Art and the Young Child

Art and the Young Child

By Karen Ellis
It has been said that Pablo Picasso once was quoted as saying, ”Every child is an artist”, I couldn’t agree more! Give a young child a paintbrush and a container of paint, and they instinctively know what to do. Most children are uninhibited and will apply the paint however they choose without direction or instruction. Give a young artist two paint colors and watch as their face lights up when they discover two colors mixed together will produce a third!

It still excites me (after having taught 46 years in Kindergarten and 18 years in after- school art classes…to Early Education and Elementary aged students) to see young artists at any age discover their creative side. But at the same time, it saddens me when I hear parents or educators say art is just too messy, they don’t have time for it during the academic day, or they don’t think they’re “artistic” enough themselves, so they don’t know what to do to promote creativity in the child entrusted to them.

So, what can a parent or educator do? I say, keep it simple! Get rid of your “adult” inhibitions about art and have fun (even with a one year old)! Mashing bananas with their hands or with a gadget (such as a small potato masher), rearranging Cheerios on their high chair tray, smearing pudding or squishing Jell-O on a giant piece of paper can be the beginning of discovering your child’s creative side (plus, it tastes good, too)! I have vivid memories of my own daughter squeezing ketchup bottles to draw “happy faces” on each cheeseburger she ever ate.

What about lines? Invite your two year old or Early Education student(s) outdoors and give your child or student(s) a stick to play with in the mud or wet sand. Your child can investigate how to make one continuous line all the way around the house or down the driveway. They might discover a “zigzag” line when they push the stick up and pull it down in the wet earth or perhaps a line made out of dots when they see holes appear as they jab the tip of the stick in the mud or wet sand. Another way to create lines outdoors is to use small rocks or leaves to shape curves, wavy lines, and/or dotted lines. Homemade or store-bought Play-Doh is yet another way to explore “thick or thin” and “long or short” lines by using their fine motor skills to roll out “spaghetti”, a “rope”, a “snake”, or a “hot dog”. Let the artist cut “the lines” up with child safe scissors to strengthen their hand muscles, plus it’s just fun to do! Provide different sized brushes (from a thin #1 brush to a wide house painter’s brush) and a container of water to “paint” the sidewalk or driveway. The young artist might inquire why the water lines disappear? A great opportunity for a science lesson on evaporation!

Now, let’s talk about colors! Introduce primary colors by pouring and mixing small amounts of red, blue, and yellow sports beverages into tiny cups. Don’t forget to drink the concoctions, too! You may also have the young artist use an eye dropper (or pipette) to suction the fruit flavored drinks up into the tube and then squirt the liquid onto paper. Another great way to help develop those fine motor skills! Or, if you’re worried about messes, grab three small zip-lock baggies and spoon two primary colored paints into the corners of each zip-lock baggie, seal it, and let the young artist make a secondary color in the center of the bag after mixing it with their fingers from the outside of the bag. Example: yellow and blue to make green, blue and red to make purple, yellow and red to make orange, and all three colors to make brown. A really fun way to mix secondary colors from primary colors is to dribble dots of paint from “dollar store” ketchup and mustard containers. After the young artist has applied paint drops to paper, have the child hold a “used up” gift card or an expired credit card to scrape the dots across the paper. Different directions produce different colors. Drops of paint can be reapplied to create layers of colors.

We’ve talked about lines and color. Now, what about texture? Again, you may use primary colors, secondary colors, or the artist’s favorite colors. Have the artist choose his/her favorite colored paper (provide choices as much as possible to promote the artist’s decision). Provide different types of gadgets: a piece of yarn attached to a clothespin to dredge through the paint, a potato masher for printing (I always provide three different types), a knee-hi filled at the bottom with corn kernels or dried beans for “plopping”, a Lego block for printing, a toy car (to “drive” through the paint), a pancake turner (the dollar store has all different shapes), the tines on the back of a fork, cookie cutters (seasonal, basic shapes, or letters), marbles (action art), lids and caps. Provide a variety of paints in tubs or on flat plates depending on the shape and weight of the gadget. This can be a really fun, successful, child friendly experience!

So, as you can see, it is possible for art to be a fun, uninhibited, positive experience! Art opportunities can promote creativity, choices, and enhance fine motor skills in the young artist. Whether it is your own two year old or you are a teacher in Early Education, you don’t have to be an artist yourself to provide an artistic experience for the young child.

Art and the Young Child Mrs. Ellis has taught Kindergarten for almost 40 years! She has a passion for art and loves to draw out student’s naturally creative minds.


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