It doesn’t require a high level of creativity or skill to teach art at home. Learn how you can teach art to your children without a fine arts degree.
In a previous blog post, I explained how teaching art can help your student grow in several important cognitive areas, such as problem solving, sensory perception, and communication. Now that you understand the benefits of art instruction, let’s look at how you can apply it to a specific activity. Imagine, for example, that you want your student to draw a picture of an animal for science. What kind of instructions would you give? What would you say? The following suggestions will help you help your student get the most from any art project.
Focus on an Essential Element
There are four essential elements of art: line, color, texture, and shape (when referring to two-dimensional art, like drawing or painting) or form (referring to three-dimensional art, such as sculpture or crafts). Decide which element of art you might like to highlight. For the given example of an animal drawing, here’s how you might direct your child to emphasize each of the elements.
Line: Look at the animal and decide what types of lines you might want to use for each part of the drawing. Do you want to use a smooth curve, or would a spiky line be more appropriate?
Color: Study the colors in your animal. Look—see—observe. Which shade of brown most closely matches the animal’s fur: auburn, sepia, mahogany, ochre, bronze? Do you need to mix colors to get the right shade? Notice that the animal isn’t the same color all over. How do the colors of different parts of the animal change related to the light? Can you see other patches of color inside the animal’s fur—an undercoat of white, for example? How can you represent these different colors in your drawing?
Texture: Does the animal’s fur or skin appear to be soft, bumpy, bristly, or smooth? How can you represent that texture on your animal? Will you use different types of lines or colors? Will you use a different medium, such as paint or ink?
Shape or Form: Since this is a two-dimensional drawing, you will be focusing on shape. Look at the overall shape, or outline, of the animal, as well as shapes within. What shape is the eye? Is it perfectly round, or is it more oval? What shape would you draw to represent the claw or the horn?
Offering only drawing experiences limits your child’s ability to express artistic ideas. Consider venturing out in other areas to expand your child’s potential.
Other Techniques: Consider using your tried-and-true drawing tools in other ways. For example, have your child explore other activities with crayons, such as rubbing, melting, etching, and painting over them in resist or batik projects. Pencils and markers can be used with stencils or stamps. Go beyond drawing on standard 8 x 11 paper; try a mural on the wall or a different kind of paper—even sandpaper! Use your imagination or look online for new and creative ideas to try together.
Other Media: Be brave! Let your child explore with chalk, paints, ink, and clay. The learning that takes place will outweigh the mess that is made.
Other Locations: Our homeschool “rite of spring” always involved a trip to a hill overlooking the city. We would sit on the grass and draw cityscapes as we enjoyed the warm sunshine. Think about drawing at the zoo, the park, the playground—anywhere there are interesting things to portray!
Avoid “Creativity Squelchers”
No discussion of teaching art would be complete without mentioning how not to teach art. Here are some practices that you should avoid when guiding your child through an art experience.
Pre-designed Materials: It certainly makes life simpler when you can give your child an adult-designed craft kit and call it art. Unfortunately, this kind of activity does not give him the freedom to stretch his imagination, explore options, or express an idea. While there may be a specific procedure that needs to be followed in an art project, there must be room for the student to plan the end product and how he will get there.
Over-Emphasizing Neatness: Art, unfortunately, is not a neat and tidy proposition. You can teach your child techniques to minimize mess (for example, apply glue with a fingertip or remove excess paint from a brush before application), and you should always teach her how to clean up afterward. Another consideration, however, has to do with the finished product. Children should be encouraged to do their best work, but that might mean some crooked lines or paint that has run. If you (or your child) have perfectionistic tendencies, it is better to resist them and focus on what was gained from an art experience, rather than on how good the product looks.
Giving Too Little Direction: Successful art teachers learn to find the balance between control and freedom. If you give your child some art supplies and head off to do the laundry, it is very likely that he will become frustrated, bored, and/or discouraged. On the other hand, the same feelings can arise if you are hovering over your student, directing every move. Your child needs to control the ideas and the development of the project, but you need to be available for assistance if he arrives at a “dead end.” When you do step in, don’t give answers; instead, ask questions and encourage your child to solve his own problems, re-teaching a specific step or method as needed. As you continue to work through art projects with your child, you will learn how to guide him in a way that is satisfying to you both.
Passing Judgment: When your child asks how you like her drawing, you may be tempted to say, “Oh, that’s beautiful!” or “Great job!” While you may be expressing honest appreciation of your child’s work, continued praise may lead your child to use his art as a way to gain your approval. On the other hand, you might be tempted to point out the mistakes or where your child could have improved, which may lead to discouragement. It is generally more helpful if you invite your child to talk about her work with comments such as, “Tell me about your painting” or “How do you feel about your project?” You can also offer specific, simple observations related to the concepts you were emphasizing, such as, “The oranges and reds give your painting a warm feeling” or “The way you repeat this shape makes an interesting pattern.” Craft your responses to reinforce learning, encourage self-evaluation, and prevent praise-dependency.
Adding some intentional planning and direction and the willingness to experiment can turn a simple art activity into a rewarding, educational, and enriching experience, both for you and your child.