from the beginning that she had to take care of them–it’s that simple. Now getting her to really carry through? Not so easy, but we go over it each time she does anything art-related. I also work to emphasize that cleaning up and caring for your tools is a full third of the art making process. You can’t throw a softball without follow through!
As a parent, I also like to find ways to spend time with my child. I try to be very careful as I do not want her to be intimidated by anything I can do. As M develops, I make sure to let her lead the activities and to ask the questions she is ready to have answered. I just want engaged, enriching time with her–experiences are by more valuable than any toy, device, or tv show I can find.
Methods I use
I am sharing a lot of entries from my personal Instagram feed below. I also have a specific AC/DF one, so be sure to follow me there for the more formal stuff I show!
As an art educator, I have to confess that I spend a lot of time on this with M. As an artist, I admit that I see her as a fellow artist, albeit one in training. I don’t even worry about her talent or skill level–she is there to make art, so that is what I help her do. I treat her efforts with the same respect I do any other artist, frankly. I will not risk squashing ideas, but I do make sure to only give her good choices–my brief Montessori exposure drove that idea into me. The fact is that a well-structured art lesson for children is absolutely congruent with a well-run art studio so we have our own little family atelier!
If you are not an artist, fear not. I will be working on ways for you to work on this with your child–always feel free to ask questions. I would love to help you find you way! You have so much to offer your child–and yourself–by working this into your parenting repertoire!
Dedicated Art Space
M has had her own art table since she could hold her head up. It is nothing fancy, but it is her space in which to work and then keep clean. I always ask if I can join her there–honestly, this is just habit from years of working in studios myself. I have always seen her as the tiniest apprentice I have ever had, so I give her and the space the respect I know she is due.
Our current table was an IKEA table that was sadly discontinued, but this is the one I recommend for years of service, having used it in schools:
Whenever M goes to make art, we find her apron and set up the same way, over and over. It seems obvious, but this ritual is a key part of setting her up for success. We have little chants and rhymes to repeat and sing while doing tasks like mixing colors and cutting paper–she does not need them now, but these little touches helped her conquer new skills when she was much younger.
Before she grew into her apron, we used this type as her art shirt for years:
When M was 2, we began collaborating under very specific rules:
- M chose the painting she’d created for us to work on
- She decided what the painting was about and told me
- I had up to 1 minute to add my drawing (I used a brush pen)
- My drawing could not overwhelm M’s painting
- She had to approve the final result
These are still a favorite activity of mine, but M is moving on. Our collaborations are now more oriented around designing things like her Halloween costumes. In that case, I do the drawing while she directs me.
M just turned 5 and is now so independent. Now, I sit down with her and we take turns showing each other how we draw things, or we work on lettering together since she is rapidly mastering writing. I work really hard to treat her as a peer as I would any fellow artist in a studio setting, worthy of respect and deserving of any guidance I could give.
M has had journal for years now. She is not reverent at all, tears them up, does whatever she wants to them. I am very slowly modeling how I sketch and journal, but I just want her to have the behavior locked in first. Honestly, I have to always remember that how I handle my creativity is my way. I need to help her develop her relationship with it, but I have to back off once she starts to find her own way.
My wife and I keep journals, so we work on them together as a family.
I operate as M’s studio assistant when she is doing some of the more intricate things we have covered so far. That way I can guide her to not make a mess but I keep quiet as she makes choices. Once again, I have worked as a studio assistant to actual artists and having someone there to help facilitate the physical act of creating really improves your ability to make and learn overall. When she is working on her easel, I just make myself available to remove paintings, tape them up to dry, and generally keep her going in one continuous flow. She generally paints on her easel 10 minutes at a time, so it’s a great way to spend a little time together.
As soon as I felt M could completely handle moving her work around, I encouraged her to curate her work. I found a basic setup on Apartment Therapy that I felt she could manipulate with supervision. The clip below is a great example, although there is one hanger upside down to straighten out a painting that would be dangerous if it were just there all the time. Forgive my sloppiness on that one!
This has been the way for me to talk to M about looking at art, which makes visiting museums so much easier.
Tools and Materials
I give M pretty good materials–I find the child-grade stuff to be really frustrating. They are poorly formulated or way too pre-fab for me. I gave M tube watercolors when she was 2.5 and honestly, it helped her develop her haptic skills by leaps and bounds. I will write a full article on watercolor painting soon!
M was responsible for setting up her paints, which gave her a lot of confidence and gave me a chance to remind her to conserve materials daily. We worked on treating the brushes well and cleaning together. Although she can’t clean up everything, M helps me maintain her art space more and more.
Respect for the Art
M, like any kid given a real chance, creates loads of work without hesitation. She does not abide disrespect for what she makes. If I ever do a cull (which I absolutely do), I never let her see me throwing away anything she has made. I am able to involve her in picking the work to keep more and more, but even then, I have yet to let her discover what happens to the unchosen work. We have turned her easel paper paintings into gift wrap, which she found pretty cool. I am not trying to make her find her work over precious, but I am building a foundation in her so she values her creative process. I am now introducing some criticality so we can deemphasize the actual work and look at the thinking and making as the real treasure.
Talking about Art
When M wants to talk about art, I stop and listen. She usually has some cogent observations to make, but I have found that I sometimes try and put words in her mouth in my eagerness to direct her. Learning to stay quiet has been a wonderful way for me to learn to step back and witness someone forming a relationship with something I certainly hold so dear.
Where will Art Take My Child?
In the end, I have no idea if M will be an artist in any way when she grows up. I try to not make any real predictions as to her talent or aptitude, either. Her level of achievement can’t be my end goal–I just want to give her my best self, with the richest slice of how I know to operate in the world. Being an artist, I have ways of articulating things that are coming in really handy with her right now. I am so grateful to be able to share all of this with her! I do think if I have been able to give her the skills of problem solving, being accountable, and having confidence in her abilities, that is the very best result. What we use to teach our children is not what they will become: these methodologies are just ways for us to help them organize their thinking.
Between you and me? I have to admit that if the child ultimately wants to go to art school, I will probably end up in traction from cartwheeling!