My Child Won’t Sit for Art Projects
How do you engage a child in art when they are not drawn to it? My Pinterest board is busting with ideas for child-lead art creations. My oldest child, however, has shown interest in everything except art. Until he was 3 years old, he would scribble for a while, then leave. This was definitely age appropriate and his scribblings were welcome, age appropriate artwork. But his interest did not seem to lengthen with age. I would try coloring next to him, using paint, markers, pen, anything. Nothing grabbed his interest for more than 30 seconds. I accepted this and helped him to explore other areas of interest for him. Today, as a newly 5 year old, his drawings look very similar to those of his brother, who is 2 years younger. He has begun to explore writing letters on his own time, and creates art on paper when the opportunity presents itself, but it isn’t something he seeks out. In an effort to capture his interest in art, I have thought far outside the box and turned my understanding of the process of art inside out.
Fast forward a few years and I am exploring the world at a 2-3 year old level again with my youngest. He is enthusiastic about art and creating with crayon, marker, paint, water, pen, anything. My list of exciting art projects gets exercised more often now, although I still need to think outside the box to grab the interest of my oldest child. My youngest will commit to an art project and ask for more paper, more paint. He has his own pad of paper (and one for the car) that he loves to draw on with pen. He also loves to draw or paint on his own skin (less now than when he was younger).
Art, and the freedom of expression that this medium provides, is too profound to lose because a child needs help finding their voice in their art. In the same way that children need us to model pretend play, or cheer them on as they learn to walk, or read to them before they can read; we need to actively show them how to incorporate creative art in their play so they can see more possibilities in their own expression. Everything that we do as parents or educators to help children enjoy creating art should be done with gentleness, never force. Children like my son, who are not drawn to art, are still capable of enjoying it. Their pathway to finding their creativeness is simply a different method. What a challenge and joy to help explore other ways of artistic expression with such a child!
The importance of art is known in many fields of child development for it’s benefits. Through art, children develop fine motor skills, process their world and experiences, connect to their world, and tap into their creativity. Art is fun, relaxing, and satisfying to create. When a child needs help finding their artistic voice, we have many options for helping them.
The ideas below are to inspire you to think beyond the crayon and paint brush. Art is all around us. Bringing it close to your child in ways that they can understand artistic creativity will help them find their voice through medium.
The Way We Speak About Their Art
I cannot stress how important it is not to praise your child using qualitative words like “good” when commenting on their artwork. Qualitative words say how you feel about their art, which is completely irrelevant. They should know that they are free to create without approval or disapproval of anyone else. Your choice of words convey this message.
Instead, ask your child how they created their artwork. Do not ask them what they created. Especially for young children, asking them “what” requires them to think concretely instead of remaining in the abstract, dreamy state of childhood. Eventually, as they become older, the answer to your question of how they created art may turn into a description of what it is, but let them come to this at their own time. When you comment on their art (it is difficult not to praise our children), comment on the colors they used or the shapes their brush made on the paper. “Wow, there is red and orange and purple colors in your painting!” or “Wow, here is a circle and some lines!” Simply be a mirror of what you see and let them decide what it is (good, beautiful, etc) and how the accomplishment makes them feel inside.
Using One Color
For young children, or those like my oldest who do not gravitate to paint on paper, a selection of colors can become distracting. When presented with too many color options on the paint pallet, my children spend most of their time blending all the colors on the pallet into a muddy brown mess. By choosing just one (maybe two) colors for the art project, you help the child focus on the creation and less on the many color choices when dipping their brush.
Frequency Matters: The Ritual of Painting
If your child is struggling to find joy in painting or drawing, try making a habit of it. Before you make breakfast each morning, setup watercolors for your child to paint while she waits for breakfast. Or maybe every Sunday morning is painting morning. Children are more likely to enjoy creating when they are not tired or over stimulated, so choose consistent times during your week that give your child a chance to enjoy art when they are in their most calm, focused moments. It’s OK if they choose not to participate in the art routine you have decided on. Go ahead and paint or create while they watch you. They may join you. The more consistent you are with presenting art project opportunities, the more at ease children will be with the idea and may come to expect and welcome it in their routine.
Paint Along & Keep Your Paint to Yourself
Children learn by watching. You can be the best influence to their desire to create by painting, drawing, coloring along side them. Lead by example. It is important to keep your brush, pencil, marker, etc to yourself. Refrain from drawing on your child’s paper or art space, even if they ask you to create an image for them. Their art space is their own. By giving them that space for only their creation it impresses the sacredness and importance of their creativity. If they ask you to draw something for them, do it on your own or a new piece of paper. Say, “this is what my dragon looks like, what does your dragon look like?”
Importance of Scribbling
It is a shame that scribbling has become a derogatory term when describing art. All of us need to explore scribbling, just like we need to crawl before we walk. Scribbling is fundamental to a child’s exploration of paper and writing utensils. From age 18 months all the way up to 3 years old, scribbling is primarily what a child should be expected to do. Encourage this exploration by offering just one crayon color at a time, and plenty of acceptable writing surfaces. Doing so will free the child to fully master and explore the scribbling stage. The same goes for painting.
When they are ready, children around age 3 will move on to making irregular shapes and then to more recognizable images around age 5 to 7. Never should a child be shown how to draw letters or anything by an adult during this phase of their exploration. This is their period of free play in art, the foundation for their creativity and confidence in all later art. A child who has not been given the freedom and environment to scribble may need to do so in order to advance in their own creativity. (For more insight into this and what is developmentally appropriate in art exploration read Young at Art.)
Music to Inspire
When I setup an art activity for my kids, I love to put on some inspiring, calming music. It has been most relaxing for all of us to listen my “Yoga” station on Pandora. Soothing waterfalls and flutes dance in their ears while they paint, draw, or model with clay or beeswax. They seem to stay longer with their art when the music is there.
Watercolor for Small Hands
Watercolor has a way with the page. No matter what happens, it looks dreamy and magical. Watercolor is perfect for budding artists. It is easy to paint with, difficult to make a huge mess, and there is less temptation to mix paint colors. If you are using dry watercolor pallets, explain to your little one how “Mr. Froggie paint brush” dips his toes in the water, wipes them on the edge, and then dips them on the paint before dancing on the page.
Combine your Child’s Interest with an Art Project
Play on your child’s favorite interests to inspire art. If they like dinosaurs, dip the toes of the dino figures in paint and have them dance on the paper. Plastic trucks can make wonderful tread marks on paper and go for a water bath after painting. Fairy dust (glitter) goes onto wet paint or glue nicely. Does your child love playing outside? Create art in nature by collecting leaves, stones, sticks and arrange them in patterns and pictures on the ground. Press some flowers in a flower press and use them in paper art. Try leaf or flower printing with paint to see the different patterns each leaf makes on the paper.
One way to inspire creativity is to make the art materials from nature’s treasures. Go on a nature walk and treasure hunt for anything they find along the walk: leaves, sticks, flowers, stones. Bring your treasures back and create an outdoor art scape or help your child to glue their treasures to paper; paint, print or crayon rub with leaves. My kids love doing this so much that they avidly make these creations themselves. Sometimes they create maps, sometimes they create habitats for spiders or small bugs they find. Most often it is simply a collection of things they find and arrange on the ground. It is a beautiful expression of their creativity.
Art does not need to be only in two dimensions. Bring clay, beeswax or play dough into your child’s art vocabulary. Beeswax is particularly wonderful for younger children because it stays together easier and becomes pliable through the warmth of the hand. After the beeswax is used for one project, it can be warmed and molded again for another art session.
Shape Matters: Sensory Art
When it comes to crayons, both my kids were usually breaking them, peeling off the paper, and making a mess instead of drawing. Because of it, I didn’t take the crayons out as often as other art supplies. Then I found these beeswax rectangle crayons and we fell in love. They fit so nicely in the hand, do not break, and change the sensory experience of drawing with crayon. I highly recommend switching to these. It is nice to have the option to color lines with the corners of the crayon or full blocks of color shading with the sides of the crayon.
Display Their Art
One of the best ways to say you love their artwork is to display it. Wether on the fridge, the wall, or a special art display, wherever you put it, be sure it is someplace where everyone can enjoy it.
Most importantly, enjoy creating together and share in the comments what helps your child enjoy making art!