Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around creative art projects my mother involved me in. Finger painting, mural making, holiday crafts—they were all great fun and seemed to just materialize out of nowhere. Now that I have a 3-year-old I realize just how much thought and work it can take to keep a steady stream of creative, age-appropriate activities at the ready. To help us parents who need a little guidance in fostering our kids’ creativity, Jean Van’t Hul’s new book The Artful Parent is a welcome resource. Van’t Hul’s has a blog of the same name where she writes about children’s art and provides lots of fun project ideas. Here are a few things I learned about making art with kids, plus a fun project from the book.
1. Focus on the process, not the product. The philosophy behind all of all the project ideas in The Artful Parent is “process” art, which stresses the open-ended exploration of materials and techniques rather than “finished” products. This approach helps build children’s confidence and their ability to think flexibly and take risks. Our job is to make the materials available, then get out of the way and restrain ourselves from showing them the “right” way to do things.
2. Accept the mess. While it’s fun to watch a child encounter new materials and experiment with them, art can get messy—fast. Van’t Hul offers lots of suggestions for ways to set up art spaces that let kids have fun without too much destruction, like letting your toddler paint in his high chair, using finger paint in the bathtub or using the materials outside.
3. Make time for it. With busy schedules, time for art can sometimes seem scarce. So if it’s important to you, try scheduling it in like any other activity. Or, it can be as simple as setting out some supplies for a quick after-lunch drawing session. If your children are old enough to use art materials with minimal supervision, set them up with a project while you prepare dinner rather than turning on the TV or video games. (I can’t wait for the day I can leave my daughter alone with pots of paint.)
4. Strew. I love this sneaky idea from Van’t Hul: She suggests “strewing” the seeds of activity strategically around the house where your kids will encounter them in their own time. Leave playdough and some kitchen tools on the kitchen table; leave window crayons or window markers in a cup on a windowsill; or sort beans, rice and pasta into muffin tin sections and leave it next to some glue and card stock. Few kids will resist diving right in.
5. Stock up on supplies. Have you been in a crafts store lately? The choices are overwhelming. Van’t Hul devotes a chapter to choosing materials and suggests starting with the basics—crayons, markers, paints, paper, scissors, tape, playdough, glue—and building slowing from there. She also includes recipes for homemade art supplies, like playdough and puffy paint, and lists of household items that kids can create with. (Toothpicks and marshmallow for sculptures—genius!)
6. Don’t call it “pretty.” Finally, Van’t Hul stresses that the way we talk to kids about art is just as important as providing the supplies. Your impulse may be to praise every sloppy painting or try to guess what your child is trying to draw, but Van’t Hul says these comments aren’t terribly helpful and can actually backfire. (If she thinks she drew a lion and you call it a mouse, she might start to doubt her ability.) Instead, ask your child to tell you about his artwork, talk about what your child is doing (example: You used lots of red on this one!), comment on how hard he is working, or just shut up and let him have fun.
Here’s a fun project from the book, which includes more than 60 art project for children ages 1 to 8. I tried this with my daughter, but she was more interested in sticking the contact paper on her body, the wall and the cat so we didn’t get very far. Maybe next time—embrace the process, right?
Contact Paper Suncatchers
Colored tissue paper
Clear contact paper
Feathers, flowers, natural items and ribbon (optional)
1. Tear or cut the tissue paper into small pieces.
2. Cut the contact paper into a square or whatever shape and size you want your suncatcher to be. This is the base of the suncatcher.
3. Tape the contact paper down, backing side up, on the table. Use small curls of tape on the clear side of the contact sheet.
4. Pull off the protective paper cover.
5. Stick pieces of colored tissue paper to the sticky contact paper. Add natural items, feathers or ribbon, or use them instead of the tissue paper, if desired.
6. When you’re satisfied with your design, cut another piece of contact paper to cover the first. Peel off the backing and lay it on top, sticky side to sticky side.
7. Trim the edges and add a masking tape frame, if desired.
8. Hang in the window and let the light shine through your suncatcher!
For more kids’ art ideas, follow Jean Van’t Hul on Pinterest.