How do I know what to teach my child in art? What is developmentally appropriate?
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
A child's art journey can be divided into three phases at the elementary level
In addition, they develop skills and thinking in three distinct areas
Creativity- developing ideas, generating ideas, combining ideas, and experimenting with ideas
Media Skills-using art materials appropriately and skillfully
Fundamental Concepts-elements of art like color and form as well as the principles of design such as balance and visual unity
1. Representation: Ktg-1st grade usually
Usually, but not always, children start to create representational images just before starting kindergarten. At this point, creativity is NOT a problem, generally. They will throw ideas together without hesitation. They will use lines and shapes and assign them meaning in ways which may not be particularly clear to the viewer.
Creativity: Logic and Detail
To channel this powerhouse of creative thinking, start by asking them questions about their work such as, "Tell me about your drawing." and ask them questions like, "Does your goldfish have eyelashes because it is a girl?". Don't tell them that is not possible, they will figure all that out on their own time.
If you decide to try out our products, you will see that the projects in the "Garden Friends" and "2Dee 3Dee" packs are specifically designed to begin thinking about how lines and shapes can be used to represent snails, alligators, or fish.
This is also a good time to introduce the idea of detail. What makes an alligator look like an alligator? Adding details to their work is the first step in developing creative thinking. You will notice that detail is an important part of the early learning we do in arted4kiddos.
Be careful to introduce new learning very gradually and to revisit previous learning often. We don't want them to become overwhelmed. In addition, try to help them to generate logical ideas without devaluing the somewhat wacky ideas they sometimes come up with.
Media Skills: Use media appropriately
Regarding media skills, first address proper use of materials in a systematic way, gradually. Show them how to hold or use materials, keep an eye on them and make corrections as needed. If you listen to my video, you will hear me use phrases like "milk the cow" and "hold your brush so it is a happy puppy dog tail” . That is me addressing proper use of materials.
If you have concerns about the quality of your child's work, check out blog V: "My child's art is a mess!". I address work quality there. I will say that, often poor media skills are a matter of developing fine motor skills or hand strength.
The best way to develop hand strength and fine motor skills is to use them . Give it time, this is a real challenge for some learners, especially some boys. We all know people who never developed super duper skills at "fiddly work". It isn't a "make or break" limitation" for most. However, it can make things more frustrating for them, or even present career limitations. Mechanics, medical professionals, and chiefs all need great fine motor skills to be effective.
Fundamental Concepts: Build Vocabulary
Finally, at this early age the main goal in fundamental concepts of art is to help them build a basic art vocabulary through creation and conversation. Words are thoughts and the fundamentals of art are the mental "toolbox" an artist uses to express their ideas. I encourage you to use art vocabulary in day to day conversation. Say things like, "I think you like the super fuzzy texture of this stuffed animal." or "Do you want to wear the striped shirt or polka dotted pattern today?"
Once again, each Grab and Go Pack has an emphasis on a fundamental concept of art. I want that "toolbox" full of language and learning that they can use over and over!
2. Communication: 2nd-3rd grade usually
Usually between 1st and 2nd grade kiddos have moved on from simply representing a subject to wanting to communicate an idea or tell a story with their work. They start to become slightly more critical of their work and develop an interest in learning how to create "realistic" looking images.
In my experience, third grade can be a difficult period for art learners. Critical thinking sometimes develops faster than art skills, and learners can become frustrated and discouraged. It is enormously important at this point to put growth mindset thinking into high gear. Encourage audacity, by saying things like, "I know you feel a little frustrated with how this turned out, but I am so proud of you for taking on such a huge challenge."
Also, as I explain in greater detail in the assessing learning blog, try to give feedback about effort and focus. Instead of saying, "You are such an artist!" , say "You worked so hard on that". In addition, focus on progress, don't say "You didn't get it", say "You didn't quite get it YET". For example, when you talk to them about their work, if they want to focus on what did not go particularly well, say something like, "Well, maybe you haven't quite got close and far down YET, but your use of pattern is wonderful!".
In contrast, the worst thing you can do is to tell your child everything they do is wonderful. They know that is NOT the case. This will manifest into a child that will not be able to handle honest feedback or worse still won't believe you when you honestly think they did well.
If you want to learn more about growth mindset this video from Carol Dweck is a good start.
Creativity: Combine ideas and use visual resources
All that being said, the key to creative thinking at this age is to provide them with visual resources and to encourage them to combine ideas to create their own unique works of art. It gives them a safety net to allow them to embrace challenges more happily. Also, explore symbols, with the goal of understanding that symbols communicate ideas.
Media Skills: Use medial skillfully
Media skills and fundamental concepts just keep moving along. Those early media skills are refined and built upon. They will use the elements of art in increasingly complex ways.
Fundamental Concepts: Use fundamental concepts to communicate a feeling or idea
Building on the vocabulary they have developed, learners begin to make choices about their work, such as choosing colors to communicate the idea of a stormy sea. In arted4kiddos, we try to expand their understanding of the principles of design and elements of art systematically, one project at a time.
Expression: 4th grade and older usually
Between 3rd and 5th grade, most learners will start to understand that art can express many ideas and emotions.
Creativity: Create art that is Personal and meaningful AND learn creative processes
Creativity at this age can dwindle if learners are overly focused on "fitting in". If you think back, all of us can probably remember a late elementary school or middle school experience where we were singled out in a way that made us feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.
Think about projects that are based on creating art that is personal and meaningful. By making a project where the focus is on their individuality, "fitting in" is negated. We created the "Art of Idea" pack with this in mind.
Also, focus on brainstorming, generating multiple solutions through sketches and experimentation with materials. The goal here is to get them to consider multiple solutions and not jump onto the first idea that comes to mind. When working with my students, I encouraged them not to use their first idea. because it was usually an obvious solution that most people will also come up with. I used the expression, we want to "mine for gold, not pick up rocks!"
Unique, interesting solutions take time and persistence. This is discussed in greater detail in Blog VI: How do I nurture creativity in my child?"
Media Skills: Use art materials intentionally
At this stage, move on to more advanced media skills. Work more with advanced techniques like layering and blending colors.
Fundamental Concepts: Use the fundamental concepts to express an idea or feeling
Begin to consider how they can use line, shape color or form to express a feeling or mood. They should be encouraged to think deeply about how artists, and themselves as artists, use their picture space. This is addressed very gradually in arted4kiddos starting in the "Owls and Octopuses'' and "Outer Space Place" packs and reaches its fruition in the "Art of Ideas"
If you take a good look at arted4kiddos, I hope you will be able to recognize the learning described here. It is a journey that every child takes in his or her own unique way. There will be fits and starts, and moments when they will soar and moments when they will crash. As they move along, they will develop greater self acceptance and hopefully come to appreciate the value of taking a little trip on the struggle bus from time to time. There is no greater power than the ability to try, fail, and try again!