Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Gentle Process of Learning Art...

We have two goals when it comes to art for our children.  The first is to have an appreciation of great art.  The second is that they will feel comfortable expressing themselves through art.  The second goal is the one I will talk about today.  This blog entry will be about how I help my youngest three express themselves through art.  They are 9, 8, and 7 now.  My children have always been offered the best art supplies we could afford (and that were safe for them to handle), even when they were tiny tots.  I think it is so important to give children art supplies that work properly and hold vivid colors.  I loathe those little boxes of crayons that are handed out in restaurants that have more wax in them then color!  If children are given inferior art supplies, they become discouraged, frustrated, and unwilling to keep expressing themselves through art. 


 Making fans at the Art For Life table in a doctor's waiting room.

 I am very fortunate that I was raised in an artistic family.  My father is a professional photographer and my mother holds an art degree and taught me from a very young age all the pleasures of art.  So, when it came to filling my children's art cabinet, there were many willing hands to buy supplies.  However, if money is tight, this is what I would purchase:

  • Good quality drawing paper

  • Watercolor paper

  • Watercolor pencils

  • A set of watercolor paints

  • Several types of glue and paste

  • Large box of Crayola Crayons (the more colors the better)

  • Fine tip and thick tip markers

  • Homemade play-dough

  • A set of better quality paint brushes in different sizes.  If the paint brushes are in bright, child-friendly colors, they are probably not very good.  It is better to have just a few good paint brushes than to have a whole bunch and have the bristles falling out in your art.

  • Tempura paint in the primary colors~don't forget black and white for mixing.

  • A box of clay

  • A box of Plaster of Paris

The above list is by no means exhaustive.  Of course, there are fun art kits, glitter, pipe cleaners and all manner of other fun media items in which to create.  When the kids are a bit older or one could afford it, I would add a few acrylic paints and a few stretched canvas boards to the basics list.

Movable bats made at the Art for Life table.

Many people say to have the art supplies accessible to children at all times so that they may create whenever they wish.  This does not work in our family.  With some of our children's special needs, they behave very impulsively.  If I left the supplies out for them, great quantities of art supplies would be dumped out and great messes would be made.  I would be the first to say that art can be messy, but not at all hours in my household is it necessary.  So, I try to provide free art time every week and make myself available to get out the supplies they request during their free time.

Bird made with watercolor pencils.

As the children are getting older, I seek out opportunities in the community for them to explore with art.   One of our current favorites is The Art For Life Table that is set up in the waiting room each week where my son attends speech therapy. It is staffed with volunteers (mostly college art students) to help guide the kids through a project.  They always have quality art supplies, and although it is a set project, creative embellishment is encouraged.  Another favorite out of the home art place is our local art musuem, which holds a homeschool class once a month.  Again, it is an instructor-led project but with lots of wiggle room to be creative.  In the past we have enjoyed the classes at Michael's and other art stores, but they tend to be crowded and a bit pricey when paying for multiple kids.  Home Depot and  Lowe's also provide wood building classes once a month for free, but there is very little creativity beyond the project, so I consider these classes more for fine motor skills.

Making birds at The Art Museum.

Another way to acquire art supplies is to ask for art kits when people want to know what to get for Christmas and birthdays.  We have recieved some great kits that I would not have spent so much money on for one event. Often, there are reusuable parts in these kits that can be stored away for other projects.

This mosaic project was a recent gift that all of my children loved.

I get most of my ideas for projects out of arts and crafts books.  Some of my favorites are Mudworks , Great American Artists for Kids, Storybook Art, and Best Ever Craft Book for Kids.  There are also millions of sites on the web.  One of my favorites is this one.

Creating animals with leaves.

The kids had fun with the project pictured below a while ago.  I had some large sheets of paper that were gifted to me.  About the same time, I saw a great project at Smockity Frocks.  The idea is to make a list of words that your child can read and have them make a picture with all of the words on their list added to their drawing.  This kept my kids busy for some time.


One of the most important things when helping your children express themselves through art is to limit criticism.  It is one thing to advise and guide, but make sure that you do not put down your child's attempts at art.  After all, artists have found many ways to depict a tree.  Now that my kids are confident with expressing themselves through art, I do occasionally insist that they show me their best effort.  This is not usually a problem with art, but sometimes attitudes get in the way of even this subject.  When this occurs, I try to respark the project by presenting it from a different angle or gently reminding the child that their best effort will make them feel better than showing Daddy poor work when he gets home.





  1. i just hopped over from laura's blog.
    i love the picture of the mountains at the top of your blog.
    i agree just letting kids express themselves through art is important. i tell myself it's the process not the product that helps me remember not to critique their work.

  2. I agree with you in so many points. Art is so important for expressing our selves and for interpreting the expressions of others. The photos sprinkled throughout the post are great, too.

  3. I always appreciate your insights in this area because it is a place where my skills are lacking, to say the least. It's almost midnight here, so I'm coming back when I can read this moreso at my leisure and absorb your wisdom. Funny--I was reading about the Hagia Sophia with the youngest today and how it has many mosaics. I told her that we would do a mosaic project on tomorrow--even as I heard the words roll off my tongue, I thought, "Woah, not even." Yet, your picture was confirmation--I'm so on it! I might even get up the nerve to post pictures!

  4. full of great info - tucked neatly in one adorable post - fantastic!

  5. What beautiful art your children have done! I especially love the watercolours. I have most of the art supplies, my problem is getting them out and allowing the children to use them (the mess deters me)!

  6. Hi Dawn!

    Flat Stanley is now on his way home to all of you. He's arriving priority mail so you should expect him in 2-3 days! He had a grand time in Colonial Williamsburg and can't wait to tell all of you about his adventures! BTW there's a reason why I posted to this particular entry! It will make sense when Flat Stanley arrives!

  7. thank you for this encouraging and helpful post!
    we too keep our art supplies up and away (mess deterrent), but I've got to get better at making time to pull it all down for free art exploring...
    I also agree with buying quality when it's possible and your list of materials is very reasonable. :)

    thanks again!

    amy in peru