Talking to Children About Their Art

A few years ago, I was asked to guest blog for S&S Worldwide. I wrote about talking to children about art. You can view the original post here!

While I didn’t really set New Year’s resolutions, I did re-commit to a goal of blogging more… or at all, really. Since we are halfway through January and I’ve not blogged, I figure I’d start off by sharing the content of that blog with a few updates. I hope you enjoy and I would love feedback!

My favorite picture EVER of the first time my daughter painted. Somewhere there was a canvas!

I once overheard a teacher in a classroom I was working in say to their student, “You’re using too much green. Why don’t you use another color?” I didn’t say anything at the time, but I kept thinking to myself “Too much green? Is there such a thing as too much green?”

Prior to this experience, I hadn’t given much thought to how I spoke to my students about their art. As an artful minded person, it’s easy for me to embrace and encourage creativity. To be honest, I’m often envious and inspired by the creativity children display. They’re typically uninhibited when it comes to their art, which is something the majority of us have lost by the time we are adults. As Pablo Picasso wisely said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

As adults, it’s natural to want to project our own ideas and beliefs onto children. We are their teachers, after all. I know that particular teacher was trying to criticize her student’s art. In fact, I would guess she simply wanted the student to explore other colors beyond green, but how we respond to a child’s artwork is important. We should choose our words thoughtfully and, most importantly, we should avoid judgement.

So, how do we do this?

We can start by simply commenting on what we see. “Oh, I see you’ve started by making little red and green polk-a-dots on your paper.” Keep your comments non-judgmental and specific. Don’t assume a child has made something, unless you are certain.

We can also comment on the way the child is making the art, rather than the art itself “I like how you’re moving your brush slowly and carefully as you paint!”. Use your comments as an opportunity to give them the vocabulary words they may not have acquired yet. For example, you may tell a pre-schooler, “Look, you’ve made a triangle here. That’s a great shape for the roof.” or “I see lots lot tiny lines on the bottom of your page. That gives your painting such great texture.”

The more you describe what they’re doing with excitement and without judgement, the more the child will become confident and excited, feeling free to continue on their creative path.

As the child describes their art to you, ask them questions about their subject. For example, if a child has drawn a monkey, you could ask the artist the following questions:

Child: “Look, I made a monkey.”
Teacher: “Have you seen a monkey before?”
Child: “Yes, I saw one at the zoo.”
Teacher: “Who took you to the zoo?”
Child: “My mom. My cousin came with us, too.”
Teacher: “What were the monkeys doing when you saw them?”
Child: “I remember some were sleeping, but two of them were cleaning each other’s fur and eating the bugs they found.”

Beginning a narrative, such as the one above, can help the artist recall details they may not have thought of prior to the conversation. These details may later be reflected in their artwork. In addition to helping them recall details, a conversation could help them to evaluate their own work, allowing them to make any adjustments they feel necessary, without influencing their artistic choices or making suggestions yourself.


Help! My child hates to write: Pre-writing Activities for Kids

IMG_9977A friend of mine recently came to me with a problem – her pre-schooler hates to write. My first thought was, “She’s 4! Of course she hates to write. What on earth is she writing anyway?” But deep down I guess that I get it. Writing is important and I know it’s a skill that is expected of pre-school aged children. Do I agree with this? Nope. Personally I think that children shouldn’t be expected to use their fine motor skills this precisely until their gross motor skills are more developed. But back to the task at hand (no pun intended).

The bottom line is kindergartners and pre-schoolers are expected to write, whether they’re ready or not. Which leaves us with the question: What can parents do to practice writing and ease the frustration that may come with the task? Let’s start by finding activities that your child will enjoy and that are age-appropriate. Keep in mind that writing skills are naturally developed and strengthened during almost all play activities. Even infants reaching for a toy or picking up a cheerio for the first time are working on developing the muscles necessary to write. So simply playing catch or building blocks with your child can help them develop motor skills that are associated with writing, without mention of the dreaded word ‘write’.

Here is a list of fun activities that can help your child work on these skills, regardless of where they are in their writing abilities.

(1) Build with play dough! Squeezing, rolling, pushing, molding and pinching are all great ways to strengthen the hand muscles necessary for writing. Want to sneak in some letter identification? Use alphabet cookie cutters or roll the dough into ‘snakes’ be shaped into letters. Even my one year old loves identifying and tracing clay letters with her fingers. This is a great way to explore letter shapes, while strengthening hand muscles.

(c) 2015 Creative and Curious

(2) Though it’s definitely not necessary to purchase items, my daughter LOVES this Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Kit! She uses the tools with enthusiasm in the sand box, water table or the bath!

Helping Hands

prewriteIMG_3039 preWritingIMG_3044 IMG_3054

(3) Another fun product (the holidays are coming!) is the Boogie Board Play N’Trace. It’s sort of like a high tech Magna Doodle. It can be used to write/draw or trace. There is a downloadable iPad app. We were given one as a gift and I think it is pretty awesome! I’m saving it for our next long car ride or restaurant trip. It’s a great quiet toy.

BoogieBoard IMG_3187

(4) Multi-sensory writing practice is a fun, tactile way to encourage writing. This would include drawing in shaving cream, sand, pudding, finger paint, etc. Start simply with pre-writing shapes such as circles, vertical lines (top to bottom) and horizontal lines (left to right) before moving into letters. Rather than simply verbalizing your direction (“draw a circle”) use magnet letters or flash cards  (can be hand drawn as I’ve done) as a visual prompt. This way, your child is solely focused on the writing and not having to multi task, recalling which letter/shape you’re asking for!

(C) 2015 Creative and Curious

(C) 2015 Creative and Curious

(5) Make a letter ‘road’ to ‘trace’ with cars! Using large paper or side-walk chalk, draw a roadway in the shapes/letters you’re targeting. Let your child drive their favorite cars along the letters. This activity was a huge hit. Side note: we are definitely a Peppa Pig household…

(c) 2015 Creative and Curious

To sum things up, if your child is frustrated start by approaching writing with anything BUT a pen or pencil! Give them markers, play dough, crayons, paint brushes, scratch art, oil pastels,Wikki Stix, a Magna Doodle… really ANYTHING other than the pencil and paper they associate with writing for school. Keep in mind that their fine motor skills may not be there yet (and that’s okay) so try working with basic shapes/lines and on a larger scale (sidewalk chalk letters). Most importantly, keep it engaging and fun.

These are just a few suggestions that can be done at home. Here is a Pinterest board of additional activities you can try!

 Pre-Writing/Writing PinsScreen Shot 2015-10-22 at 9.55.22 PM

“Curiosity is More Important than Knowledge!”

(c) creative and curious 2015

You can thank Albert Einstein for those wise and truthful words. It’s no secret that curiosity is crucial to learning. One of my favorite things as a parent and a teacher is just how curious kids can be. It’s inspiring. The longer children stay curious, the more driven they are to learn and discover. As parents and educators, it’s our role to support this curiosity. If we’re smart, we’ll use what they’re naturally curious about to teach the skills we want them to learn.

Unfortunately it’s easy to diminish creativity, without even realizing it. We all say things such as, “don’t touch that!” or “you can’t get that outfit dirty!”. I know I am guilty of phrases along those lines, especially after a long day or too little sleep. We are far from perfect, but remaining conscious of our responses to a child’s curiosity is key in supporting their creative exploration and  learning.

I remember during my student teaching, a professor told us “a child who has just been yelled at, will never retain the lesson you were teaching, only the fear of that moment.” I have always kept that phrase in the back of my mind. Let’s think about it for a second. Even as adults, it’s a very valuable idea to keep in mind. How constructive is a conversation where people are yelling? How effective is a boss who screams at her employees? If a child is afraid of an educator or placed in a chaotic learning environment, he will fear creativity and exploration. Novelty and discovery will not feel safe. He will likely choose to stay in his comfort zone, not pushing boundaries towards exploration and learning. Without a safe environment to experience new things and feed our curiosity, we would all have fewer opportunities to succeed, to learn, to make friends and so forth.

But a child (and adult!) whose curiosity is supported, will want to repeat that curious moment, continuing to explore, to learn and build upon it. They’ll want to share it with peers and teachers and to be praised for their discoveries. They’ll become secure in their learning and seek further exploration and knowledge. I believe that’s what Albert Einstein meant when he said the above.

What can we as parents and educators do? First take a deep breath. I know these moments of curiosity can often come at the worst times or disguised as bad behavior. My daughter once poured an entire cup of coffee on the kitchen floor. Did I want to scream? Yes. Did I? Almost. But I stopped and reminded myself that she was exploring. She’s a one year old. She was curious. She didn’t understand or care that her action was not a socially acceptable (or convenient) thing to do! My initial reaction was frustration, but I tried to view it as an opportunity. She was showing me what she was curious about.

Instead of yelling, I filled a bucket with water and brought it outside. I added some food coloring and gave her some old cups, letting her pour water into various containers, on the floor, on herself. Refilling the water as she demanded “more water, mommy”. Instead of a tantrum from a one-year-old, because she didn’t get her way/got yelled at. I got about 40 minutes of uninterrupted computer time and she got to do something she enjoyed. Win. Win.

But there is more! Through her exploration she was also internalizing pre-concepts of basic science (mass, volume, liquid) and language (lots of new vocabulary). I was busy, so I continued to work at my laptop but I occasionally peeked over and gave her some useful vocabulary while she played independently – wet, float, sink, liquid, cold, empty and full – all terms I’ve now seen her generalize in other play. How cool is that!?

To build on this curiosity, I set up water play for her regularly, in hopes of avoiding upset and additional spilled drinks. By recognizing it was a current interest, I gave her the opportunity for further exploration. I began to give her tools to expand upon her exploration, such as foam letters and shapes. Her strong curiosity for water also provided an opportunity to teach things that mattered to me such as shapes (hello math skills) and letters (more literacy) as well!

If you think about it, your child shows you the things they are curious about on a daily basis. How can you give them additional opportunities to explore the things that interest them? Once you’ve done that, try adding to the activities – setting them up for success in expanding their discoveries while building off of their natural curiosity!

“Every child is an artist…

photo (C) creative and curious 2015

… the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

The above quotation by Pablo Picasso is one that resonates pretty strongly. As adults, many of us struggle to find our creative side or avoid it completely. Maybe we’ve learned too many rules, hit one too many creative blocks or simply do not have the time to cultivate our creative thinking. But as parents and educators, it’s important to remember that our children mirror what we do. We see ourselves reflected in their play, in their phrases and daily interactions. They watch how we handle our successes and failures. We are their main example of how life is lived. It’s important we throw a little creativity in when we can!

What steps can we take towards supporting a child’s creativity? Author and artist Julia Cameron suggests, “we let them explore freely and praise them for their efforts.” This means more than giving them some crayons and paper, though that is a very good start. Allowing children the freedom to be creative can be a difficult balance for parents and teachers – it’s a struggle for me and I consider myself an artist.

On one hand, we want our children to follow rules and we want to provide them with structure. We know those things are also crucial to their learning. But when exploring their creativity, we want to give them the freedom to break some rules. I’m not talking the ‘keep your hands to yourself’ type of rules, more like ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘we color in the lines’ rules.

We often cannot help how we react to our children’s art – particularly when their work is more abstract (think mommy has three eyes or the sky is green and the grass is red!), our role and natural instinct is to teach them. And the reality is mommy only has two eyes and the grass is green! But keep in mind that art is often a rebellious act. It involves taking risks, thinking outside of the box and pushing boundaries. As parents, we have the unique opportunity to provide a safe environment in which our children can take creative risks with support and even praise.

In addition choosing our words carefully when we discuss their art, we can support their creativity by providing ample opportunity to think creatively. One easy way to do so is to put together a creativity box/corner/room, whatever you have the space for! Stock it with paints, toilet paper rolls, glue, markers, paper, crayons, plastic bottle caps, rocks, yarn… you get the idea, anything goes. Keep these things readily available throughout the day or even set aside time for them to work with these items through open ended play and art.

If you’re longing to bring out more of your creative side, join in the artistic fun. Create a project along side your child, selecting from the same materials.  Allow your child to explore the materials anyway they wish while you do the same! As you work, provide them with the vocabulary to describe their process, discussing their work without judgement and with praise. (“You’re using a lot of red paint. I like that!”) When you’ve finished, display both creations on the refrigerator! Valuing your own creativity will teach your child to value theirs. Watching you embrace your ‘mistakes’ and push boundaries, will set a valuable example for their inner artist. Encourage their inner creativity, as you rediscover your own.