For young children, art is all about the process
The phrase "It's the process, not the product" is repeated like a mantra by experts when it comes to young kids and art.
"There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter-perfect craft for toddlers -- it's simply of no interest to them," notes MaryAnn Kohl, the Bellingham, Wash.-based author of numerous children's art books, including "First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos." "Whatever the resulting artwork -- a bright sticky glob or a gallery-worthy masterpiece -- to a toddler, it is only the result of 'doing art,' not the reason."
Don't be surprised, then, if paint colors end up mixed to a lovely shade of brown or layered so thick that no shape is recognizable, Kohl warns in "First Art." "There is no right or wrong way to paint -- only the child's way."
No instruction necessary
Hether Reed, like many art educators, sees no need to instruct very young artists. "Let them be abstract and scribble," says the Frye Art Museum educator. "The act of scribbling helps them learn to control their marks. Parents don't want to inhibit that process or rush it."
At age 4 or 5, children start to make more representative drawings of people and trees. "Parents can talk about shapes and lines, but they still don't want to force a child into drawing lessons at that age," Reed says.
More tips for encouraging young children's art:
UHang art around the house at a child's eye level. "Other than just the fridge," says Reed. "It shows you think it's important that they do art and be creative."
UResist the temptation to ask, "What is it?" Instead, say, "Tell me about your painting" or "Why did you make lots of circles?" Ask older children to tell stories about their paintings and write them down on the back of the paper.
UMake fact-based comments specific to the work. For example, "You used a lot of red," rather than "That's pretty."
UDon't make any marks on the child's paper. "The child should have their own artwork on a separate piece of paper," Reed says. "You don't want to push them in a certain direction. Subconsciously, the message is they're not drawing something right." By the same token, don't make art samples for kids to copy.
UVisit an art museum with the idea that it's like a wordless book, Reed suggests. Find a painting with something familiar to a young child, such as people or animals. Tell a story about what's going on in the painting. Talk about lines, shapes and colors.
UIf you're worried about a mess, paint outside or in the bathtub. Or place a wet sponge, folded towel or damp paper towels next to the art project for finger wiping.
UWashable paint will come out, but clothes should be washed the same day. "Don't wait," advises Meagan Buckmaster of Art Experiences.
URemember art is more than painting. Make play-dough sculptures or create shapes out of pipe cleaners, for example.