I think most of us would agree that art is important, especially important for kids. With many public schools getting rid of music and art education, now, more than ever, it’s crucial for children of all ages to learn classic techniques as well as free artistic expression. As a teacher, I remember my students happily showing me their art creations – all according to plan and techniques they were learning. They did amazing work, but I do remember some of the kids saying how they wished they could just “play” with the paint, draw whatever they wanted, etc. Some even seemed frustrated that they couldn’t create a “perfect” work of art. Such stress in elementary school! In allowing free drawing at appropriate times in the classroom, at home with my kids or with other children, I have noticed some things they learn through free expression in their art activities.
1. They learn about different media.
We all know kids love to finger-paint, but when you introduce an older child to charcoal a whole new world opens up, especially when they learn to smudge with their fingers! The same thing happens when you move from playdough to modeling clay or ceramics. As your child is introduced to different media, their options for expression widens and their expression becomes more focused. As they touch and interact with different types of artistic materials, they learn more about how different things act, react, and remain permanent. Art helps them understand more about the world around them and more often than not begins conversations of “why” and “how” which can then be answered through mathematics or science.
2. They learn how you react to messes.
Children quickly learn how much they can do by our responses to the unintentional, or intentional, mess. This is a great opportunity for moms to take a step back and ponder if our reactions instill fear or confidence, shame or grace. Sure, the mess a four-year-old creates with paint will likely be different than an eight-year-old with a glue gun and feathers, but unintentional messes happen! So, how are we going to react? I am not saying that you shouldn’t get angry when the leather couch gets a Sharpie signature or when the dog is painted. What I am saying is, don’t sweat the small stuff! [Tweet This] When you do, the child’s artistic expression will be greatly stifled and fear will set in. I want my kids to be free to create, don’t you?
3. They learn responsibility.
From the very beginning, when my daughter wanted to paint, I dressed her in an old adult t-shirt on her, set her on the back porch, and put the paint on aluminum foil for her so her free expression could flourish. Now she knows what the steps are! Tweens wanting to do the latest DIY on Pinterest need to know how to prepare their area appropriately and clean up. So ask them how to protect their floor, their hands, and your table, and guide them into the answers. As they learn responsibility, they are freer to express themselves, freer to create, freer to try something new.
4. Most importantly, they learn to communicate.
In graduate school, my husband earned an emphasis in trauma counseling, and one way he frequently helped people communicate what they couldn’t talk about or had blocked out was artistic therapy. I remember one girl who had bottled up a tragic event regarding her dad and the first time anyone knew its effect on her was after she was free to make a collage of whatever she found interesting. If she wasn’t given freedom in the project, there wouldn’t have been the heart connection and her mom would never have known how deep the hurt went. Or, the toddler who had gone through much trauma could only communicate through coloring – and she only used blacks, greys, and browns. Those color choices speak volumes when speech isn’t available.
Let’s Talk: How has art impacted your child’s life?