Introducing Your Child to the Arts: Your Child and the Visual Arts (page 3)
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
- Pablo Picasso, visual artist
When children explore their world, they rely most on the sense of sight. It is the visual world that gives children information about color, shape, and form, and provides an opportunity to revise ideas based upon visual data gathered from new experiences. The visual world also provides myriad opportunities for language development, as words are associated with visual images. Not only do children learn from visual experience, but they also respond to what they see, often recreating ideas through artistic expression when they color, paint, draw, or sculpt.
The visual arts can be defined as two distinct activities, art making and art appreciation. The first is about expressing ideas while the latter is more about responding to art. Both are important ways of learning and should be supported and valued by parents and teachers.
The joy of making art is apparent in almost every home across the country, illustrated by children’s paintings and drawings proudly displayed on kitchen bulletin boards and refrigerators. In early childhood programs, the art area is often a hub of excitement, providing opportunities for children to explore and express ideas through artistic creations.
Art appreciation begins with the simple yet common practice of reading to
young children. During story time, parents and teachers can help children
develop visual literacy—the ability to interpret the visual world—by
encouraging children to respond to illustrations that engage, enlighten,
and excite them.
By exploring and experiencing the visual world, children have the opportunity to:
- Gain insight from visual experience to construct meaning by observation, reflection, and application of ideas.
- Recognize similarities and differences in the world.
- Attach visual images to words and abstract ideas.
- Grasp relationships in their environment.
- Think creatively while developing skills in drawing, painting, sculpting, designing, and crafting.
- Communicate, represent, and record ideas and feelings related to personal experiences.
- Reinvent the world in their own terms through art expression.
- Develop physical skills as they learn to handle tools and materials associated with creating art.
- Recognize personal preferences related to individual works of art, an early skill in the development of aesthetic awareness and critical judgment.
Engaging Young Children in the Visual Arts
The visual arts reflect and interpret life. Artistic expressions can be found everywhere, from illustrations in children’s books to images on calendars to decorative artwork displayed in homes, schools, libraries, businesses, and parks. In the formal art world,museums and cultural institutions are environments where paintings, sculpture, and other works of art are cared for and shared with the general public. Early experiences with the visual arts foster important skills while providing a sense of joy and excitement that can last a lifetime.
Making Art with Young Children
Opportunities abound for engaging young children in making art. Visit any toy, craft, or art supply store to find child-friendly art materials such as crayons, markers, colored pencils, paints, modeling clay, and play-dough. Recycled materials found at home (scraps of cloth, old buttons, bottle caps) can be used for making collages.
- Create an “art corner” at home. Choose a place that allows your child to explore different media—paints, crayons, and clay—and lends itself to easy clean up. Draft “art making” rules with your child so that everyone knows the expectations. Younger children will probably need guidance for use and clean up of materials. Art materials should be safe and age-appropriate.
- Engage your child in the choice and selection of art materials. Vary the art opportunities by changing the materials every few weeks. One month the art corner can be a collage center with small containers of recycled materials. Transform the space to a sculptor’s studio at another time with modeling clay, play-dough, simple tools (Popsicle sticks or plastic knives), and an assortment of objects that can be used with the sculpting materials.
- Provide a place to exhibit artwork. A bulletin board or cork strip can be used for displaying art. A clothesline or drying rack with clothespins or clips can also serve as a place for children to exhibit completed projects. Some children will prefer to keep their art in a box or in a scrapbook for personal use rather thanexhibit for others.
- Plan an “art party” for your child’s next birthday. Your child may have some wonderful suggestions for art activities that will appeal to his or her friends.
For younger children, art is often more about the process of exploring materials than about creating an end product. Exploration should be valued for its contribution to self-expression and to learning. As children create art that is representational, some will freely talk about their creations while others will not. Some children feel more comfortable talking about the materials or colors used rather than about the ideas expressed in the artwork. Simply saying, “Would you like to tell me about your art?” gives a child the freedom to talk about the work from his own point of view. It is important to respect the child’s motives, preferences, and aims.
Encounters with Art in the Everyday World
Art is a natural part of our world. Explore art with your child by focusing on your child’s interests as well as his or her aesthetic and intellectual abilities. Find opportunities that encourage your child to:
- Find art in the everyday world (calendars, book illustrations, paintings in the home,murals in libraries, elements in architecture, design of ornamental gardens, monuments, and sculpture). Play a game when traveling in which your child searches for artworks in the environment.
- Visit a library or bookstore. The librarian or bookstore clerk can identify books honored for their outstanding illustrations.
- Look for patterns in the visual world (identify shapes or patterns formed by artistic elements in buildings) or search for similarities or differences in common objects.
- Talk about artwork by describing actual works of art. Most young viewers relate a possible story that comes from the image. Other ways to talk about art include exploration of line, shape, color, and texture.
- Make up a story that is related to the content of the artwork (for example, pretend to be a character in a painting and tell what is happening).
- Express personal ideas and feelings about individual works of art. Value your child’s perspective.
- Recognize art as an important aspect of life that represents different places and different cultures around the world. Art offers children a worldview.
Share and enjoy art with your child. Read about, look at, and talk about works of art that you encounter. Conversations should be casual, not like a test or lecture. Expose your child to art from different cultures and times in history. Encourage your child to talk about works of art by making comparisons, finding similarities, and identifying differences.
Museums, Galleries, and Art Centers
Museums house cultural artifacts, natural specimens, and works of art that
all have visual attributes. Children enjoy looking at and talking about
these objects by drawing parallels to their own lives and experiences.
There are many wonderful books that introduce museums and encourage
children to think about their role in the world.
A successful trip to a museum requires some thought and planning in advance, but the rewards will be well worth the time invested. The museum visit should build on specific interests of your child. Kids enamored with collecting bugs in the backyard will probably be interested in collections of insects at a science museum or a nature center to learn more about these unusual creatures. A budding interest in ballet expressed by a young child taking dance lessons might suggest a visit to an art museum to see paintings and sculptures of dancers. Whatever the preference, it is important to select exhibits or works of art that have a common idea or theme for your tour.
A visit to a museum should be fun and inspiring! Beyond planning your
visit with your child’s interests in mind, remember that selecting a few
pertinent exhibits or galleries is typically more effective than touring
the entire museum.Value your child’s responses. It is likely that your
child will show an interest in something not included in your plans.When
you demonstrate respect for your child’s point of view, you enhance your
child’s overall experience and attitude about museums.
Museums have different types of presentations. Look for interactive exhibits, special tours or programs designed for young children, and publications that offer suggestions that relate to specific exhibits. Family guides often highlight exhibits that appeal to the young visitor as well as suggest activities for engaging the child in a meaningful encounter with the art.
Art museums are often the most challenging environments for young children. For young children, keep the gallery activities simple. Think about those that would engage your child:
- Read a children’s book that relates to your museum visit. Reading can take place at home or at the museum. Select a book that has a theme that relates to the art you plan to see. Some works of art actually have children’s books written about them.
- See several different artworks that relate to the same theme.
- Create a personalized tour for your child using postcards from the gift shop. (Purchase the postcards before you bring your child to the museum.) Your child can look at and talk about the postcards before the visit to the museum. Encourage your child to think about the artwork. Since the postcard doesn’t show the actual size of the artwork, it is fun for a child to guess whether the actual work is large or small. During the visit, finding the works of art will add an interesting dimension to the experience.
- Orient the museum visit in a different way each time you go. For example, plan a “shape” day and look for shapes in art. Each time your child spies a particular shape, let him or her pretend to draw the shape in the air. Look for shapes in your environment on the way home. Once you return, let your child make a drawing using different shapes or create a collage using cutout shapes.
- Ask your child to strike a pose similar to that of a figure in a sculpture.
- Encourage your child to use his or her imagination through storytelling or pretend play. For example, when looking at a painting of royalty, let your child pretend to be the king. Ask your child to wear a majestic robe and crown and make up a story about the king.
- Allow your child to pick a favorite art postcard from the gift shop following the museum visit. Buy two of the same card and help your child begin a collection. After several visits, the cards can be used for a matching game at home. Cards can also be used for storytelling games or for planning future museum visits. Returning to see old favorites at the museum is often fun for a child. When relatives visit from out of town, your child can plan the tour using favorite artworks.
- Encourage an older child to sketch with pencil and paper something interesting found in the art galleries.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.
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