Advice on teaching art to 6 year old
September 17, 2014 6:20 AM   Subscribe

My brother decided to home school his six year old daughter. He asked me to help teach her art classes... via FaceTime. Questions below!

I am an artist, but have no experience teaching at all. I have not hung out with children her age for awhile so I need some suggestions on how to go about this. I don't want to get too technical (but I want to teach real concepts like color theory, drawing, sculpting) and I want to make the lessons quick and fun but with solid skill building.

I have done some research on homeschooling and art education so I have some tips but a lot of the projects and lesson plans are a little dull or too crafty and not as artistic as I would like. Can I teach real art concepts to a six year old? How do I gauge her skill level? I don't want to make her lose interest because concepts are over her head. Any suggestions for lesson plans or for teaching six year olds in particular?

Thanks for any advice!
posted by catrae to Education (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here are some ideas (I train teachers). Have fun!

Start with open-ended materials and projects.

Encourage risk-taking and processes, rather than outcomes.

Give plenty of time and space, including time to explore materials, rather than constant monitoring.

Show interest and ask questions- allowing much more time for answers than you might think.

Resist empty praise. Instead of saying "Wow, that is great," say something like, "There are two kinds of red" or "Would you tell me about these lines?"

Allow her plenty of exposure to various forms of art and encourage the adults around her to do the same.

Though there is debate, western children generally progress through a series of stages in their art. This starts with scribbles in an attempt to represent objects as they strive for accuracy. Being supportive of whatever her stage or interest is imperative. Find ways to extend her learning but keep a keen eye on what she wants without pressing what you want! Your lessons or goals should be flexible and reflect her interests.
posted by maya at 6:44 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


[Caveat that I don't know jack about art theory or teaching, just that I spend time around girls that age and often do arty things with them.]

Most kids at that age are only comfortable (or only really understand) representational art. They've graduated from the indeterminate scribbles of toddlerhood and are now drawing things like "mom" and "dad" and "dog" and "house". You see a lot of pictures with the sun up in the corner and a strip of blue sky up top and a strip of green grass down below, with all of the subjects just floating in the middle. Many, many, many kids, if they're not encouraged, never progress beyond that. (We had a kids' night in our office this summer and had a little drawing station; a few of my coworkers sat down to draw with their kids, and you had the same strip of blue strip of green sun in the corner drawings coming from 30something year old men.)

One thing I think it's useful to do is to get them comfortable doing things that are abstract as early as possible. "Draw a happy line. Draw an angry line. Draw how mommy makes you feel." etc.

Color theory is also super important, which I see you mention first, so that's awesome. I am always shocked by how many people (children AND adults) don't know things like blue+yellow=green. Giving her things like 5 colors of paint (primaries, black, and white) and 5 colors of clay and asking her to try to match specific colors like light green and gray and dark orange, something she can just experiment her way through, will be great. Make it like a matching game so it's fun. (Be prepared for lots of poop browns and frustration, but then suggest things like "hey, great start! next time let's see what happens if we only start with two colors!")
posted by phunniemee at 6:48 AM on September 17, 2014


As a child I took a drawing class (which also included some painting) with kids age 7-12, and it was so awesome I'm STILL pining away and wishing I could take the class again, and I'm 28. It was such a formative experience for me.

Here are some things we did. Depending on this 6-year-old's maturity level some may be better or worse.

1. Draw a still life without ever lifting your pencil off the paper. Or, draw a still life without ever looking at your paper.

2. Draw with your toes.

3. Look through huge old books of fashion, sculptures and historical portraits and pick one to copy that seemed especially emotional; make up the story behind the picture and try to "tell it" with your drawing.

4. Draw yourself, looking in the mirror.

5. Draw the same thing 3 times while listening to totally different genres of music and see how your drawings come out different.

6. Draw 3 objects that don't belong together at all (eg. scissors, a recorder and a salt shaker) and try to make them look cozy in the picture.

7. No Eraser Day

8. Draw things from a wacky perspective - from lying down in the grass outside, from underneath a glass table, from the top of the stairs, etc.

9. Draw using 3 colors of colored pencil, attempting to make the drawing appear natural even though the correct colors can't be used.

In terms of technique, the things that stayed with me the most were constant reminders that every time I looked away from my subject, I was forgetting what it looked like (and should look back ASAP), to work to black in at least one spot in every drawing, and to be aware of the strokes I used to color in patches (direction, strength, etc.). And of course: YOU NEED TO DRAW WHAT YOU SEE, NOT HOW YOU IMAGINE THE OBJECT. This is the key.

Also, my mother is a painter (oils and watercolors both), and she teaches art to adults, and I grew up doing TONS of art activities. We had THIS BOOK which I highly recommend!! It includes a lot of introductory exercises for really young kids.

My favorites activities that my mom came up with:

1. Go into a field with a set of watercolors and document flowers; make a little book out of your drawings and voila, your very own field guide! This can be quite a project, starting with drawing and progressing to painting, bookbinding, cover illustration, calligraphy (for the title), and so on.

2. Painting on driftwood. Super cool effect, if you have any.

3. Really basic wood carving. I think I did this when I was 7 or 8, and it definitely involves a sharp knife, so YMMV. I started with a really blocky duck shape and whittled it down.

4. Abstract paintings: make 3, guess which feeling each is supposed to represent.

5. We made simple dolls by sewing together doll cutouts with a simple blanket stitch, and then filling them with bits of old rags. Painted on faces and made yarn hair.

6. POTTERY. I LOVEDLOVEDLOVED making useful objects as a kid. I still have little pinch pots I made and glazed as a 5-year-old. This was probably my favorite of all.

I was always super into abstract art, even as a really young child - it was all about patterns for me. I loved painting elaborate patterns with various repeating colors and shapes. Now that I'm an adult, I wish I'd been taken to see more abstract art. I went to a lot of museums and saw a lot of landscapes, and still lives - not a surprise, that's what my mother's interested in - but I just discovered Hilma af Klint and I bet I would have LOVED that stuff as a young kid.

Thanks for getting me all excited about this! My kid is only 9 months but I can't wait to give him crayons, as soon as he stops eating everything, haha...

My last piece of advice: I think it's totally worth it to teach a young child how to actually draw from life - using correct techniques - and the Drawing with Children book will be a big help there. And it's a pretty useful life skill. But definitely don't make every lesson about learning a concrete skill. Especially with a kid that age, it's as much about expressing your feelings in a totally safe way as any skills.
posted by Cygnet at 7:08 AM on September 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


>http://www.davisart.com/Promotions/SchoolArts/Default.aspx School Arts. Here is a great magazine with a lot of various exercises shared by art teachers with wonderful examples of students work and guidelines for concepts. I hope it's helpful to you.
posted by effluvia at 7:12 AM on September 17, 2014


My preschool was really big on color theory, and there was always an art station set up with pitchers of water, eye droppers, food coloring and little dishes and test tubes so that we could experiment with mixing colors from the primaries, diluting/making the colors stronger, etc. It also had the added benefit of helping with fine motor skills (using the eye dropper, pouring water without spilling). Maybe you could transition from mixing dyes into some sort of tie-dye project?

Seconding pottery as the best thing ever! Pretty much any functional art is great. Marbling paper would be fun too, especially if she likes books or does any projects that can be bound into a homemade book.
posted by snaw at 7:20 AM on September 17, 2014


Starting with the National Standards should give you a good framework.
posted by Sophont at 8:01 AM on September 17, 2014


Field trips to museums. Talk about what unites the works in the room where works are grouped by period. Why are they all considered the same type? Can you see how this work is like that work, even though it's not the same? Talk about the techniques used in particular paintings--not just perspective and composition, but brush techniques, types of materials used, underpainting. Discuss the works in terms of the stories they tell, not just within the frame but also about the artist's society (think portraiture and the use of objects in the paintings to convey status or morals or the use of clothing in Impressionism to discuss a changing society). And talk about what you like and don't, but get into why--is it the color? the feeling the work evokes? or just, honestly, you don't like looking at bowls of fruit?

My mother is an artist who regularly shows in juried exhibitions--I don't do any art but I learned so much from and greatly value all the times my mother walked into galleries and museums all over the world with me (from the time I was four years old until now) and talked to me about techniques and process and the successes and failures of famous art hanging in important museums. It taught me not just about art, but also about seeing and thinking. One of my earliest memories is learning about the sense of play in works by Paul Klee when I was in kindergarten and and one of my favorite moments in life is listening to Mom discussing the use of perspective in the Dead Toreador when I was in the fourth grade.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:26 AM on September 17, 2014


I had wonderful elementary art instruction, and every time I mention that I know a particular art concept from 2nd grade or something, my husband looks at me like I'm from an alien planet. So with that in mind, I'll just use this space to dump all the art units I remember doing as a kid:


  • A Japan unit that happened occasionally. We studied various Japanese aesthetics and made our own Japanese fish kites, origami, and (I think?) some kind of fish prints

  • We took origami fish from the previous lesson and turned them into mobiles after watching a short film on Calder. Later, we took a field trip to D.C. to see some of Calder's mobiles in person.

  • Van Gogh unit, focusing mostly on his painting techniques and color choices, and how vivid and emotionally driven they were. Instead of giving kids oil & turpentine, they half-melted crayons and let us improvise our own brooding (or not so brooding) nighttime outdoor scenes so that we could really build up some layers of "paint" with the still warm crayons as our medium.

  • Edgar Degas - not just the ballerinas, the attempt to figure out how to capture movement in his art. Again, they had some great short film for us about how deliberate Degas was in his study of motion, and the influence of photographer Edward Muybridge (the guy with the racehorse stills, had to look him up) on his work. Previous to this, I'd never considered the process of creating art as something that might involve study.

  • Old-school candle-making, every October, orange candles for Halloween. They'd put a bunch of wax into a dozen or so crockpots, give us each a wick, and we'd go around the table in circles dipping our wicks into melted wax until we got a good-sized candle. Everyone loved this.

  • Learn about Piet Mondrian, then cut out squares and rectangles of construction paper to create your own Composition with [Primary Colors of Your Choice].

  • African mandalas. We looked at a bunch of them, learned a bit about the history of their creation, and then made our own with popsicle sticks wrapped with colored yarn. (I think these are more often referred to as God's Eyes.)

  • Joan MirĂ³ unit with make your own surrealist collages from cut-outs.

  • Vague memory of Cezanne unit and oil pastel still lifes.

  • Vague memory of Frida Kahlo unit and some attempt at self-portraiture?

  • Clay pinch pots. They had a kiln. Huge messes ensued.

  • We learned about Georges Seurat, talked about pointilism as some kind of super-early Magic Eye thing, and then somehow (markers? qtips? don't remember) attempted to make our own pointilist works.

  • I definitely remember learning about Henri Rousseau working on jungle paintings (and Edward Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom, similarly) without ever having seen a lion. I think we then made up our own semi-imaginary animals and drew or painted them.


  • That's all I remember for now, but we had art for an hour a week every week for 5 years, so I'm sure there was more.
    posted by deludingmyself at 9:20 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


    The "via facetime" part will be the challenging bit IMO. I have been giving my niece (just turned 6) lessons in art and drawing for the last year. I am not sure that I would take on the task of distance-teaching art to a young person. Making art is not a lecture-style activity. It is going to require a lot of camera work to engage the student, observe and guide their technique, make sure they are not getting frustrated, etc. You will also need to figure out how to achieve set up and clean up from a distance.

    Will your brother/sister-in-law be actively involved in the lessons? You might consider designing lesson guides and instructing the parents in how they can to go about guiding the child while serving as an art mentor to both of them.

    The Drawing with Children book mentioned above has some nice diagnostics for understanding attention span and coordination levels. There are also some really great talking points in the book. You/they will want a copy of this.
    posted by tingting at 9:43 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


    Thank you for the useful and detailed responses!!!! I appreciate the advice, this will really help. @Cygnet- I have a little 5 month old so part of my excitement for doing this class was to get ready to teach her as well. @tingting- you are right, Facetime is not the best avenue for art instruction...but I think we can make it work with heavy parental involvement. @crushonastick- I live in NYC and they live in a little town in California so trips together to museums alas won't work! But you did give me the idea of perhaps going to the museums here and doing a photo essay for her, or even a quiet facetime log in in front of particular paintings we have studied...if it can be done discreetly that is. Thank you all again!!
    posted by catrae at 6:10 AM on September 18, 2014


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