Every child is an artist. They all like to scribble, doodle, play with paint and cut and glue basically anything. Most of them like the mess that goes along with it, some prefer coloring books or simple crafts. But all of the kids love to explore their own creativity when they have a chance.
The thing is - how can you make sure they are learning as well? How do you make sure you nurture their creativity, support their unique style and teach them something useful and meaningful in the process?
When I teach kids about art, I love to start by introducing a new famous artist. There is a lot they can gain from exploring the art of Picasso, Monet or Matisse. But we never copy their work. That would, in my mind, stop the creativity from flowing. Instead, I use the masterpieces to ‘set the scene’ and show kids a certain art element or techniques I want them to try.
Let’s say I want to introduce the father or Impressionism, Camille Pissarro. I start by showing several of his paintings, talking about his life, his love for French countryside and about the importance of colors, mood and light in Impressionism. If there is something fun about the artist I like to mention it. It usually sticks with the kids much more than some dry definitions. For example, when it comes to Pissarro you can tell them that one of his paintings sold for $4 million or that one critic said about his work that he hates it because it is impossible “to make Pissarro understand that trees are not violet and that sky is not the color of fresh butter!”
Then I choose one thing I want to teach the kids. For Pissarro, I decided to explore one-point perspective.
￼ I choose paintings that show it very clearly, explain the vanishing point (the dot in the distance where all things seem to vanish to), show them the horizon line and let them find it themselves in other paintings. Then we start the project. We will create a farm scene with oil pastels and watercolors that will be inspired by Pissarro’s love for French countryside (and harvest time) and the use of one-point perspective.
I help the kids to set up the scene – sketch the horizon line and the vanishing point. Then I show them how to make several lines that go from the bottom of the paper to the vanishing point (those are going to define the field). It sounds more complicated than it is and even Kindergarteners have no problems doing this. And the hard part is over. Now their creativity can take over.
Discuss with the kids what is going to be their vanishing point: the Sun, a farmhouse, a tree or a scarecrow? What is going to be growing in their field? Is it pumpkins, corn, peas, wheat or everything together? Is it at night or during the day? What colors do they want to use? Then let them create!
Try to stay out of their way as much as possible. Often, well-meaning parents try to help and instead they take over. My kids love it when I do the same project myself alongside them. Then, when they are stuck, they can ask me what I did and how and why. It works better than showing them how to do something on their piece of paper.
And when the kids do a really good job, do not say: ‘good job!’ It feels natural but research shows that statements like: good job, that is the best picture you did, or what a cute flower – actually hurt the creative process. When you praise kids for the results and not the creative process, it hurts their work in the long run. Why? Well, would you take bold risks when you knew that taking the safe route would guarantee you the reward? Kids can become less likely to experiment with art because they want to please us. And they may become more likely to feel pressured by our praise to always make the best painting possible, which is a rather impossible task. You should praise them! But try to choose your words carefully and constructively. Try saying: “Wow, I really like the way you combined your colors here! That is a really thin line. Can you tell me about that painting? I see that you decided to use yellow, red and other bold, bright colors; that really makes your work pop!”
And most importantly, whatever you do – have fun! Choose a project that is relevant to your kids. Choose a technique that you are comfortable with (some may be truly too messy for a short project with a lot of kids). And learn something new along with your kids. They will love to explore new artists, techniques and media with you! And you will feel like a child again, at least for couple of hours.
If you want to try this project, here is a link to a power point presentation you can use: http://1drv.ms/MhWHB9
About the author:
My name is Eva Soukal and I am a mom of two little artists. I publish arTree, a digital art magazine for kids and I work hard on bringing art education back to schools through arTree program for art docents. I also teach after-school art as well as Little Artists art classes for preschoolers. I have always loved working with kids and I am very passionate about sharing my love for art with them.