As I stood looking at an exhibit of toddler art on the wall of my school one day, the parent standing next to me said, “This rivals an installation at the Museum of Modern Art”. It was true; all of the elements of form color and texture were there, and not the work of a seasoned and acclaimed artists of our time, but rather created unselfconsciously by two year old children.
Photo by Azikiwe Mohammed
This is a testament to the creative spirit of all human beings, which can be seen most clearly in the creative prowess of a young child. The natural qualities of childhood are the building blocks of this creativity – their physicality, their openness, their present-ness, their insatiable curiosity.
The Challenge for the Teaching Artist
The challenge for those teaching art to young children is to facilitate self-expression. The work in the classroom is around creating teachable moments, and leading the students there, and then supporting the child’s journey of discovery as they find themselves in the process. It is an individual process, and it is a physical process, complete with fits and starts and unexpected turns and twists.
In a recent article in Parents Magazine, I talked about some of the best ways to facilitate artistic development. It takes a skilled teaching artist to create an open environment where kids feel safe and free to experiment, while supporting skill-building and conceptual understanding of the elements of art.
Best Ways for Young Children to Learn about Art
- Non-representational projects — No young child should be expected to make art that ‘looks like’ something. They don’t have the fine motor dexterity to accomplish representational art and shouldn’t be expected to.
- Open ended activities — There should not be a ‘correct’ way to create an art project. Like snowflakes, no two projects should look exactly alike!
- Physical experiences — Children will learn best about colors if they can mix them themselves, even if what they have created in the end looks like a ‘brown blob’. Live and learn!
- Great materials — Skilled teachers of art for young children select engaging materials that can be used in unique ways.
- Non-directive approach — Children should not be told what to make or how to make it. This will truncate their openness to possibility.
- It’s ok to get messy — Your child should not be worried about getting ‘dirty’ from art materials, this will increase their self-consciousness and limit their creativity. Keep some old clothes dedicated to artistic making.
- Respect your child’s art — We have a rule that grown-ups are not allowed to change or add to the child’s artistic decisions. If an adult is having a hard time with this, we offer them their own piece of paper! Display your child’s work at home!
- Art is created in the process of solving problems — An amazing artist and teacher once said this to me. Creating art is not an easy process, in some ways it is an existential struggle, but ultimately it is a rewarding one.