Art at the heart of childhood creativity

People disagree on how, precisely, to define it, or where, exactly, it comes from. It isn’t a school subject or an academic discipline, but it can be learned. It is a quality that is required by artists (but it is also present in the lives of scientists and entrepreneurs). All of us benefit from it: we thrive mentally and spiritually when we are able to harness it. It is a delicate thing, easily stamped out; in fact, it flourishes most fully when people are playful and childlike. This mysterious – but teachable – quality is creativity!

As lives are affected by any number of looming challenges – climate crisis, automation in the workplace – humans are going to need creative thinking more than ever. For all of our sakes, creativity in education, and for all, must become a priority.

Regrettably, arts education is now seen as a luxury. The experience of subjects such as art and design, dance, drama and music has become the province of the privileged, whose families can afford to give their young children access to the experiences of arts and culture via well-funded private school art programs and expesive pelegrinages to museums, opera houses and world famous libraries.

Children are not pitchers to be filled solely with facts. The people who have been making these policies in government seem to refuse to learn the lessons of Scandinavian countries, and of Iceland, where there are fully funded arts education systems based on the value of play and on learning through the arts.

Meanwhile, at home, parents can help their youngsters to learn about the arts with these activities:
  • Create a workspace

    Select a spot in your home to make art; tables can be covered and protected to allow your child to have a workspace. The most discouraging thing you can say to a child is, “Don’t make a mess!” Making messes may be just the beginning of the creative process.

  • Gather materials

    Have a designated space to store art supplies that is easily accessible. Some basic materials to have available are drawing paper, construction paper, colored drawing pencils, crayons, markers, oil pastels, watercolors, tempera paint, clay, scissors, glue, rulers, erasers and sketchbooks.

  • Collect examples

    It’s important to have reproductions of works of art available to acquaint your child with artists and styles from different cultures and time periods. You can collect or purchase postcard-size reproductions. Postcard books are available in museum shops or online. Calendars are another source for artwork. You can have your child sort the postcard-size reproductions into landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and action scenes. This is a great way to learn about different genres of art and artists.

  • Talk about artwork

    When your child creates art, ask her to tell you about it and what she was trying to express, rather than asking, “What is this?” Discuss with her what techniques she used — did she use asymmetrical balance? Look for progress in skills and expressiveness and always be encouraging.

  • Display your child’s work

    When your child makes a special piece of art, it deserves to be displayed nicely. How about moving beyond refrigerator magnets to mounting artwork with a simple poster board fame, or buying frames from discount stores or Web sources. Mounting the artwork on a larger piece of construction paper and laminating is also a good way to protect and display. Another display idea is to have an “art wire” and hang the art with clips.