As most things in parenting, you learn as you go. I have come to appreciate their spunk, zeal for life, and energy. Ironically, one thing they have taught me more about is a broader view of the role of art in child development. Before actually experiencing a boy, I had visions of doing cool art projects with my kids. Projects where we sat down and worked on things together and had a cute little art piece to show off at the end.
Well, then I actually had a preschool-age boy and reality sunk in. I remember watching the first few days of 3-year-old preschool as my son sat down with the other kids to do their letter tracing and coloring portion of the day. The girls sat nicely and worked diligently tracing letters or painting with watercolors. My son, conversely, sat for approximately 1 minute, did his fastest version of letter tracing (i.e., scribbling) and then was off to play with a puzzle or toy trains.
Wow, I must be doing something wrong, I thought. These girls are all so careful with their handwriting and my son can barely hold pencil. I knew from my child development classes that girls tended to develop fine motor skills sooner than boys, but to see it so starkly in real life was shocking.
Needless to say, our attempts to do art projects at home where met with a similar speediness and lack of focus. However, we still had fun with art materials. Both boys love glue so we would glue anything that would stick--pom poms, shapes, string. We had no real plan or vision for our art, we just did it. We would make Angry Birds characters out of Play-Doh and use them to knock over the cans. Fun!
Then one day, I remember is clearly--my then 4-year-old son really got into coloring. He had finally learned how to maneuver his crayon or marker well enough to make it do what he wanted it to do. He could color inside the lines, he could make the beginnings of drawings. The little connections in his brain just clicked. As it turned out, this was perfect timing because I had just given birth to his little brother. He spent many an afternoon coloring and drawing while I took care of his newborn brother. I printed coloring sheets of his favorite characters faster than you could imagine.
This is when I came to really see the value of art for young kids, but in my case especially boys. For young kids, art is not about results. They often don't buy into the "contrived" version what what the adults want the finished project to look like. They are just exploring colors, textures, and most importantly thoughts.
Have you ever really looked at what your kids draw on any given day and how it relates to what's really going on in their mind. For example, lately my 7 year old is really into Roald Dahl books. So, of course, all his drawings lately have been things like foxes (Fantastic Mr. Fox), fox holes, and maybe even a few elevators (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator). The artwork is really a perfect expression of his inner world. Now that is cool.
This follows right along with what art experts tell us about the value of art for young children. It can teach many lessons that no other form of expression can teach. Art scholar Elliot Eisner wrote of the classic works on this topic and he puts it best, "The arts help CHILDREN LEARN to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them FEEL, they must reach into their POETIC CAPACITIES to and the words that will do the job."
One thing that does help when attempting to do artwork with kids is good materials. Markers, paint, crayons, etc. that work well and don't break right away. We just got some Kwik Stixs, which are new to us, and we are really enjoying them. They are paints but they come in a tube sort of like a glue stick. Given my boys' love of glue sticks, they took to these right away.
The best part for parents--they dry in 90 seconds! Brilliant. No more smudgy pictures because your toddler couldn't wait for the paint to dry. Since they are in a tube, there is limited mess and they don't break like crayons. My boys have had great fun with these.
Along with them we also received a few of the Pencil Grip writing tools for handwriting. They are meant to help kids develop proper pencil grip. This development of correct pencil grip is often challenging, especially for boys. My boys tried these out and I think it did help them both (even the 3 year old) have better control of the pen or pencil. If used often, it seems like they would help establish good habits with pencil grip.
Here are a few resources for helping you get started on artwork with your kids:
Tinkerlab: I love Rachelle's work and her whole approach to children's artwork. Her book is full of ideas and we are loving her online class.
Hello Wonderful: another wonderful site for creative projects with kids. Great colors on this site--if you need a little "pick me up," check it out.
Fireflies and Mudpies: great site with a great name. Tons of craft ideas and best for me (and boy moms everywhere) sensory ideas. My kids always love sensory projects.
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