Building Art Smarts

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
—Pablo Picasso

Most young children have a natural desire to explore their creativity Ongoing arts involvement gives young people the opportunity to maintain and even expand these interests, skills, and aspects of their personalities that aren’t often drawn out in other activities such as school. Arts involvement can be fairly simple; it doesn’t have to include—but can—signing up for special programs. Here are some suggestions that span the years from birth to age 18:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Dance with children to all kinds of music. Let them move with the music and create their own rhythms.
    • Display children’s art at work, at home, or anywhere. Keep the focus on how much your children enjoy the arts or new skills they are developing, rather than on assessing the quality of their work.
    • Anticipate and tolerate messes. Give children freedom to create within a certain space. Keep in mind that setup and cleanup may take longer than the activities themselves.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Introduce children to the work of famous artists such as Rembrandt, Grandma Moses, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Pablo Picasso, Sesshu, and the Yoruba of Nigeria. Learn with them a few facts about these artists’ lives.
    • Ask children which arts they enjoy most at school—do they prefer music, drawing, theater, or dance? Help them develop their interests outside of school. For example, enroll children in community programs or parks and recreation department activities.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Encourage your children to get involved with the arts, but certainly don’t push your own “agenda.” As much as possible, let them choose what to do—play an instrument, act, sing, dance, paint, write, draw, throw pots—whatever interests them. Provide instruments, materials, or lessons if possible and appropriate.
    • Make the arts part of everyday life in your home. Explore different types of music; attend plays, musicals, concerts, dance performances, films, and operas as a family; visit art museums and cultural centers. Be sure to let your children choose some of the activities.
    • Learn to “let go” of your children’s artistic pursuits. At this point in their lives they are exploring who they are and what they like and want to do. Part of that may be that they set aside for now things for which they have a lot of talent. As hard as that can be for a parent to watch, they may be more inclined to come back to it on their own if they get to make that choice.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • If you played an instrument when you were younger, take a refresher course. Then set a good example and practice often. Or join a choir, try out for a play, pick up a paintbrush, or write a poem. Share your excitement with your children.
    • Practice can be a big pain—for parents and young people alike. Be clear about your boundaries related to practice and pay attention to your children’s enjoyment of it or lack thereof. You might, for example, say that you will pay for music lessons as long as your adolescent is practicing as assigned by the teacher. Another possibility is to put your children in charge of their own practicing and let them deal with the natural consequences of their choices.
  • Be open to a wide variety of arts-related experiences. Scan the newspapers for notices of free performances. Encourage your children to keep you informed about school plays, band concerts, and art exhibits, and attend them as a family.

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