Posted on August 03 2016
I’ve 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. 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 watercolors, or simply doodling, I am a big fan of spending my free time this way.
So, it's no surprise that I relished every minute of my son’s preschool studio session. Before heading home one day, he had to show me something. 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.
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 his 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 painting, 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. As a busy parent, I’ll take any help around the house I can get!).
Thinking back, I know my love of art certainly stems from my parents. They’re 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 the roller rink against my better 10-year-old judgment in exchange for an afternoon at a gallery).
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 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. A cupboard of activities and supplies is a great place to start, even if it’s only for a rainy day.
- Set up a dedicated art space where your kids’ projects can live for days. We’ve devoted a part of our garage to creative pursuits, so we don’t sweat it if paint, markers, or chalk hit the floor. Then we don’t needlessly waste energy on containing the activity (which is the last thing you want when having fun with art!). Plus, it allows our kids to follow their innate creative impulses, starting and stopping, revisiting and revising, subtracting and adding until they deem their project finished.
- 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. No rules. Just play.
- In addition to basic art supplies like 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. You also can save leftover materials from Seedling activity kits to continue the open-ended play and bring future ideas to life.
- Curate a collection of projects based on your children’s interests, whether it’s space, dragons, mermaids, or nature, and let them pick their favorite one for an afterschool or weekend activity.
- Join your local museum’s children’s program and visit an exhibit that would appeal to your children’s interests.