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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Creative Art for Kids

The building blocks of creativity.
If you read the title above and expect a list of art activities for your own kids or some group, read no further. This is not about that. Instead, it's about the rules which should govern such activities with the emphasis on creativity. As one who has taught art at all levels in the public schools, I come to this topic as a shell-shocked veteran deeply familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of so-called "art projects" (a term I detest, by the way). The phrase suggests a violation of the first rule in promoting creative thinking through art. Let me explain:
The children created three on-site 4 ft. x 8 ft. murals with acrylic paints on primed birch plywood. The concepts were based on the children's environmental concern for our planet.
1. Process trumps product. The act of thinking, designing, and fabricating is far more important than any resulting art object, especially if the results involve a usable object--bowl, calendar, note holder, or (God forbid) the catchall ashtray.
Small muscle coordination is a vital goal in choosing
art activities for very young children.
2.Such art activities must teach a broader skill.
All too often the instruction is aimed at the results (even with highly creative activities) but especially if there's a product involved such as a Thanksgiving turkey made with feathers formed with the child's handprint for example. The moment one introduces a fixed form, found object, stencil, or traditional shape (heart, star, circle, etc.) as an intricate part of the design process, the art activity becomes progressively less creative (depending upon their frequency of use). Drawing (hand-eye coordination) is the broader skill to be taught. All else is a form of tracing.

The inspiration was a video clip, followed by the designed
image, and last, the final rendering by a talented six-year-old.
3. Inspiration must come first. It sparks creative thinking. This takes time, often more than the other steps that follow. However it is the most important creative input in promoting the thought processes preliminary to design and fabrication. Video images are good. Something the kid can hold in his or her hand is bad. That facilitates the natural childhood urge to copy. A story read from a book is good. A story made up and told by another student is even better. A whole stack of books from which students can choose is bad.

Choose and use tools with forethought and safety instruction.
4. Tools and materials must be age appropriate. You wouldn't hand a first-grader a hot glue gun. Or in carving a pumpkin, give a butcher knife to a student of any age. Fortunately, insofar as materials are concerned, most manufacturers adhere to industry standards to insure their products are safe for virtually all ages, or to labeling them as such if they're not. It's when adult leaders introduce non-traditional art materials for use by small children that concerns, and injuries arise.
Praise with a smile. It means you're enjoying their art.
5. Praise often, criticize sparingly. The ratio changes as the age of the kids rise. Praise should be (or appear to be) heartfelt. Too much praise, or that which is too effusive, quickly becomes ineffective. And if you think even the youngest children can't tell the difference...think again. As the child-artist grows older, thoughtful praise remains important but constructive criticism gains more and more value as a teaching method. For older kids, too much of either can become counterproductive.
Even the youngest can play art creatively.
6. Art should be fun. The younger the kids, the "funner" it should be. As the student matures, once more the ratio of one to the other changes. The more fun an activity is, the longer the child's attention span will be. This often flies in the face of the fact that it takes little people about twice as long to learn, create, and then clean up, as it does their older counterparts. Even for tweens and teens, though we may term the activity "enjoyable" rather than fun, boredom is a constant problem to combat. Chatter among students is an indication that the activity is lacking in the fun-factor.
Art history and appreciation can begin as young as eight or nine.
For those still yearning for some kind of creative art activity, having poured over the rules, the video below is a "fun" idea, provided its use is compatible with the six rules mentioned above. I especially like the independent preliminary design work and the girl's reliance on parental assistance for safety purposes.


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