My Child's Art is a Mess! Some strategies to improve art quality without hurting feeling
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
My goal in writing that post is to help you to help your kiddos create art that is successful, and to help them value quality in their work. First, I want to emphasize that creating quality work isn't just about having refrigerator worthy ar
It is about helping your child to develop the trait of what I called patient persistence. I have often heard it called "grit". I don't like the word "grit ''. ...It sounds like something you should get medical treatment for.
There are generally three reasons a child's art can be less than gorgeous:
Fine motor skill development -their little muscular and nervous systems are not fully developed yet
Work habits issues
Delayed or "unique" aesthetic taste issues -the mental skill to be able to judge what is or is not visually effective or appealing
Let's first talk about issues that are not within your child's control and have nothing to do with "grit" or lack thereof.
FINE MOTOR DEVELOPMENT and Physical difficulties:
As I mentioned in the previous post, often boys in particular can lag a bit behind in fine motor development. You will be able to tell if this is the case by watching your child work, if they seem deeply focused ( hunched over their work, sometimes even a tongue will work its way to the corner of the mouth), your learner is concentrating and likely working at their current fine motor development. Therefore, as I said in my earlier post, the best way to develop fine motor skills is to use them. Give them time to develop.
Meanwhile, it is usually helpful to have them work a bit larger. We try to find the right balance with the size of the projects, large enough to accommodate kiddos with fine motor skills issues, yet not so large that hand strength (clay) or stamina will give way.
If you find your child is shaky, a good trick is to rest the working hand onto the other hand. This will help to keep the hand and arm relaxed especially when painting.
A related concern is that some friends tend to draw the way that they write, resting their hand onto the paper and drawing only using the small muscles of the hand. As they age, their art will sometimes get very, very small.
A strategy to use when they are painting or drawing a larger image is to remind them to use their arm and shoulder, not their hand when working. If you see this issue, have them imagine they are stirring a "big bowl of cookie dough" paying attention to what their bodies are doing. This will help with the kinesthetic awareness of what muscles they should be using to work large.
Finally, at about 2nd or 3rd grade, start encouraging them to let their hands float lightly over the paper keeping their hand and arm soft and relaxed. Tell them to hold their pencil or paintbrush softly.
For drawing, you might want to encourage them to hold their pencils further back like artists do. Some will latch onto that right away, some will need more regular reminders, some never really get it (and that is okay too!). However, learning to draw lightly is the key to sketching, which most artists use for everything they do. A light sketching line allows the art to evolve as the artist works on it, because the lines are easy to erase or draw over.
Now let's talk about strategies to help your child learn to value quality in their work, and develop that "patient persistence" mentioned earlier.
WORK HABITS ISSUES IN ART:
The speed racer:
How to slow your child's roll: I found that there were several effective strategies you can employ with those "need for speed" learners. First, you can sit beside them and help them to count while they are working. Challenge them to take 3 or more seconds to draw the line or 8 or more seconds to paint the edge of a shape. You will be able to guess how long it should take by imagining yourself doing it. Another strategy is to encourage them to draw or paint to a waltz beat..1,2,3. 1,2,3. Usually kiddos that work too quickly tend to do everything with 1 count beat.
Some friends tend to hold their breath while working. That is a good thing to double check. I found that simply pointing out that they need to remember to breathe while they work was a relatively quick fix. Art should be a fairly meditative process. Taking a moment to take a breath and reflect on their work should be baked in.
The over-enthusiast: (overstimulated)
Although enthusiasm and humor can be great in the art room, if you are picking up a frantic level of energy or giddiness, remind them to focus and take their time to create quality work. Sometimes, we would stop and take a deep breath in while raising our arms and then slowly lowering them as we exhaled "like snow gently falling on the ground". Sometimes we would even do a little yoga if the room got too wound up. Even taking a water break can do the trick. There is a whole lot of information on classroom mindfulness out there, which I will not get into here
The "I done" (when they are clearly not done), fast finishers:
If they hand in work that seems unfinished, look for "dead zones" where they perhaps have not added anything. Encourage them to balance their work by adding something in that space. Related to that, look for details that may be missing like, "don't sharks have gill slits?", to get them to consider their work more carefully
The I already know what I want to doers:
Often older learners want to skip the preliminary work like brainstorming and working up sketches to jump right into their final project. That is where setting specific tasks for each day can be helpful. If their task goal for that day is to develop two sketches and that is it, they will be far more inclined to face that task more earnestly.
The I too hopped up to stop artist:
A phenomenon that could be best described as "media addiction" can occur. Sometimes kiddos can get so entranced with the sensation of working with a material that they will keep adding and adding until their work is ruined. As every artist knows, the hardest thing in art is knowing when to stop. This is particularly bad when painting or working in clay. This is another occasion where stopping to reflect on their work from time to time is so important.
The I am doing great, always, every day, all the time, I just don't know how this could be better kiddo:
Sometimes we all need to be poured a nice cool glass of reality. Building assessments and self assessments into your kiddos art experiences is so very important. I address assessing in another blog, so I won't go into depth here. However, giving them specific feedback during work time and encouraging them to reflect on their progress at the end of a learning unit (portfolio evaluation) is essential.
AESTHETIC DEVELOPMENT: ...IT JUST LOOKS WEIRD!
I think there is a danger of being overly concerned that a child's art is visually appealing. Sometimes, kiddos simply are not very aesthetically aware. In other words their "taste" just simply isn't that great or is a bit "off". Those learners rarely see the difference, and the ability to aesthetically create or evaluate their work's visual qualities may or may not ever fully develop in them. I like to compare this to my experience trying to learn Spanish. I truly struggled, because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not discern the differences in the sounds. I try to remember that experience when assessing my more aesthetically challenged student's work.
Therefore, it is important to look past the work's aesthetic qualities and focus on the learning and thinking it shows. Also, keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If I was honest, I have no time for the work of Picasso. I know he is a great artist, but I don't like it at all. I would like to think that if young Pablo was in my classroom, I would appreciate the thinking that went into his work and look past my own personal tastes.
Although I did create Arted4kiddos with the goal that learners will be able to work independently, the truth is, sometimes intervention is necessary. It is important to periodically check to see how your learner is progressing, take in their state of mind, and try to redirect them as necessary.
We want our kiddos to grow up understanding that any job worth doing is worth doing well.
I sincerely hope this helps.