Responding Appropriately to Children's Art (page 2)
Two-year-old Katie likes to curl up with Kirstie, a border collie, while she is looking at books and produces a scribble that she names Kirstie. Young children do not separate their sensory impressions from one another, nor do they dichotomize feelings and ideas as adults are prone to do. Maybe Katie’s scribble goes beyond the visual image that she has of the dog and represents the softness of the animal’s fur or the pleasurable feeling of being surrounded by warmth and closeness. The adult who remarks, “Very good, but what happened to the dog’s tail?” or demands, “What is it?” fails to appreciate young children’s early forms of artistic expression. Davis and Gardner (1992) reported that when they asked a young preschooler to draw “a scary house,” the child obliged by drawing a regular-looking house, but growled all the while he drew it! Sometimes, children are simply exploring an artistic medium—for example, the sensory pleasure of squishing clay into different shapes or gliding a crayon across the page.
As you respond to children’s artwork, keep the following guiding principles in mind:
- Treat child artists and their work with respect. Let children know that their work is valued by displaying it proudly, helping them transport it home safely, and finding something positive to say about their work (Rankin, 1995).
- Emphasize feelings and responses. Rather than treating art as an assembly task or an exercise in following directions, encourage children to explore emotions via the arts.
- Suggest alternatives when children seem stalled or frustrated. Ask questions that will help children to take a different approach or perspective rather than falling into a rut or quitting in frustration. Encourage children to persist when tasks are challenging rather than becoming discouraged if the way to proceed is not clear or obvious.
- Help children sort out what is essential from what is unnecessary. Teach them the skill of emphasizing what is most important in their creative products and help them understand that many times “less is more” and aesthetic experiences are improved by the elimination of extraneous details.
- Guide children in doing their best. Do not encourage or accept slapdash work. When it is clear that children did not produce their best work, try to find out why and give them an opportunity to revise and excel.
- Recognize children’s efforts. Encourage self-evaluation and avoid a contest mentality. It is better to encourage all children than to single out a few for prizes (adapted from Cohen & Gainer, 1995).
Generally speaking, it is best to rely on artistic elements when discussing art with very young children. You could comment on color (“Look at all that yellow, Ishaka!”), on arrangement (“Lester, you covered the whole page with paint”), texture (“This clay feels smooth now that you rolled it out”), line (“I see the interesting patterns you made with the toothpick and paint on your paper, Claudia”), or shape (“Stevie and Alexei made lots of small round bubbles. Kerri and Man-Li made one big long bubble”). For older children who are creating representational art, it is best to follow the children’s lead. You might begin by saying, “Tell me about your picture,” and then follow the child’s lead in the discussion. It is best to really notice what children are working to accomplish through art and remark on it rather than pass judgment on the quality of the work.
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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