When I picked the Little Dude up from preschool, he had to show me something before we packed up and headed home. He led me by the hand to a pint-sized table where he pulled out a chair and said “Mommy, sit!” I happily obliged and eagerly awaited what was in store.
Usually he thrills me with his “practical life skills,” which he has perfected per the Montessori philosophy. Instead of the usual activity of transferring rice from one bowl to the next (or something similar), he surprised me with a tray of pastels and small sheets of paper. He covered those papers with big circles, small circles, curlicues, and squiggles. And he did it over and over and over again. He didn’t want to leave because he was really enjoying this artistic moment.
I caught sight of the Little Dude’s teacher and asked if he normally selects art as his self-directed activity for the day. She told me, “No. He usually likes to clean, especially with the broom.” I nodded my head in recognition because this is what he loves to do at home. We head out to the garage for a painting session, but his interest wanes rather quickly and before I know it he’s sweeping the concrete and watering our lawn (I very much appreciate his sense of responsibility and help, by the way).
I have absolutely loved art my whole life, or at least as far back as I can remember. I am not an artist in a professional sense, or even in a talented sense. But it’s a big part of what makes me happy. Whether it’s going to a museum, painting a Rothko-inspired piece in my uncle’s living room, creating graphics or watercolors, or simply doodling, I am a big fan of spending my free time this way. So, it's no surprise that I loved every minute of the Little Dude’s preschool studio session too.
I owe my parents a big THANK YOU for fostering my love of art. They are artists, which made it easier to communicate about art movements, techniques, color relations, and object dimensions. But even if they didn’t have this academic background, I think the most important thing they did was open the door and expose me to art (even if that meant I had to give up a day at Stardust Roller Rink against my better 10-year-old judgment in exchange for an afternoon at Bergamot Station Arts Center).
Now, I know art in its many forms can be intimidating. And you might wonder how you can inspire your children’s interest in art if you don’t have an MFA like my parents. Despite growing up in a household of artists, I’ve also wondered the same thing. How do I encourage art exploration, especially when my son didn’t previously demonstrate an innate interest in the activity or at least not with the level of joy he recently showed me at preschool? The good news is that we don’t have to be experts in cubism, sculpture, or photography to make art accessible to our children. In fact, we should take solace in KinderArt creator Andrea Mulder-Slater’s words:
Start by remembering that teaching children about art is not just about showing them how to recognize a van Gogh or Picasso, it's about preparing young minds for a future of invaluable experiences—art related or otherwise.
With that in mind, here is my non-expert advice for encouraging art exploration with your children:
- Don’t force your children to participate in art activities unless they want to, but have things available for the times they're ready to dive in and explore.
- Set up a dedicated art space where you don’t have to worry about messes being made. We’ve devoted a part of our garage to creative pursuits, so we don’t sweat it if paint, glitter, or chalk hit the floor. We in turn don’t needlessly waste energy on containing the activity for fear of a red hand leaving its mark on the wall or sofa (which is the last thing you want when having fun with art!).
- Follow your children’s lead by letting them choose the materials and direct the activity. Of course, feel free to explain the materials and demonstrate how they work, but ultimately let the kids make the decision how to use them.
- Forget about coloring within the lines. I say this as a friendly reminder that exploring art is more about the process than the final product. Sometimes in our efforts to “help” or “teach” our children, we inadvertently stifle their imagination. The magic of art is that there is no wrong way to create, which is why we don’t need to be experts to enjoy this activity with our kids in the first place.
- Art materials don’t have to be fancy pencils, markers, or paint. You can create an art supply box with materials from around the house, such as cardboard egg cartons, foil, wrapping paper, ribbons, dried leaves, and more. It’s also a great way inspire your children to recycle and reuse. If you do want to invest in art supplies, make sure they’re non-toxic. This is especially important because little kids—if they’re anything like my son—explore with their mouths or end up with a lot of product on their skin. Clementine is a favorite brand of ours that is safe for toddler use.
- Join your local museum’s children’s program (we're members of NexGen at LACMA) and visit an exhibit that would appeal to your children’s interests.
And to get you started, here are some great sources of inspiration that I’ve culled from fabulous blogs you should check out if you already haven’t:
- Outlaw Mom: Play
- Red Ted Art's Blog
- The Artful Parent: Beggining Art Journaling for Kids
- Teacher Tom: An Art Exploration and Applying Pigment to Surface
- Tinkerlab: Five Easy Steps for Talking With Children About Art and Toddler Art: Glue Dots and Buttons
How do you incorporate art in your children's lives? We'd love to learn!
~ The Other Sarah