Every few months, my husband and I have the same argument: he likes a neat, clean, orderly house and children, I allow the girls unfettered access to a wide variety of art supplies. On any given day, my 4-year-old may arrive at preschool with her face covered in watercolor paints pronouncing that she is a butterfly. On other days, she will "tattoo" her arms with Crayola markers, claiming that she is now Kylie the Carnival Fairy. On a few occasions she has experimented with a permanent marker (which contrary to its claim, is not actually permanent).
My husband is horrified by all of this. He doesn't like real tattoos and is nearly as irritated by temporary ones. He thinks that crayons are for paper and chalk is for the sidewalk -- across the street. I, however, believe in the power of self-expression. What better way to express yourself than with magic marker?
I love art. For years I have been knitting, painting, throwing pottery, beading and writing. Doing this with my children allows me to play with them while keeping a sense of self. I can sit at the coffee table drawing with crayons for hours (okay, maybe 40 minutes) without feeling bored or exhausted. The girls know that mommy will always eagerly paint with them, even before I've had my morning caffeine.
Pablo Picasso once said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." From the moment your child masters the pincer grasp, their journey as an artist has begun. For the toddler-as-artist, throwing spaghetti against a white kitchen wall is an experiment with texture and color; tearing up your favorite magazines may be a first effort at collage. As mothers, we can nurture our children's artistic impulses and, as they grow up, offer them opportunities for their creativity to blossom.
For young children, art is about the process, not the product. Creating art does not necessarily mean drawing a recognizable picture of a rainbow or sewing a functional garment. For toddlers, art is the experience of feeling (or smelling, or tasting) the media. Encountering new textures allows their young brains to develop, and what better way to develop than by using all the senses at once?
Art is a crucial aspect of learning for toddlers. As Dr. Charles Fowler, a key spokesman on behalf of arts in education, said, "The arts invite students to be active participants in their world rather than mere observers of it." Creative activities teach children to be independent, to find adventure in a room of cardboard boxes and, importantly, to play on their own. Through art, children learn about colors (and that mixing colors creates new shades) and shapes (which leads to building actual objects), while also developing fine motor and problem-solving skills. Producing art requires that children make choices, think independently, utilize their imaginations and explore nonverbal forms of communication. (And what parent isn't a fan of nonverbal communication?)
Creative art also offers children an opportunity to recognize their emotions and find ways to articulate those feelings to others. Art is often used as a tool by therapists to help children express and work through their worries, fears and wishes. Additionally, art may help children develop empathy. Learning to understand their own emotions helps children better understand other people's feelings.
How to Incorporate Art into Your Home
Many parents are wary of attempting art projects at home. Not only can it be intimidating for the non-crafty, but the clean-up process can also be arduous and time-consuming. Luckily, at the early stages, children need little more than a few materials and a secure environment. Here are a few at-home activities to get you and your child moving artistically. Remember, with each project the goal is the process, not the product.
Need to kill 30 minutes? This activity is a fantastic way to allow paint in the home and keep your sanity. Materials: washable poster paint (such as Palmer Poster Paint Washable), paintbrush, ice cube tray. Directions: Strip your child down to her birthday suit and place into a dry bathtub. Squeeze small amounts of different colored paint into sections of the ice cube tray. Hand your child the tray and give her free range to paint the bathtub, herself, the walls and the faucet. When she is done, hose down both her and the tub. Tips: Craft stores, such as Michael's, sell eight ounce bottles of this paint for around $2. I also highly recommend starting with a dry tub, as paint mixed with water can become slippery.
Beading is a great way to introduce counting, colors and patterns. Discuss the design with your child. Materials: string, beads, Cheerios, pasta Directions: Tie a knot or bead at one end of the string and start beading. Create a bracelet, necklace, anklet, snake or whatever your child imagines. Tips: If the string is not stiff, little hands may have difficulty stringing the beads. Using a blunt tapestry or embroidery needle can help. I also suggest investing in a few plastic trays such as these; not only are they helpful to keep wandering beads in control, but these will come in handy for all projects.
Collages are always an easy activity, the materials can come from your recycling bin. Ask your child to make a "me" collage and you may even discover something new about him. Materials: paper, paint, crayons, magazines, scissors, glue and everything but the kitchen sink. Directions: Find, cut out, and glue anything that catches your fancy onto a piece of paper. Truly, there are no rules to collage making. Tips: Glue sticks are easier for little hands to maneuver and less messy, too.
A square with a triangle on top can create a house. A circle with two small triangles can become a cat's head and ears. This task lets the imagination roam free while re-enforcing geometric concepts. Materials: Cut-out shapes, glue, paper and/or foam shape stickers such as Foamies. Directions: Create scenes using different shapes. Discuss what shapes are used and why. Tips: Investing in a tub of foam shape stickers or pre-cut paper shapes saves a lot of time and paper cuts.
Many child development experts prefer modeling clay to the softer play-dough. The tougher texture helps little hands form muscles, the same muscles needed to hold a pencil or pen. In addition, modeling clay lasts much longer than play-dough, and can easily be stored in a plastic bag. And, at only around a dollar a pack, it is much cheaper. Materials: modeling clay (I like Cra-Z Art) Directions: Open a box and let their tiny imaginations run wild. Tips: Clay can stain more than play-dough, so I suggest using a laminated place mat, or a surface that isn't your favorite.
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