Guiding Art Development for the Preschooler
February 24, 2015 1:18 PM   Subscribe

How much and what sort of guidance should I provide for the art skills of a precocious preschooler?

My 4 year old loves what could be described as "enrichment activities." LOVES THEM. One of his favorite parts of the week is sitting down with Daddy to work on his "Green Book" (his Handwriting Without Tears workbook). He also loves a lot of the activities I've cribbed from Zvonkin's book on pre-k math circles (found from this post on the blue)

This is great by me -- my friends have often described me as having a great personality for teaching. I enjoy doing it and am excited by it. Handwriting is no problem. Literacy? No problem. Math? Great!

I, however, have a dearth of skills in the visual arts.

Working to acquire or develop visual art skills doesn't bother me. The issue lies in being able to coach a precocious 4 year old. For example, give him a coloring book, and he'll color a snowman purple (or some other unusual color). Is this something I should be correcting at this age? What are age appropriate skills in terms of drawing stick figures? Further, what does the development of visual arts skills look like at this (and future) age?

I don't have a frame of reference from which to assist in this development. I'm looking specific resources that provide guidance on how much and what type of encouragement to provide to my son. Any guidance is appreciated.
posted by bfranklin to Education (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
At his age, it's all about making art fun and encouraging play and creativity. So, practically speaking, providing him with an array of materials and maybe doing fun "experiments" with mixing paint colors or turning hand prints into turkeys. If you want to wow him, learn to do some simple line drawings (like Ed Emberly) and tell stories about them together. I would be super careful to avoid any "correction," as there is no One Right Way to do art, especially not when you're 4.
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 1:35 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

This appears to be a comprehensive guide speaking to the developmental aspects of art.
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 1:50 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My kid likes drawing on the patio with sidewalk chalk. You can preserve the works with a picture then hose them away, or let the rain do it for you. I sit down and draw along with her, generally copying her favored cartoon characters from my iPhone. I'm no great artist, so we're learning together.
posted by w0mbat at 1:54 PM on February 24, 2015

I work for a non-profit, NAEYC accredited preschool.

I think you should think of art at this age as two sets of skills: creative expression and fine motor skills. You can guide motor skills by helping adjust a grip, giving smaller work to do etc. but creative expression should be more child directed and child focused.

At that age I'd say you're looking more for "art experiences" more than projects and skills. He should be experimenting with materials and skills should be things that can be used in a variety of activities not just to draw or make specific things. Some good skills might be: cutting, gluing, using a variety of implements, talking about colors, folding etc. Present cool materials and let him explore them and do or make whatever he likes.

Some fun provocations to make art might be: crayons with no wrapper and a piece of butcher paper wrapped around a tree trunk. Watercolors and an easel set up outside. A tray full of salt, some colored water and some water droppers. Blue and white paint, bowls and tools for mixing and pictures of the sky.

I love talking about this stuff so if you want more guidance or ideas memail me!
posted by Saminal at 1:54 PM on February 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Seconding Ed Emberly's books and highly recommending this book.

One caveat about the books. If it's going to bug you when your son doesn't do things exactly as Emberly demonstrates, skip the books altogether, because it's far more important that he have creative freedom and the confidence that he's not doing it "wrong" (bring on the purple snowmen!).

You can color, do line drawings, paint, etc., alongside him and let him observe your methods if he's interested. Otherwise, let him make art in the ways he likes. One of my favorite things from when my son was 3 or 4 is a very abstract piece he made by "printing" patterns using poster paints and the tines of a fork (anything can be a brush or a stamp!).
posted by whoiam at 1:55 PM on February 24, 2015

You may find useful information in this thread.
posted by maya at 1:58 PM on February 24, 2015

Just a note about the purple snowman. That is perfectly fine! My dad's undergrad degree is in Fine Art and he banned coloring books from the house, providing us with reams and reams of scratch paper (recycled from the university) and the 64 color box of crayons. My sister and I would draw for hours.

Encourage drawing and don't correct anything. I also recommend that you sit down and color too. Because it's fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2015

Don't correct anything - purple snowmen are awesome!

Make an art cabinet in your home and stock it with art supplies. A little easel would be great, too. They make ones that hold a roll of paper.

A good start for an art cabinet would include:
  • Markers
  • Small scissors
  • Drawing Pad
  • Large "floor pad" of paper
  • Colorful pom poms and pipe cleaners
  • Plastic pony beads (string them on the pipe cleaners to make bracelets)
  • Finger paint and finger paint paper
  • Crayons.
  • Stamps and a stamp pad
  • Washable paint and spill-proof cups
  • Chunky paint brushes
  • Construction paper or scrapbook paper
  • Watercolors
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Play-Doh or homemade equivalent
  • Picture books on famous artists
  • Stickers
  • Yarn
  • Glitter glue and glue sticks
  • Kinetic sand
  • Dollar store plastic tablecloths or old shower curtains for the messy zone

    At that age, art is about both creativity and fine motor skills. You don't necessarily have to teach anything -- just let your kiddo explore. I'll give my child the occasional prompt and ask her to draw me a dog or a flower, but most of the time she gets her art game on all by herself.

  • posted by Ostara at 2:35 PM on February 24, 2015

    At my daughter's school, they learn about the artist and then draw something in that style. She's only 5 but I think that stuff will lodge somewhere in her brain for later reference.
    posted by dawkins_7 at 2:59 PM on February 24, 2015

    My son is that age and I've talked about this with his teacher a bit. Their approach is to really strongly encourage putting drawing tool to paper and encourage them to draw what they want. The thought is that the development of fine motor skills far outweighs any criticism that might discourage them. (My son makes a dense network of lines and calls it a "map" every day because he gets frustrated making something representational. The teachers are just thrilled he chooses to draw every day.)
    posted by tchemgrrl at 4:05 PM on February 24, 2015

    Search "process art" on Pinterest for tons of experiential art ideas.
    posted by Biblio at 5:35 PM on February 24, 2015

    Have you seen "The Artist's Way for Parents"? (From the Guardian review it sounded very good.)
    posted by yoHighness at 5:06 AM on February 25, 2015

    Check out the art museums near where you live. A lot of them offer great classes and art experiences geared specifically for your son's age group - and they're a good way for parents to meet other art minded parents! I used to run preschooler's programs in an art museum setting; we would start every session by walking around part of the collection and talking about it (they talk; I listen) and then settle in for some art making. At this age, what everyone else is saying: it's about the process not the product. The more materials he can experiment with, the better. Clay! Collages! Paper making! Plaster casts! Anything and everything is art and it's all good for a developing young mind.
    posted by mygothlaundry at 8:05 AM on February 25, 2015

    Seconding the advice above about providing experiences for exploration, not necessarily focusing on the making of "things" at all. Materials don't have to be especially fancy -- tissue paper is fascinating! They can fold, cut, crumple, etc., then decide whether and how to arrange those things if they want to make a collage. As he works, talk to him about what he's up to and what you are noticing together -- 'I see you made straight lines here and wiggly lines there/ You noticed that you can roll the clay and also squish it between your hands to make shapes/ etc." -- it's helpful to just kind of name for him the repertoire of all of the stuff he's figuring out he can do with the materials in front of him.

    Don't worry about teaching him to draw people. He is probably already drawing closed shapes (something resembling a circle), and then that grows legs at some point (the term for this is a "tadpole person" and it's my very favorite thing ever). It's not that they're forgetting the body when they do that, it's that the head is at that point kind of a stand-in for both the head and the body. Don't worry about correcting it or teaching him other ways to make people -- this is exactly how almost everyone, everywhere begins to draw people, and drawing like that will serve his needs until it doesn't, then he'll figure out something else.

    Also, his drawing may or may not have a narrative element at this point. When kids begin drawing, their earliest work doesn't have any kind of story attached, it's just a visual record of them messing around with material. After that, they may do a drawing and then add the story later, and then finally the story becomes part of the drawing process, or could be decided beforehand. I'm mentioning this because if you ask him to tell you going on in a picture he made, he might or might not just make something up to please you. Depending on where he is, the narrative part might not be important yet.

    So yeah, in a nutshell: just give him access to materials and space to mess around, and follow his lead from there.
    posted by ella_minnow at 10:09 AM on February 25, 2015

    Not to belabor the point, but please don't "correct" the Purple Snowman!

    Creativity is –well, creating what doesn't exist. Anything you've ever experienced in your life that made you pause and go "Wow!" (a painting, a building, a song, a film, a book, a dress, a meal, a new car, a new kind of iPhone, a new perspective to life, etc.) is a Purple Snowman. It's a result of someone being sick of white snowmen, trying something new, failing gloriously, trying again, and creating something wonderful.

    The reaction to Purple Snowmen should not be "Why a purple snowman?" But rather along the lines of: "I love your purple snowman! Let's try a red one, a yellow one, a black one. Maybe a different color for each snowball. What's the real color of a snowman? Hmm, white's hard to do on white paper, let's try on blue paper! What would your favorite color snowman be? What about a snowwoman? A snow dog? Hey – do you think we could we actually *make* a purple snowman?"

    Provide the space and materials, show one way to do it (the "right" way, if you like), let the child find another way to do it, try a third way to do it together, then go off or whatever tangent emerges. To a certain degree creativity is about doing things "wrong", or at least discovering what results from "wrong". Art is perhaps the safest way for a young child to experience "wrong" safely.

    I suppose I've offered fewer concrete tips here than others, but I just wanted to encourage you to try to adopt a different mindset when supporting your child's creative development (as opposed to handwriting or math). The progression will likely be less linear, and the benchmarks to aim for should not be be Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, but "Wow", "Wower", and "Wowiest!" (with "Weird!" often thrown in because hey kids are weird).

    FYI: I make a great living creating "Purple Snowmen" for people. (Even if sometimes it's a white snowman with just a sparkle of purple in the eyes). I was pushed at, and excelled at, reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. But I was always granted room for the wonderful chaos of art, and that's where I thrived.

    Long live Purple Snowman!
    posted by Kabanos at 1:47 PM on February 26, 2015

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