Scene: A kitchen. Rain splatters against the window. Reams of paper of all sizes and colours sit in piles around the room. Pencils, crayons, markers, and chalk of every colour overflow from nearby jars. A large brand-new white board stands in the corner.
Characters: A mom stands by her 4 year old son and the new whiteboard that has gone untouched since it was bought 2 days previously.
Son: “Mom – I’m bored!”
Mom: “Why don’t you do some drawing honey? I’d love to see you give your new whiteboard a try!”
Son: (long pause) “But I can’t draw good, Mom.”
This was my kitchen. My mass of unused art supplies. And my disheartened son just a few months ago. And it nearly broke my heart to hear him say those words.
I can’t tell you how much things have changed since that day – and all it took was one sentence with the right words which I will share with you today.
Read on to find out how you too can boost your child’s creativity!
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What I Said That Made a Difference
“What would you draw if there was NO right or wrong way to draw, honey?”
It was a line that I borrowed from this amazing book I had just read called Kids Play: Igniting Children’s Creativity.
After those simple words, my son looked up at me and said, “Really?” with a hopeful smile.
I nodded yes, and then said, “There is no right or wrong way to do art honey. Art is about feeling and expressing whatever YOU want.”
Immediately he turned to the board, picked up a marker and started creating! He drew people, and maps, and cars that day – and the doodling hasn’t stopped yet!
Why is a Child’s Creativity Worth Actively Supporting?
I’ve never really thought deeply about why I want to encourage my son, “Onetime” to be creative. I guess it’s just something that I value and have always tried to support.
In my life, creative activities help me decompress from stress, and are a constant source of joy, inspiration, and excitement. I’d like my son to experience this too.
When I did a little research, I found that a child’s creativity is linked to both mental well-being and physical health.
Creative arts activities can also help build confidence and self-esteem and even help kids feel like they have more control over the world around them – a characteristic of resilient thinking.
Creativity is not limited to the Arts of course, but I wanted to focus on it today mostly because art is an activity that most kids engage in when they’re young.
It’s also an area where early experiences can make a big difference to kids’ perceptions of themselves and their creative confidence as they grow.
What I Learned About Supporting Creativity
Whether your child has talent with a paintbrush or not, there are definitely things we can DO, and SAY, as parents and teachers to help make sure that these early experiences are leading them towards their creative sides – rather than away.
All Children Are Creative…
All children are creative. Research shows they are actually born this way. Even Picasso would agree…
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.~Pablo Picasso
So Why Don’t They All Think That?
So how then, did my son get to the point of thinking that he “couldn’t draw” by the age of barely 4?
Well, according to Kids Play: Igniting Children’s Creativity, and another awesome book I read called The Art of Teaching Art to Children: In School and at Home, when kids experience certain kinds of events, their creativity may be suppressed.
Sure enough – I quickly found out that some of the things that I had regularly been saying to my son when he was engaging in drawing and painting, although well-intentioned, may have negatively affected his creativity and his confidence.
To help share this information with you, I picked 10 of the best tips from the books I mentioned, and have summarized them below.
Whether your child is still young like mine, or even if they are older and maybe already saying things like, “I’m not good at art,” take heart, it’s probably not too late to turn things around if you follow these 10 simple tips!
10 Ways to Help Your Kids Be More Creative
1. Let your child decide WHAT to paint, draw, or build. Provide the materials and let them use their intuition to create.
Kids don’t need to be given topics or projects to create.
Most will just be happy to explore the materials and to create what is meaningful to them.
In art as in love, instinct is enough.~Anatole France
If your child is stuck, and looks to you for direction, try engaging them in a discussion about what is going on with them in their life right now.
Ask lots of questions about their friends, interests, and favourite activities – and soon the spark of an idea should light up!
Artists instinctively want to reflect humanity, their own and each other’s, in all its intermittent virtue and vitality, frailty and fallibility.~Tom Hiddleston
2. Try to comment as little as possible on your child’s art.
Avoid compliments as well as criticisms or judgements.
It might seem obvious to avoid negative comments like “That’s a little too dark,” or “This looks a little messy in this part.”
But even positive comments like “Great job!” “That’s beautiful! You’re a wonderful painter!” convey the message that art is to be completed in order to be evaluated by others.
Asking a child to explain why they depicted something a certain way, or in a certain style or colour – can also have the same effect as a criticism. They may perceive that you are evaluating their work and have somehow found it lacking.
An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.~J. D. Salinger
True art is about self-expression and the internal process of the artist. It should not need to be judged or evaluated.
Also, if you think about it, when you add your judgements (positive or negative) to a child’s piece of work, it takes the child’s focus away from what they think and feel themselves about their own work.
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.~Thomas Merton
3. Avoid imposing YOUR interpretations onto your child’s artwork.
Saying things like, “This looks like a ….” often goes wrong when we incorrectly label what the child has created.
Have you done this too? I’m definitely guilty of this, and my son often responded with frustration and anger. “That’s not a train Mommy – that’s a MAP!!!”
Even if you avoid making my mistake above, this kind of comment also assumes that the child was TRYING to paint or draw something specific – when they may have just been playing with colour or design!
Art doesn’t have to make sense, look realistic, or be representative of anything at all! (Just visit the MoMA in NYC if you don’t believe me!)
“A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind.”~Eugene Ionesco
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”~Aristotle
4. If drawing or painting, give your child plain white paper.
What better to stimulate and allow creativity than a blank slate?
These authors also were strongly ANTI-COLOURING SHEET advocates and I have to agree for the most part. There are better ways to give kids a fine-motor workout after all.
The problem with colouring sheets is that they reinforce that there is a right and wrong way to depict something and that art does not require self-expression, or creativity, or intuition.
I think Leonardo would agree with nixing the colouring sheets – don’t you?
5. Resist the impulse to correct “mistakes.” Do not expect children’s art to be realistic.
If allowed to create often and freely, children’s representations of people and places, will eventually and naturally, come to reflect more accurate proportions.
In the meantime, their depictions give you invaluable insight into how they are perceiving the world at this time.
If they haven’t previously been taught how to draw people, children’s depictions of the human body can even be used to assess their cognitive development! Cool huh?
“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”~Oscar Wilde
6. Avoid drawing for them or showing them how to draw things.
If you show kids how to draw certain things (e.g. how to draw a stick person or tree or a sun), you will lose that window of insight into how they are perceiving the world.
Even worse, the symbols that are typically taught, like the sun as a ball with spokes coming out of it, or the stereotypical stick man or house, actually interfere with and override their ability to create accurate depictions.
Besides, there is no right or wrong way to draw anything! Didn’t you read the Oscar Wilde quote above? Here are some more good ones:
“Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.”~Leo Tolstoy
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”~Edward de Bono
7. Focus on the PROCESS and don’t worry about the end-product.
Here is a shocker: Every piece of your child’s art does not need to be displayed… or…take a deep breath now…even kept!
(So says I with a huge portfolio of every silly little piece of art my son has ever done. I didn’t say I was following this to a T did I?)
Asking, “Would you like to keep this? or Would you like to put this up?” allows the artist to have control over the piece.
And remember, when a child’s artwork is displayed, it becomes open to judgement from others…just something to think about…
8. Allow kids to make their OWN artistic decisions.
Do these questions sound familiar?
“What colour do you think I should use?” or “How do you draw a …..?”
At the beginning of a school year, I typically get these questions a lot from my students!
The challenge for us as parents and teachers is to try not to answer these types of questions for kids.
Art is about experimentation and personal expression.
Instead of giving an answer, try saying, “You’re the artist. YOU get to decide!”
“When one paints an ideal, one does not need to limit one’s imagination.”~Ellen Key
“The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.”~Dan Stevens
9. Express confidence in your child’s ability to create.
If it’s difficult for you to not comment on your child’s art (like it is for me!) – you can express interest and confidence in your child by just being present with them while they work.
Smiles and a simple, “Hmmm…” can go a long way towards showing that you are interested in what they are creating!
Remember, when kids are feeling insecure about their ability to create, you can give them support by saying something like I did: “What would you paint/draw if there was no right or wrong way to do it?”
And if they ask you, “Do you like it?” You can always answer something like, “What matters more is what YOU think of it. Do YOU like it?”
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”~Vincent Van Gogh
10. Let your child get messy!
Artists and highly creative people are often viewed as messy aren’t they? Do you think this is true? I do – and I am!
Personally, I just think that it’s easier to create when I can see all my different supplies gathered around me! And why would I want to clean them all up, just to get them all out again the next time inspiration strikes?
That being said, my art teacher husband would disagree…so it’s not a universal truth.
But seriously, you don’t want to worry so much about paint colours getting mixed up, or getting spills on the floor, that your child doesn’t feel free to experiment.
Just be as proactive as possible, and then try not to interfere!
Make sure the kids have old clothes/art smocks (old oversized t-shirts work great) and the area is covered with a drop sheet or newspapers or a garbage bag.
“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.”~Ken Robinson
What Is Art? New understandings…
Art is a personal expression of how an individual views the world.
It is not a series of skills that are designed to create beautiful products or pieces.
It is not a group of rules to be taught and followed, and regurgitated.
It is your child’s inner life. It is their spirit and feelings and thoughts all intertwined.
It is energy.
It is CREATIVITY!
How My Son’s Creativity Has Grown – an epilogue!
This summer will now officially be known as the “summer of the whiteboard.”
After that day when I chose the right words and Onetime began drawing – he drew more and more, and I could see his confidence and his creativity grow in leaps and bounds.
When he draws now, his shoulders are relaxed, his focus sharpens, and his joy is evident. And I couldn’t be happier…for him.
Process Art Projects on One Time Through
Looking for ideas for providing a variety of open-ended, art experiences? Check out these posts on our blog:
Open-Ended Autumn Art Projects | Car Wash Painting | Fizzy Art | Eggy Art | 3D Snowball Sculptures |Fireworks Painting | SpicyProcess Art | Painting with Mirrors | Seedy CDs |
Other Awesome Art Ideas
How to Set Up a Simple and Inexpensive Art Studio for Kids | The Practical Mom
DIY Cardboard Easel | Art Bar Blog
Colored Salt Painting | A Little Pinch of Perfect
Dice Art Game | Totschooling
Preschooler Art with Watercolor Masking | The Practical Mom
Process Art A to Z | The Measured Mom
Recommended Art Resource
Have you seen any of the kids art books by Mary Ann Kohl? I’ve borrowed a bunch of them from our local library and they are all fantastic!
I just received a copy of Mary Ann’s latest book in the mail: Action ART: HANDS-ON ACTIVE ART ADVENTURES – and it’s amazing!
It is filled with over 100 active and exciting hands-on art experiences for kids ages 2 to 12.
This is not just a book with ideas that are nice in theory – these are kid-tested and approved artistic “adventures!”
Each activity includes beautiful colour pictures of kids engaging in the artistic process, a list of needed materials, and plenty of tips for setting up, cleaning up and extending the creativity and fun.
In my opinion, it’s a must-have for every parent and teacher who wants to boost their kids’ creativity through art.
P.S. You can also spot a few pictures of Onetime on pages 68 and 69! 😉
Follow One Time Through’s board Open-Ended Art Activities on Pinterest.
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Happy art adventures!
Sarah Rosensweet says
Really great! I wish my parents/teachers had those suggestions when I was growing up. I remember the exact drawing where my perfectionism got in the way of my creativity.
Abi Parayno says
Thanks for this very inspiring and enlightening article. By the way, if we are not allowed to ask/comment/say “Good job!”, then how do we parents/teachers react when my child shows me her artwork? What are the things I should or may say?
Thanks! Looking forward to your reply.
Sue Lively says
Hi Abi! It’s a great question that I asked myself as well as I was reading and taking in this advice myself. If I’m there when they’re working, I try to stick to comments that describe how I see the child feeling or reacting. For example: “You’re really focusing hard on this painting!” or “I can see you’re really taking your time with this!” or “It looks like you’re having fun experimenting with big/quick strokes today!” If I don’t see the child creating their work, and they just show it to me, or ask “Do you like it?” or something similar, I try to reflect their question back to them by saying something like, “Do YOU like it?” or “What do YOU think about it?” or “How did it make you feel to paint/draw this?” or “I can tell you’re really proud of yourself!” If they press me to get an evaluation, I might say something like, “I feel happy/sad/inspired by this drawing/painting because the colours remind me of…/or it makes me think of…” I try to avoid evaluating it as good (or not so good! LOL!) It’s not easy and I’m still trying to figure out what to say to avoid evaluating, but usually when I reflect and mention that they seem proud of their work – the kids and my son feel recognized and pleased! Hope this helps Abi – thanks for dropping by! Best, Sue