Art Instruction: Does it hurt a child’s creativity?

Every once in a while I receive a comment or an email challenging the methods I use to teach art.  Why I would choose to do a directed-line drawing instead of observation? Or how could I possibly use a template in the creation of an art project? It stings at first but then I try to find the truths hidden beneath. Is there a better way to teach art? Am I doing all I can to nurture and respect a child’s creative development? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, then no. There are always better ways to teach art and I would love to be even better at developing the artist within.

I know this as truth because after the end of each teaching day, I reflect. This blog helps with that. When I post a lesson for you, I only post what I feel resonated with my students. Sometimes I post lessons that don’t work out so well. This helps with the process of understanding what works with children and what doesn’t. But the real issue is, how and why do I come up with the lesson that I do?

The origins of my artistic focus

I was an artistic child.  My mother was creative in the art of needlework and decorating, but my parents had more things to worry about than nurturing my art. And the truth is, they didn’t have to do a thing. I could be creative and artistic without any encouragement whatsoever.  I developed my own style, purchased my own supplies and escaped to my small table in my bedroom to draw, trace, color, snip and glue to my hearts content.

One day my mother took notice and enrolled me in a portrait making class at The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown (my hometown). It was like I had stepped into art nirvana; easels, real art paper, brushes with long, wooden handles and paints in buckets! Oh, how excited I was. The instructor spent a long time going over placement of facial features and how to achieve the right flesh color. I soaked it up. The level of instruction was what I had been yearning for but didn’t know it. I would have been supremely disappointed had the instructor set out paper and paints and said, “Paint to your hearts content!” I mean, I could’ve done that anywhere.

I believe that  most school-age children love instruction and are eager to learn how to apply this instruction to their art. I see it everyday. They love the freedom to express themselves, but they absolutely love learning new techniques, drawing tricks and saving a few steps by using a template to get to the good stuff.

Who do I teach?

I teach children. All children. Children who are like I once was–creative and capable, children who have very little fine motor skills, children who are gifted but don’t know it, children who are gifted and do know it and children who would rather be outside kicking a ball. Every child is different and every public school art teacher knows that every class is unique, too.

I don’t believe there is only one way to teach art, so I try to come up with lessons that are varied and will appeal to all my different students. It takes careful planning and sometimes more work than I had planned for, but it’s worth it.

Only one perspective

Still, I am only one art teacher with one perspective.  I often wonder after reading these comments, what makes a person so passionate about their perspective? Does certain art instruction really impair a child’s creative growth? Am I missing something?

So, I ask my readers and everyone out there who may not like or agree with the practices of art instruction, what is the best way to teach art?

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  • Yvonne

    I think that a good Art teacher adapts to their students needs …there is no absolute right or wrong. My students vary greatly in age (5-11 years) so adaptability is key. I find they LOVE it when they get a result beyond their expectations from a directed class …but also enjoy experimenting and being more free. I do find its the parents who find the less “guided” classes hard to accept!

  • Rachel

    I give some guidance but then let them have freedom when they are actually creating. I know I have a certain way I would draw a portrait, but that way may not work for a student. If I push them to do it my way, I may lose them. Then you have a class full of crumpled up papers and students saying “I can’t do it.” So I will do a guided line drawing (to see their ability to listen in class) but then allow them to have fun with the coloring. There have been a couple lessons when most of the class is nowhere near what I had pictured, but the important thing is that THEY don’t know that. They had fun and are proud of their finished piece.

  • Laurie

    I think that there needs to be a balance with direct instruction and letting students be free and creative. Students who are hesitant about art and afraid of doing it “wrong” need and thrive with instruction before they can add personality to their pieces. Those that are risk takers and already think outside the box need instruction to enhance their skills. Once they have the technique or skill then they can allow their creativity to make that piece their own. Art is like anything in school, students need to be taught, they need structure and advice, and then they need the freedom to be who they are and show their personality in whatever they do.

  • Robin

    Oh Patty I am so glad you posted this. I have read your sincere hurt in comments made by your “followers” before and it not only saddens me, but also makes me angry.
    We art teachers who subscribe to your blog and have the privilege to read and explore all of your hard work talents and efforts should be thanking you. As I look up at my screen it says 4,951 people “like” Deep Space Sparkle. I would say it’s more than that ,but there are many who don’t take the time to click the “like” button. That being said, I am sure there are a few who feel the “need” to criticize you and your method of teaching. I can bet these are the same people who if seated at a fine restaurant would still find something to grumble about while eating their beautifully prepared meal. They are the types of people who can find a negative in every situation, glass half empty types.
    Here’s my take on how WE public school art teachers have to incorporate art into the short time we have with our students. We have usually an hour, to teach a full lesson. In that hour we need to get 36 excited kids to come in and sit down. Many times they are rolling in from recess and are already wound up.
    They need to be seated, settled down a bit, given instructions and pray that they don’t spill the numerous things we have strategically placed on the tables for them prior to class.
    We have to teach a brief history or direction as to what we are going to be doing.Then walk them through the process. As we demonstrate the process, we have to be answering the questions of the few that are falling behind,plus managing the ones that want to move ahead on their own. All the while watching the clock,so we end in enough time to clean up the tables place the art work on the floor in one corner of the room(for those of us without drying racks) and get them out the door so we can then hurriedly set up class for the next group that will be coming in a few minutes later. Many of us teach 3-4 classes in a row. We have no time to even pee, let alone evaluate how the lesson is going until the day is over and we are surrounded by 4 classes of art work drying in every corner of the room. At that point, we take a deep breath and celebrate the beauty of art work we have surrounding us. Then we either figure out how to tweak it for the next day, or add another time saving step to simplify it so the kids can get to the best part of the art.
    The idea of allowing the child to have freedom to just explore his or her ideas and creativity works if you have unlimited time and only a few students. I can’t tell you how many disasters I have had when have given the children the supplies and told them to create something in the box, or draw their favorite thing. There will always be the few creative kids that jump right in, these are the artists that already know they are good and usually have lessons on the side.The average child, which is the rest of the whole class, usually sits there frozen, while the clock is ticking away, not knowing what to do or where to begin. I liken it to giving a child a piece of paper and telling them to write a creative story, without giving them a topic or subject. Most of the children just freeze.
    I teach art at two different public schools, I teach over 500 students at each school, ranging from K-5th grade as well as the special needs classes. So in one month I will teach over 1,000 children art.i would love the time to have a private lesson with each child and time to devote to allowing their creative juices to flow on their terms, but realistically this is impossible with the time restraints we have. So I am left to figuring out time savers, and some of those may be using a template for the basic outline, or using directed drawing, or any other step done ahead of time to simplify the lesson a bit so they can get to the REAL creative part of the process.
    My goal as an art teacher is have an ENTIRE class walk out saying, “Wow, that was fun, I really CAN draw!”, not just the one or two talented kids.
    We love you Patty and we thank you from the bottom of our heart for all the fabulous lessons you take so much time to share with us. Thank you, thank you , thank you!

    • Patty

      Robin…you are the loveliest supporter. Thanks so much for your kinds word now and in the past. We just have to meet!

      • Nellie

        Robin, you are so correct!! I definitely agree with everything you said!!

        • Helen

          I teach art at a high school in New Zealand and teach students that are from ages 11 through to 18. I also have special needs students in these regular classes. For the juniors I have the same issues that have been mentioned by Robin and I couldn’t agree more with what she says. Time and the structure of the school day often dictates how we approach out lessons. My aim is always to try and get as many students finished in the time period as possible. Most of my projects with these juniors are done over a time frame of 1 hour lessons twice a week for 10 weeks. It is still a struggle to teach skills as well as allow for creativity within this time.

    • leslie granberg

      I too couldn’t agree more with Robin! Patti, your projects, pictures, directions, are outstanding. Because of you, I have become a better art teacher. I have taken more risks and have become more confident and passionate because of you. The vast majority of art teachers are always looking and searching for new and different things to do with their kids. It is true….there are a small majority that can just “go” at the drop of a hat. Who need no instruction or direction because God has blessed them with creativity. But for the most part we have average or below average kids when it comes to creativity, so we must guide, direct, template, etc…in order for them to successful. I always go into a lesson knowing that some student will ask , “Mrs. Granberg, could I do …………..instead?” to which I happily reply–“you go for it!” I love when I can learn from my kids! So Patti, keep doing what you’re doing cuz there are so many people both students and teachers who are better because of it!

    • Maureen Cesari

      Robin, beautifully said. At the end of it all it is a class, and students need direction in class. Many students don’t know what they are capable of until the are “pushed” a little. You can tell by Patti’s blog what a passionate, engaging and loving teacher she is. Simply look at the examples of her students work and see the creativity and indivduality of their finished pieces and you can see how much fun and learning happens in her classroom.

    • Carol Maher

      I couldn’t have said it more accurately! Robin’s assessment is everything I would have said, too. Patti, your lessons have been not only inspiring to me and the 500 public school children I see weekly, but they have provided successful art lessons week after week! I have been able to apply your methods to other lessons and found they are improved and enhanced. People who say that guided instruction inhibits creativity, do not realize that to be really creative and free with our inner self, we must also be skillful with our techniques. When a master pianist plays with no written music in front of him, his talent and creativity shines brilliantly because he is skillful. He has “mastered” the basics and then some! You and art teachers who are willing to bring good instruction, enable students to learn the skills, and then let them express themselves with liberty. You are laying a foundation for creativity and art appreciation that will last their lifetime. I am so thankful that you are sharing your wisdom and gifts.

    • Carol Miller

      I so agree with Carol Maher! I wished I had found your site years ago! I love it, and it has been a hugh inspiration to me! I too teach art at two different schools! I have to alternate weeks with grades 3 -4, then 5 -6, plus a week on 7th & 8th every nine weeks! I only have 30 mins. with the elementary classes! Needless to say, it is very difficult to finish projects! And forget painting! I am so frustrated I can’t stand it! I have decided to retire in June. One of my goals is to teach privately and finally do the
      classes as I have always wanted! I say, You are an EXCELLENT teacher! I love your methods and
      ideals! Pooh on the ones who are negative! They should walk in our shoes! Your classes look delightful to me!!! You Rock!!!

    • Ems

      I love this message and I love this website. I have an Art Education and an Art Studio degree, so this is an issue I am constantly mulling over in my own mind. I teach 1200 kids a week! Yes, 1200. Can you believe it? Two days a week with no planning time at all, no real lunch time, no money for supplies (I write a lot of grants), and people on my back all the time to show paper and pencil assessments and open responses. I have my K-3 classes 30 minutes a week and my 4-5 for 40 minutes and have pages of content to cover. The previous art teacher never did any type of structured lesson for the kids. He simply gave them art supplies and played his guitar and did magic tricks for them. It was basically planning period coverage. I am in my second year here and the attitude toward art is laughable. At first, the kids missed the old art teacher but as they learned about things like Elements of Art and Principles of Design, their artworks have been evolving. We keep an open minded attitude with our lessons. I give them a destination but they have their own ways of getting there. We also do a lot of quick peer reviewing activities that help the kids appreciate one another and how different their artworks really are whether or not they had an example shown to them. I love that balance. It gives the students emotional security and a sense of freedom while also allowing them to learn how to view, understand and appreciate artwork. I love your website. I love that you try so hard to make things fun for your students. I have tried some of your lessons in my own classroom but I am so envious of the amount of time and small number of students you have. I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted every day. I have 9-10 classes per day….But I blame a lot of my situation on the previous art teachers in my community. If you treat Art like a daycare session, people will not see the relevance in it. Also, if you try and force all the kids to be “perfect” and hand out coloring pages all the time, you will lose interest and emotional comfort in your classroom. You need that balance to serve ALL your students instead of just teaching to the gifted artists by providing art supplies and nothing else. There are many kids who never get to use art supplies anywhere except when they are in my classroom. I take that as a serious responsibility. I want to light a fire for art inside of them by showing them how to use the materials and exciting them through lessons like the ones you so kindly provide on this website. Thank you for your hard work. Art teachers must be advocates.

      • Patty

        Thank you so much for posting this wonderful perspective. I cannot get over what your schedule looks like. It seems absolutely crazy. Boy, that school sure is lucky to have you. It must takes a tremendous amount of effort to get through the day. I’m glad my site can help in some small way.

    • Barb

      Bravo! bravo! My thoughts EXACTLY!! It’s so much about (a lack of) TIME!

    • Belinda C

      Well said Robin……

      Only a true art teacher, that walks in your shoes…understands the trials and tribulations of teaching….being an art teacher of close to 1000 students, i can truly relate to what you have experienced…..

    • Karen VanNatter

      Amen to that Robin. I’ve been teaching art classes for 14 years in my own studio…ages six and up, including adults. We must give them a firm foundation upon which they can build. Or, in other words, we give them wings so they can fly!

    • Nancy

      I really appreciate your taking the time to wrote this Robin. I feel like so few people understand what this is like and you have described it so aptly. And I only teach 300! Thank you!

  • Jesse Kiefer

    I love your blog and lessons because they apply very easily for what I do… I get each student K-5 in two separate buildings and I only get to see them for 30-40 mins a week. Then add in the fact that I roll in on a cart… I spend some of my time each class convincing them that science is now over and they need to get ready for art… mentally and physically getting the tools and materials that they need ready as quickly as they can manage…

    I don’t like using templates… I would avoid them if I could but with some lessons I have to make choices… is this lesson really about shapes? Or is today’s lesson really about noticing and filling the “space”? and if the answer is space? Then I have no problem showing them that they can use a rectangle template to fill the space quickly. I am (and you are) showing them how to use tools to create art. Much like using a T-Square…well can’t I draw a straight line? Yeah… but i can do it a lot better with a straight edge. Will I eschew the template and work shapes again soon? Yes… yes I will.

    In 30 minutes I can’t let them sit and think very long about what they “want” to draw. I have to give them a direction to work in and then encourage them to add things that will make their projects more personal and unique.

    I agree that a good art teacher adapts to their students needs and I think they also have to adapt to what’s available. I think your blog offers some very real ways to work both of those things. I can DO your lessons on a cart in 30 mins or I can break it easily into 2 parts. They work for my students and they work for their art situation. Despite my aversion to templates I use them, especially if my students can understand shapes but need help with understanding space. I can point out things and let them make observations about it whether I use one or not. “Notice how large that castle wall is? That’s why we have this larger rectangle template we need lots of room for the castle doors and draw bridge.”

    There will always be critics and sometimes they are the most vocal… I appreciate what you do with this blog my coworkers and I check it regularly. Thank you for what you do!

  • s

    This is a myth.

    There is no other subject taught that does not begin without the basics from pre-K through PhD. level – Math, Reading, Writing, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Law, Doctors, Engineers, etc.- so why do ART teachers get tortured with this repeatedly?

    The only way to get around this, is to be self-taught, and even then you need to have an understanding of the basics or have an abundance of time to play around with mediums, such as Grandma Moses. But our art students are only with us for 40 minutes, so we need to make choices in order for them to have a quality experience.

    All of the art teachers whom I have ever known or read about that use “non-directed” methods always introduce new mediums or art centers with mini-lessons on how to “use” them – otherwise how would most students be familiar if it is their first time being exposed?

  • Sally

    Don’t let the negative comments get you down, I use your ideas all of the time…you are providing a wonderful service. Any time you put yourself out there like you have on a blog, you are going to get criticism. Keep up the great work! Think of all the Deep Space likers out there…:)

  • Lisa

    We teach children strategies to learn and practice math, reading, writing, etc. Why NOT give them some direct instruction on specific skills. I always say, “Here are some ideas that you may try in your work…” Then I encourage them to expand on or alter them to please themselves. Older children, especially, want to make it look good/realistic/etc. Why not give them some pointers? I always look for more ideas, techniques and strategies to enhance my own art work. I use them when I choose, but they are building blocks to help with my final project.
    If we have a multi step project, i.e. draw, color, transfer, paint, or something….I have no problem letting the children use a template, tracer, etc. (IF THEY CHOOSE). It enhances that ONE step in the procedure and relieves some stress for them and in the end, they are more pleased with their work and more likely to put in extra effort. The point of the project is the process and the materials at each step. Plus, don’t you find that children generally draw and write everything SO small? Small subjects are so much more difficult to cut out, color, paint, etc.
    I’m SURE none of us stand up there and say, “Hold your pencil this way, move it this way, make yours exactly like mine….”
    I feel like the point with smaller kids in art is to expose them to varying art and artists, foster an appreciation, expose them to a variety of mediums, experiences and types of art, and give them confidence in their own creativity. I don’t sing well or play an instrument, but I have favorite musicians, I include music in my daily life and I appreciate different types of music. I would hope the ‘nonartistic’ student would do the same with art…

  • Luckeyfrog

    The art teacher at my school does a mixture of things. I think it’s important to have some more structured lessons to teach new concepts and materials (in part to give the kids confidence in what they can do, and in part to show them things they have never tried or might not try on their own). Plus, some kids panic without structure. Sometimes it’s very structured, other times there are a few guidelines, and a few times a semester (usually during weeks where some classes are on field trips or having holiday parties or when it’s not a full week so only some classes are coming), she’ll have an Art Party where they can choose materials and projects based on what new things they’ve learned. I think the mix is important, and the kids love it!

  • Chrissy

    You know, it’s great to get out a bunch of materials and say to the kids – “go!” – but then how do they learn how to use them? How to use them safely, how to store them, why we take care of the materials, etc… And even more, how do they learn the techniques that might not be so obvious? Or how to mix mediums or materials to get another result all together?
    Possibly, over time a motivated child might figure these things out, but for the children that you mention who don’t have the greatest fine motor control or would rather be outside, just setting materials out isn’t going to capture their attention. They’re going to quickly paint something and then sit around waiting until it’s time for the next subject.
    I have noticed with my daughter, that since we have been doing more guided activities in her art journal, she puts a lot more time and thought into ALL her artwork. I have been really impressed with how far she’s come in a very short period of time.
    I’m glad you’ve gotten quite a few supportive comments in the time I’ve been writing this! LOL. I definitely think that within the guidelines of a well presented art lesson, there is plenty of room for a child (or person’s) creativity. Plus, afterward, the child has the ability to use those techniques they’ve learned to expand on with other activities!
    Here is an article I wrote on Art vs Craft, which I believe is what your critiquers are talking about: http://www.cooperativecurriculum.com/pub/index.php/art-vs-crafts-is-there

  • Erica

    The more time that goes by the more I’m starting to think that the creativity gets built or destroyed in the questions we ask. We have to be willing to ask hard questions to ourselves to become better educators. What you do takes courage. I have “mad” 🙂 respect for you. . . this post is another reason why. I have enjoyed watching your teaching style evolve and develop and isn’t that the point of life? To grow? We all have things that are really hard to reflect on for me it is that I am pretty steadfast in my convictions (I am one of the no tracer people:( I have opened up to the idea of tracing things that can be found at home (tape, bottle tops, lids etc.) because I do the same thing. So being more open is what I am working on. I think the main point is. . . you are a good teacher because you are a reflective teacher. Whatever you decide is the right answer because you have thought about your choices. You are not a teacher who says what’s easiest. . . you are a teacher who says what works.
    As for creativity being built or destroyed by the questions we ask, I think within the lesson it is important to take the time to ask students questions that will get them to look deeper. We might not know the answers to the questions but the art is in the search anyways. Thanks for taking the time to look deeply into the process of teaching. As bloggers we all have great lessons, but it is these types of conversations that really need to be had. Thanks for putting it out there.

  • Laurie

    I understand the need for freedom in the creative process, but sometimes I think it is a matter of people putting the cart before the horse. I see the same thing in creative writing- with their limited experiences and usually limited writing abilities, young children are expected to pump out “creative writing” essays. The child then thinks he is a terrible writer because he does not have the tools to do well on the assignment. As a child, I sat through art classes that offered very little instruction and was left feeling very discouraged about my lack of ability, so I appreciate you lessons and instructions.

  • Laurie

    Adding to my comments: My daughter, a teacher, witnessed another teacher scratch out a young (4-5yo) student’s art work, turn the paper over, and tell the student to start over. The student’s crime? – using the wrong color on her lizard picture. I am sure that is the type of thing that kills creativity. Not well thought out art lessons.

  • Patty

    Wow. I took my daughter shopping for earrings and I came back to these lovely comments. Thanks for all of your support and encouragement. Teaching art is wonderful but like Robin said, it’s so easy to get caught up in the logistics!
    I agree with Erica. It’s as important to monitor what we say to our students as what we do with them. You all are wise and I’m happy we have our bloggy network to sort through these questions we ask ourselves.

  • April

    Patty, I wish I could come and observe your teaching for a day! Your blog is such an encouragement and inspiration to me and all of the other elementary art teachers I know! I am really inspired by your series of posts about developing original lesson plans. Now that I have a few years under my belt, I am ready to develop lesson plans on my own rather than rely solely on ideas from other teachers.
    I agree with a previous response that there has to be a balance in teaching skills and allowing students to discover the properties of the medium they are working with. How can students learn what a medium will do if they can’t experiment? However, as one of my art professors told me, creativity happens best when there are limits. I recently taught a line, shape and pattern unit with my fourth graders. We learned the basics together, then they created an artwork using materials of their choice. They had to use line, shape, and pattern, but they could choose watercolor/crayon resist, oil pastel and regular drawing paper, construction paper crayons on construction paper, or cut paper collage. In this way, students could meet the requirements of the assignment, yet have personal choice with the medium and color.
    I think one of the most important things about teaching art is to inspire a lifelong love of art. I want them to enjoy coming into my room and be excited about making things. I think each teacher has to find their own groove, and that it has to come from one’s own heart, or students will not respond. No two teachers will teach the same way, and shouldn’t try to. There’s room for everyone and we can all learn from each other. I really like the writings of Marvin Bartel at goshen.edu. He has a very different take on teaching art, but I think his perspective is worth considering.
    One of the things I’ve learned is to trust what my students can do. What comes out of them is often beyond my expectations and more cool than what I might have thought of! If I teach something, and then a student has another idea, I let them go with it. It’s their art.
    One last thing! One of my fellow art teachers mentioned the other day that students will ask him, “Is this good?” He turns the question around and asks them, “Do you think it’s good?” I love that!
    My heartfelt thanks to you for all that you do and for sharing your teaching with us.

  • Hope Chella

    Patty, during a rough time in my art teaching experience, I emailed you…you wrote back promptly and “helped” me. There is no “right” (one-size fits all) way to be an artist, teacher and/or art teacher. Thanks for publicly reflecting on your practices and bringing more art teachers together…and, if nothing else, you’re offering out your favorite lessons/tips for others to utilize, in order to maintain a positive art curriculum. I’ve seen, first hand, teachers, who depend on your “lessons” to do their jobs. Seriously. You should be a multi-millionaire by now…based on all that you give, that is, if others threw it back at you 🙂 IT IS DESERVED!

  • Connie

    Patty –

    I have never responded to a blog before in my life but your questions have demanded that I reply. Your blog is such an outstanding resource to anybody with an interest in children and art. You are one of my first “go-to” sources when I am stuck for lesson plan ideas. The mere visual appeal of your website makes me want to break out my art materials! Of course, as educators we must balance a child’s individual creativity with instruction driven projects. Of course, there is not one way and I tell my students that all the time. BUT I want to give my students the tools and the guidance so that they can succeed and feel confident with art materials and techniques. It’s crazy, but I used to feel a little guilty doing a guided line drawing with my students but now I always do it at the beginning of the school year as it does two things; gives me a chance to see how well students can listen and follow directions and gives the kids some confidence at the start of the year. There are so many many ways to nurture creativity and art-making with children and we are so fortunate that you share your ideas with us.

    You were ahead of the curve on so many of these art ed blogs that have flooded the web. Your site has expanded so much since I started following it several years ago. I like when you post the “best” and “worst” activities. Your info about materials is amazing. I could go on and on. Thank you – thank you – thank you so much for inspiring me to inspire my students.

    • Patty

      Hi Connie,
      So glad you weighed in and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to learn that someone has been following my blog for so long! Thanks!

  • Marissa

    There are times when I wonder if I’m stifling the creativity of my K-5 students. Then I occasionally give them a day to paint or draw to their hearts content and i get a lot of mud and papers in the trash. I tell my students they aren’t necessarily being trained to become artists just like they aren’t all going to be mathemeticians, scientists, writers but they could be. My job is to teach them the elements of design so they can make informed decisions about design in everyday life. They need math and writing and science to make decisions as they make their way to becoming independent.
    Art is so vast. Growing up I thought that to be an artist i had to be great at drawing. My students get to experience a variety of media because of this. I’ve seen that some students are comfortable with drawing but have difficulty with clay or the reverse. I try and give them a basic knowledge of techniques that we build one from one year to another in my program. As I tell them, they have choices with the confines of our lesson but they can try some of these techniques on their own.
    As for templates, i encourage my students to try to draw on their own. Sometimes i use templates to give the students greater success. I look at templates just like another tool, such as rulers. Sometimes you use them, sometimes it’s time to try without but it’s important to know what they are and how to use them.
    Don’t let the naysayers get you down.The success of your students and their enjoyment of art speaks for itself.
    Don’t let the naysayers get you down.

  • steph

    I’m not an art teacher myself, so I don’t have a lot to add to this discussion, but I just had to share our experiences.

    I home school my two first grade boys. One of them is very much a perfectionist– to the point of not wanting to try something if he doesn’t think he’ll be good at it (paralyzed by perfectionism as my mother would say). Directed line drawings, templates and other art instruction actually help him to be creative– it gives him a sort of jumping off point. He’s thrilled with the artwork he comes up with when we use your lessons. It’s been such a confidence boost that he’s taken up drawing in his free time– something that he would never want to do before.

    My other son is VERY creative and draws/colors/builds things all day long. He loves your lesson plans too, and they’ve in no way hindered his creativity. So, thank you for sharing what you do so well. Your work is a blessing to the lives of many, many children.

    • Lisa

      Your first child is the type I was talking about above when I said that sometimes children need a template, tracer, direct instruction for encouragement and confidence in their own work. Older children, especially WANT IT TO LOOK ‘RIGHT’. If they don’t think it does from the beginning, they give up and put forth very little effort and try to finish quickly to get ‘away’ from the project. I like your ‘jumping off point’ remark. Exactly what I meant!

  • Laura

    First, of all I want to say “Patty, you are my hero”. Your blog has evolved into a beautiful masterpiece. You have demonstrated how to promote art education in a wonderful way through out the world! I have followed you for many years and you have helped me to develop my blogsite as well. Yes, I may live in Ohio but I feel so connected to you and your classroom in California. Without your website we would have never met.

    I know lately there has been many heated discussions about Process vs. Product, Tracers vs. non-Tracers etc. Some teachers feel their way of instruction is the best but you have stated it so perfectly you must know your students and adapted to them. In my school we are 50% free lunches. Some students are lucky to make it to school. We are their “safe” place. Knowing their situation in life I want to provide a safe place in art too. So if that means we use rulers for straight edges and circles for birds heads then so be it. I want my students to feel successful in art. Some students need a tracer to jump start their minds.

    How many “Creative” people use and pin on Pinterest?
    Again we as adults use it to springboard ideas. Students should not feel bad for using tracers to create a shape.

    In all of your posts your students projects look great. They do not look alike. You are having students create Art not crafts. Crafts is when every project looks EXACTLY the same. Again yours do not. I hope that when people start this discussion they do not attack each other but learn from one another.

    Art education for elementary students should be learning how to use the materials. In a perfect world every student would know how to draw and paint. Some students come to school never having used the materials at home so it is our job to “educate” how to use these materials. I am amazed that after a year with me they have the confidence and knowledge to explore and create while having fun. When students are giving me hugs and high fives as they leave my classroom I know I have done my best helping a child reach their full potential.

    I posted this before but it fits this discussion perfectly:
    …taken from handprints flowers of India

    “I love the idea of children’s handprints or tracing their precious hands. (Those of you who have children in your life, a child’s hands strikes a special chord to your heart.) It to me is the ultimate in primary art. My students who made these could not contain their happiness of wanting to take them home to give to Mom.”

    Students were saying” My Mom takes photos of my art”, “My Mom hangs my art in the den”. Another said “My Mom takes it to work”, “I cannot wait to give this to my Mom.” I have other students who tragically lost one or both parents. This breaks my heart being a parent to see such sadness. Maybe you will understand why I choose to make my classroom a happy classroom, a class where everyone can succeed even if you have a major disability or a tragic history.

    To me this is the ultimate feedback -This is what Art is- the emotional connection. They didn’t care what supplies were used or what the process was …… they were just happy and in todays world this was the best connections my students have made with art.

    Painted Paper

    • Patty

      Thank you so much for contributing to this discussion, Laura. I know you and I feel the same way about inspiring children through our art classes. I didn’t mean for this post to turn into such a lovefest for me. I truly hoped that I could gain some understanding of “the other side”! But, I’ll take the love!
      You are my inspiration, Miss Laura. Someday we will meet in person!

  • hope knight

    Art teachers have to balance so many things – time restraints, different ability levels and learning styles, overcrowded classes – and it is the teacher’s job to figure out the best way to teach the concepts with each group. I might teach each of my five 2nd grade classes the same project/activity/concept using different techniques and strategies, based on how I feel that group will learn best. I don’t use templates much, but I have no problem using them when a group needs more support, especially if drawing isn’t the concept being taught for that lesson. For example, if the goal of the lesson is to learn about mixing color schemes, who cares if you use a template for the shape cutting?
    This is a women-dominated field, and sadly I’ve experienced a similar lack of support among women friends when it comes to the “right way” to raise your child. I just wish women could be more supportive of each other’s efforts and let go of figuring out whose way is best.
    Your blog and work is amazing – don’t let nitpickers bum you out.

  • joanna

    patty, thank you for posting this. there is a lot of buzz out there about “process”-oriented art vs. product oriented art and I understand both sides.

    my son, who is three, LOVES the process of art. he never makes anything recognizable and is at a tender age where he doesn’t care that it isn’t recognizable…he tells me what it is, which makes it even more special.

    my kindergartners are about the same way. they’re proud of their work no matter what…but by about second grade, students become frustrated when their work doesn’t look like the image they see in their head. it’s up to me to give them those directives to get their ideas on paper…i mean, there comes a point when it’s not about just having fun and making messes and experimenting, right?! one of my curricular objectives is that in kindergarten the students must make a recognizable picture. if i just kept them on the “process” track, some of them would just paint abstract and mud-up paints and colors and cut papers into a bajillion pieces.

    i don’t know what the “right” answer is…a balance of a little bit of both? my students VERY MUCH like structure, if i give them open-ended projects, they often sit there with blank looks on their faces! hang in there, it’s totally normal!

    • Patty

      I agree. There is a balance and every one of us knows it and tries to implement it in some way. It’s true that we have to respect a child’s creative vision and hopefully we all do that and not force an idea into a child’s head. My youngest child is like yours…unedited! I love it!

  • Pat Stevens


    What a wonderful conversation you started! Thanks for all that you share on your blog. You should take great pride in the fact that you post positive ideas and lessons that help so many art teachers as well as others who teach their own kids, etc. It’s funny because your posts are always meant to be an open forum for sharing and the naysayers who post vitriol or abjectly negative comments must dwell in a closed, dark, judgemental and sad place and I wish them love and light so that they can find some peace in their lives. You, my dear, ROCK!


    • Patty

      Thanks, Pat! And I appreciate that you consider my blog an open forum. I do try and present it as such. Thanks for weighing in. I appreciate it!

  • Mary Wallace

    Thank you for this article Patty. I enjoy your blog very much and look forward to your postings arriving by email. I for one think you are doing a wonderful job. I know where you’re coming from – I hate using templates. But every once in a while I will use one as a means to a bigger step. Somehow children will usually find their own way of doing things anyhow. And sometimes you will find that the two sitting next to each other will have the same composition; one relying on the other just to get things started. If that happens I usually prompt a little discussion as to how we might move on in a slightly different direction. Some kids are self-sterters and just get stuck in. Others need a little more help…if they’re not going to get stuck!. http://www.artwallace.webs.com

  • Jo-Anne

    You are teaching from a love of art and with great enthusiasm, the two greatest gifts a teacher can use!!!
    Keep up the good work.

  • Tery Castrogiovanni

    When I started teaching 24 years ago fresh out of school after one day of teaching I realized that out of all the classes and courses I had taken in college NO ONE had said this is how you teach a child to draw! Sure I had history classes and was taught techniques and art education philosophies but how do I transfer what I know and love in a way the students will understand and enjoy? I found “Drawing with Children ” by Mona Brookes and I follow her teachings for drawing to this day. I learned that there is no one way to teach a child. They all learn in different ways and what works with one child or class does not always work for everyone else. You have to be able to adapt to the needs of everyone. If that means guided drawings or stencils for students with special needs so that they can have a successful art experience then so be it! Patty, you have learned what works for you and your students and from the looks of your success it is the right choice for you. You have awesome ideas and I find myself inspired by them and have used or adapted projects you have posted. Keep it up! You will know by the smiles and enthusiasm of your students if you are doing something right! Happy Blogging! 🙂

  • mary

    I have been teaching art for 20 years and my experience has been that the majority of my students need some type of instruction when they come to my room. The few times I have given them supplies and said “use your imagination and go for it”, they can’t think of anything they want to do! Also had a conversation with a childrens book illustrator who visited our school once. He said he believes even elementary students should receive drawing instruction, the more the better. He was not big on just free art time.
    I think part of the problem with thinking creatively on their own comes from so much technology and teaching to tests in the classroom. The creative part has been taken out of a lot of their activities and learning.
    This past week I gave my 2nd graders construction paper, metallic markers and scissors and glue. . I put a peacock sculpture in front of them and asked them to create a peacock on their paper using just the materials I gave them. I called it an art challange. (yes, the peacock idea came from your wonderful 1st grade painting project that I just finished with 1st graders). I wanted to see if the kids could look at something 3D and transfer it to their own interpretation. One class just sat there dumbfounded and said it was too hard. Finally I had to show them examples to get them started.
    A 1 pt. perspective directed drawing lesson to my 5th graders is always a hit. They are totally engaged as they follow along and learn perspective. However, give them a blank piece of paper and say “free drawing time” and only a few will get excited and start right away.
    When I help them get started or give instructions so that the painting is successful or the metal tooling is done correctly, all students feel successful, not just a few who are blessed with unique art talent at a young age.Those kids who are “talented” can be encouraged to take their project a step farther, add their own touches, etc. in order to feel challanged to their level. Those who struggle can still feel good about what they have done. My goal is for every one of my students to consider themselves an “artist” when they leave my room!:)

  • Mary Wallace

    Thank you for this article Patty. I enjoy your blog very much and look forward to your postings arriving by email. I for one think you are doing a wonderful job. I know where you’re coming from – I hate using templates. But every once in a while I will use one as a means to a bigger step. Somehow children will usually find their own way of doing things anyhow. And sometimes you will find that the two sitting next to each other will have the same composition; one relying on the other just to get things started. If that happens I usually prompt a little discussion as to how we might move on in a slightly different direction. Some kids are self-sterters and just get stuck in. Others need a little more help…if they’re not going to get stuck!. http://www.artwallace.webs.com and http://www.artwallaceinspired.wordpress.com

  • Fatcat

    You give them a framework to be creative on! You get them started. I love your art lessons and I have used them with my kids and my 4H’ers.


  • catherine cooper

    I, for one, could not have survived this year without you and your thoughtful blog!!
    That said, I have thought about this an awful lot too. I use templates, I teach step by step, I teach line drawings and THEN my students have the freedom to try it another way. I think art is like a language and just as with leanring another language, you have to teach the fundamentals, the elements., how to use materials and yes there are times to use them a certain way and not another. I do sometimes say “No, you can’t do it that way, I want tyou to try it this way first” Maybe related to wanting to talk “slang” in another language when you just need to learn it a certain way first.

  • Gerri

    Ever since I discovered your website a few months ago, I have become a regular follower, checking in at least once a week if not more. I find your lessons to be extremely creative and inspiring. I teach in a school where I see almost a thousand students during a two week rotation. It is challenging and at times exhausting to say the least. I think that teaching in this situation it is easy to become disenchanted with teaching anything at times. Your lessons motivate and inspire me and have gotten me excited about teaching art again! Typically, I change things a bit tip fit my style of teaching and what works best for my students. However, they are always a great starting point and motivating factor.

    Although I do not use temples with my students, I have found that my students need a certain amount of direct instruction. It is challenging to know how much is too much,. I often debate with myself over whether I have given them too much direction, or not enough. I think that teaching art is not black and white, and there is not just one way to instruct a lesson. I hope that you will keep blogging and posting new ideas, so that we can all share ideas and learn from each other.

  • Cathy


    You are so inspiring to me as I teach my first year in art. I have come to your blog many times…if just for inspiration alone. I am an older first year teacher (46). I spent the first half of my creative career as a graphic designer/art director, then took a break from my career life to be Mommy and when my youngest began preschool, I didn’t want to go back into the corporate world so I began my process of earning a teaching license. I am so happy where I am at….sharing my passion for art with my students and developing their creativity.

    I began my school year with art projects that gave students an “overview” then they were able to freely create whatever/however they wanted. I guided the students at the beginning of class with some simple guidelines but thought it was more important to let the students freely create….they knew the objectives for the project and what parts they had to meet, but the rest was up to them. This process just wasn’t working. Many students became frustrated because they didn’t know what direction to go or would create artwork that just wasn’t up to my standards as what I knew they could really do.

    As I have progressed this year, changing my lessons up a little bit I have found that my students are much more content with direct instruction. I teach K-8 and many students want that more structured type of lesson. I give much structure but find that students still create their own thing…using their own colors, design elements, etc. They need to see TONS of examples as well. Many art teachers worry about showing too many examples for fear that students will just copy the examples. Most students don’t….they use the examples to expand upon their own imagination.

    I myself feel it is crucial, especially in grades 3-8, to begin teaching specific drawing lessons (tone- shading, contour line, etc.) I use the 5-min. warmup time to work on specific drawing. I don’t grade these drawings….it just gives them practice in drawing techniques.

    I appreciate any art teacher that posts their failed lessons as well as successful ones. What bothers me is teachers that only showcase their successes…making them appear as teachers that do everything perfectly. An honest and genuine teacher is not afraid to share the failures as well. Even during my art class times I even work out an art project where I purposely make a mistake so that my students can see that I am not perfect and able to witness how I react or work with the mistake that I have made in my art.

    As I read through all of these comments it is apparent that we all have our own unique way of teaching art……well….that would seem obvious since we are all unique in our own creative way as well.

    • amy

      Coming out of college with a teaching degree in Art Education taught me absolutely NOTHING about how to teach elementary age children HOW to draw or paint. In fact, after my first few positions as an elementary Art teacher I struggled with getting students to be creative and imaginative based on my college instruction. I decided to do what *I* was taught by my teachers 32 years ago when I was a child and it works. It’s basically what you do here.

      My students LOVE their artwork and so do their families. Directed art instructions gives students a foundation on how art is created using ALL the elements and principles of design. The main goal of directed art is a springboard for future projects for children to come up with things on their own with a hint of guidance. It teaches them SO much of what they can do vs. the failure of going it solo. No two art pieces will look the same, and you should stress that at every instruction no matter what age group.

      After so many years of being in the Art world, I can proudly say I am totally over those who spend more time arguing about this subject. Being passionate about Art is one thing, but being an Art snob is a turn off to many non-artsy people. There is NO way you can expect small children to create their own version of Starry Night by tossing out some paper and materials. In other words, don’t be a ‘Frasier Crane’.

      What you should worry about is building a portfolio of all types of art that you have created with your students. Showcase their abilities in many art disciplines to prove your program is worthy of NOT being on the chopping block. Programs all across the country are being cut due to lack of funding. I am VERY lucky to be teaching Art in a system that values it. I am currently reviving a dead art program where the previous art teacher left students dreading art class each day. They hated Art and they remind me each day how much fun they are having now. It’s been a struggle for two years to get them excited about Art again. Finally, we are moving at a faster, more inventive and creative process. With the art my kids are producing, everyone is happy…kids, parents, and my principal.

      Patty…keep on keeping on! What you are doing is just perfect. You are inspiring young minds and hands!

  • Angie

    I have probably too much to say on this subject for a blog comment, so I will just echo other comments that creating a balance is important. I have a hard time with just making supplies available to students. How can you meet your state’s standards and justify your position? Anyone can just give the students supplies and tell them to “go?” Why would they pay a certified teacher? At the same time, I have a problem when everyone’s art looks the same. I don’t think there should be so much direction that it doesn’t allow for any creativity. I love your blog, btw, and, obviously, you have a lot of supporters and fans.

  • Muddy Kinzer

    Hi Patty,

    What a great topic from a great art teacher/blogger!

    I agree with everyone that said how difficult it is to teach to upwards of 30 kids in one hour! You do what you can to give most, if not all, of the students the most successful art lesson possible. I try not to use templates, but I am a huge fan of guided drawing. It’s effective, it’s successful, and sometimes you even get the added bonus of having the kids sit back in genuine surprise over the art work they created that they didn’t think they could do! I also try to mix it up a bit, so a really guided, instructional lesson can be followed by something looser. Regardless, though, it’s not my job to teach creativity. I’m there to teach art.

    Our art program is structured so the students learn art through the Elements of Art, famous artists, famous pieces of art, and the projects we bring them to explore these concepts. It’s my job to show them the correct and various ways you can use chalk pastels, paintbrushes and painting strokes, and watercolor. Once they learn it and ideas are triggered in their minds, they can go home and that’s where their creativity can really take flight. They have the concepts and the techniques…the framework on which to build their
    ideas…and they no longer need guidance from their friendly art teacher!! So, it’s not that we’re not letting them be creative by using the guided drawing techniques, it’s that we’re teaching them the tools they need to be creative on their own.

    I do love your blog, and have been using your art lessons with my own students! Keep it up!


  • Claire

    Dear Patty,
    The mere fact that you do reflect on the process, consider more options and aim for the child to feel successful makes you great at what you do. When we (as adults) stop being teachable then we are the ones who stop the imagination. Every art lesson that I use from your e-booklets or blog have had great potential for the largest spectrum of students. I teach k-6 art on campuses where the pressure of State Testing is stifling even the modest art time many teachers would have introduced. So my focus for the students is to experience the materials, learn a few new ways of seeing art and artists and create something their families can appreciate when it goes home. Much of my time is spent ‘undoing’ the controlled environment the students are used to. ” but where do you want me to write my name?” “may I use red on the windows?” or with one line drawn on the page, “I made a mistake, may I have another piece of paper?” We have created an environment that expects specific end results in the classroom. My art class is desperately needed to loosen the expectation factor these kids are living with! The art class from your youth that you described, with more in-depth instruction and “more” for the artistic child is fantastic but also a specific course with students enrolled with an expressed interest. That, I believe, is the parents job, to see a child’s aptitude and provide what it needed, whether that is an after-school math tutor, a karate class or art instruction. In the school day, however, the variation of skills and interest are so varied it sure is helpful to use whatever we can to help foster a strong sense of self! Every adult knows how to use the calculator even though they can multiply and subtract in their head, most of us use a jar of spaghetti sauce now and then even though we cook from scratch…meaning, we know how to use tools to make our lives simpler. Using tools like templates to make their facial oval easier isn’t ‘cheating’ it is a way to empower some success for those who feel unsure. Even when teaching a directed draw, I tell the students they don’t have to do it “this” way, it is just how I do it, but they are welcome to use the handouts as inspiration and draw on their own. I would imagine you do too. I will admit, I didn’t always think this way, I thought directed draw was cheating and a template was not for ‘real’ art…thank goodness I became teachable again!
    You are doing a great job-believe it!
    Claire Meacham

  • phyl

    Hi Patty, I’ve waited a few days to gather my thoughts to chime in on this topic. Excuse me if I rattle all over the place trying to explain them.

    First of all – you know I have mad love for all the wonderful stuff you do; I consider you the reason I became a blogger 2 years ago, and I have referred to your blog MANY times for motivation for lessons and more.

    But I am sort of an anti-template sort of gal. If something requires perfect circles I may use circle tracers, but other than that, it’s pretty rare. I figure my goal is to give the kids the tools to empower them to it themselves, whether it is having them use erasers and practice moving their arms around and around above their papers to create ovals, or giving them directions that “it must touch each side of the paper” or so on. When we learned about Audubon, I had a taxidermist loan us some animals (we had a fox, 2 pheasants, and a fisher in my room) for drawing. I gave the kids guidance on how to look and how to translate what they saw to paper, but we did not have animal shape tracers. The kids did the best animal drawings ever!

    When my first graders begin trying to draw people, the kids themselves become models, and we begin by looking at where the bodies bend, etc, and using ovals and circles to build people. Again, no tracers.

    My fear is that when we give a child a tracer, it is a crutch, leading them to believe that “If I draw it myself it will not be as good.” I don’t want them to have that sentiment, ever. I certainly DO believe in instruction, and setting up a framework for what you are doing, and providing the tools and guidance the kids need. But I want them to be unafraid to draw. I want them to be proud that their artwork does not look like that of the child sitting next to them. I don’t want every bird to have his head turned the same way, or every face to be identical. But I do set parameters. For example: currently we are making papier-mache cats motivated by Laurel Burch’s ‘fantastic felines’. There is a definite eye shape we are using. Each child is making his own, so they won’t be identical, but they all will have some similarities in the scope of what they’ve done. Am I making sense?

    BUT – putting it all in perspective – we all come from very different backgrounds and training, and even eras (I’m an aging hippie, myself!). We teach in places that require different levels of training or none at all; we work in public schools, private schools, after-school programs, programs for the gifted, programs for the challenged, and more. We are paid; we are volunteer. We work with rural kids; we work with inner city schools; we work with kids who have never had art; we work with kids who have led enriched lives. We have beautiful classrooms; we work on a cart and have no running water and no storage. We see kids many times a year (me) or few times a year (you) and learn to work within the parameters of the time we have available when deciding what is most important to teach. With all that in mind, I say we need to do what works for ourselves, and don’t need to feel guilty or make excuses if we are not doing what works for someone else. Any time we give kids an opportunity to have an art experience, whatever it is, we are doing something positive, even if it doesn’t measure up to someone else’s standards who doesn’t walk in your shoes. Am I making sense? Using templates doesn’t work for me, but I don’t think that gives me the right to say that it doesn’t work for you. Keep doing what you are doing; your kids are lucky to have someone with the enthusiasm you bring to give them such wonderful art opportunities.

    Sorry my comment is so long. You know I love you Patty!!

    • Laura

      Well said Phyl! 🙂

      • Patty

        Hi Phyl,
        Thanks so much for weighing in. I love your art and your blog and I know the principles in which guide you just by looking at your work. I agree with everything you say, including the use of templates. I know I made it sounds as though I use templates all the time, but I use them only occasionally, and for the reasons you state.
        You have a great perspective, Phyl and I can’t wait to meet you someday!!!

  • Prity

    Hi Patty,
    There is nothing wrong in structured art program. I believe all kids have very good imagination but not everyone knows how to show or draw those imagination in drawings. I always hear my students saying I don’t know how to Draw it. I believe you are going in the right directions, art teachers are there to show them how to draw. once they know how to draw they can take it to next level and use there imagination in a way they want to. Art is a skill which can be learned. For example,what happens If a student go to a piano class and the teacher ask student to use there imagination and play the piano instead of teaching them how to use piano.In classes where the students are asked to use there imagination and work only 1 out of 10 might do good. In a class where you show them how to do it i believe 9 out of 10 will do good.
    You are doing a Great job!

    • Patty

      Yes, that’s exactly it! I have a structure program. I never really thought of it as such, but it’s true. I love directed lessons but the really fun part for me is mixing it up for the kids; showing them different ways in which to draw something.
      Thanks for weighing in! And I love your name.

  • Mary

    I have a great deal of respect for you Patty. Your enthusiasm for teaching art and genuineness definitely come across to your blog readers. Like so many others have said, there is no one way to teach art. When I was about 10, I took an art class that was held in a tiny artist’s studio. We only worked from other artist’s works, using acrylics on canvas. You would think that this would not be fulfilling or fun for a child. But I so LOVED my 90 minutes at the easel. I learned color mixing, technique, and composition from studying these masters. When I was home I always had plenty of plain paper and mixed media to do my own thing. I went on to take every art class offered in high school and continue on to a 4 year art school. Thank you for providing so many wonderful lessons that we can pass on to our students!

  • Christie

    Wow! When I clicked on your blog today I didn’t expect to find such a wealth of genuine comments!! I don’t think I can add much to what has already been said. However, I TRULY believe that there is no ONE best way to teach art and that is evidenced by all the varied (and motivational) art teacher blogs that are out there for us all to share. Regarding negative comments or e-mails, I always sort of wonder what kind of person would bother with such things. I totally “get” writing to complement someone, share a similar experience or ask a question to clarify something — but but negative comments?!! Why bother?? I hope you brush them off and keep doing what you do — I love the inspiration:)

  • Donna

    Hi Patty! An art teacher friend of mine just today told me about this conversation on your blog and was curious about what I might have to say. To you I say, “keep on keepin’ on!”
    I have been teaching art to young kids (mostly K-5) for close to 20 years and my approach and goal for each lesson I create has always been to give the kids enough direction so that they learn something about principles of design, elements of art, color theory, technique etc. but also to provide the freedom that encourages them to take something we are working on in their own direction. I believe this is the best recipe! Providing a “jumping off point” and some direction but also being very clear about “if an idea for something comes to you…..go for it!” not only teaches young children important art concepts, but opens the door for them to discover and explore their own creativity. There is no greater thrill for me than to hear, “OH!! I have an idea!” This, after all, is the purpose of visual arts education isn’t it….to encourage, awaken and exercise each child’s own unique right brain functions? The results from this approach are always phenomenal…for both the students and the teacher. I have revised/expanded entire lessons as a result of a child’s own idea/interpretation and the kids feel a freedom that is not afforded to them in any other classroom subject. I never tire of my own lessons because…encouraging kids to “expand” on something I present means that always something new pops up!
    I have heard of art teachers like some mentioned above that are so rigid that….forgive me but they should be teaching math and not art….where there is only ONE “correct” answer, and I personally know art teachers that provide no instruction/direction at all and both fall very short of the mark if you ask me. One approach results in “cookie cutter” art, an in the the other approach it is clear that nothing at all has actually be taught or learned. Art is a discipline like any other with very important concepts to learn. .
    I am a great fan of your site and this is because I can tell from the student work that your approach provides kids with the best of both worlds.
    As for the “directed draw” method that we sometimes employ and is often questioned, I think this has great benefit in teaching children how to break complicated “problems” down into parts and learning to look at any kind of “problem” in this way is a skill that can be applied to any sort of problem that life presents us with. How many times do we hear kids say… “OH! I can’t draw that…it’s very complicated!!” But when the teacher shows them how to look at each part separately and then how the separte parts relate to each other and fit together…it is as if they have been shown a great miracle! This is a good “miracle” to know about if you ask me!

    • Patty

      I love this. Wonderfully said. Thank you.

  • Rhonda Baldacchino

    Hi Patty,
    I am not an art teacher and we do not have the luxury of a specialist art teacher at my school. I am it! I am not creative and never have been. I believe creativity needs to be guided and nurtured. I know that I need inspiration and guidance and then I can have a go on my own. I think some children are the same. I do believe some people are just born creative but many are not. I have followed your blog and taken some great ideas back to my classroom. My students would not be getting the same experiences if it wasn’t for people like yourself who so generously share your ideas and expertise. There is another teacher at my school and we are always looking to see what you have on your blog. We have both done many of your lessons with our classes. We are not creative but you have given us direction. Children like and need this too. I see a directed drawing lesson as much more than art and creativity. It develops concentration and listening skills as well spacial awareness. I believe children like a starting point and a framework to work within and then they can branch out from there. I want to give my children art experiences and I say… you are doing a wonderful job and from me and the children I teach, a HUGE thankyou for the fantastic ideas and experiences you have given us!

  • Nancy Tompkins

    Patty: I remember once getting into an argument with a woman at a party once who didn’t understand how art could be taught. “Children are such natural artists–why don’t you just let them create on their own?” This sort of attitude always makes me grit my teeth. I do think that very,very young children get a lot out of experimenting with materials, but most children I have ever met (I have been teaching for 23 years, 1-8 grades) really desire a framework, often the more “limited” the better, so that they can push against it. In the same way that it would be extremely daunting for any adult to be given a piece of paper with the instructions,”just write about anything!” with no instruction, many children shut down when given too much freedom, or created reams of splatter paintings, peace signs and war scenes. My students have enjoyed all of your lesson plans that I have used, and they have given them confidence and ideas to work on projects of their own.

  • Joanne Duval

    I am currently homeschooling my three children. I was a elementary and a middle school teacher in both regular and special education classes.

    I think with all lessons in any subject area the most important thing to figure out is:



    Recently, my niece came home from school in tears (high school freshman) her biology teacher starts class everyday with the kids copying notes off the board for 20 minutes. My niece can’t copy them fast enough and for homework they are supposed to type their notes and pass them in the next day. She is not able to do this well…she writes slowly and has never taken a typing class- it takes her forever with one finger. It has been very sad to see my bright niece who wanted to be a pediatrician since she was five now hating science…..

    If I could talk to her teacher I would love to ask: For this 20 minutes what is your lesson focus? Is this the best way to teach that skill to a variety of kids? and does this waste teaching time/student time? If the goal is learning the “content” of the notes (vs. handwriting, copying rate etc) then wouldn’t handing out the notes and having the students read them/ask questions/ add to the notes/have a discussion/etc be a better use of time?


    as teachers we should be making these choices for every lesson we teach…

    Art doesn’t seem all that different from any other lesson. You have a skill or goal in mind …your lesson focus. Now, how best teach everyone what you want them to learn? I would think the process is the focus at times and at other times the product. What props, materials, examples, templates etc you use and how you let the children use them can provide the alternatives, choice and creativity within a lesson…sometimes this might take the form of a small choice- “you can use red or black paper for your background” and other times it might provide lots of alternatives- “you can use crayons, pastels, watercolors and any of the paper choices on the back table”.

    Sometimes lessons have both parts…my favorite lesson to this day was your dancing cow lesson. We drew the cows using your handout. They followed each step just right…(direct instruction) and they painted the cow black and white with a pink udder…the grass was green. Very conventional….The next day they wanted to make cows again but this time I told them to make any kind of cows they wanted…..check out my little guys interpretation here:


    He felt so creative and good about himself. Keep up the good work Patty….you have great ideas, great lessons!


  • Kimberly

    Dearest favorite Art Teacher Patty!

    You are the perfect kind of teacher (of any subject) – your approach to teaching is intelligent, thoughtful, kind, you LOVE what you do and reflect on it afterward. Obviously I admire that.

    My public school district (in Ventura County, CA) doesn’t provide art in elementary schools. Any art is 100% funded by PTA money and volunteers in the classroom. I volunteer for my 2 kids’ classes and truly wish I could do the same for each class and each student because I know most do not have a parent willing to teach.

    I have learned so much about teaching art from your site. I am an artist and because of that I have had to adapt my style to kids who aren’t as quick to create. When I was a little girl I hated too much instruction because I had so many ideas in my head I wanted to just go with it and not be contained by what the teacher wanted. But I quickly learned that many kids don’t have that ability or, as a sad example of the state of education in our county, their trust in their creativity has been suppressed. (Don’t get me started on this or I’ll start ranting!) Because of this I strive to offer a combination of A: directed teaching with parameters that are firmly founded in the elements of art and expose them to master works and contemporary illustrators. And B: Free thinking creative exercises that are more open for interpretation. There are quite a few kids who struggle with the latter but I truly believe this is a skill they can hone with practice. School kids are sadly told what to do every single moment of their days; it is no wonder many children are losing their innate (arguably?) creative thinking skills. The other day I stopped the third graders ½ way through a directed draw lesson of Dr. Seuss’ Horton and asked them to really look at their pages. Out of their simple rectangles and ovals was emerging a real illustration and the pride in their faces was awesome. Love that.

    Thank you ALL, Patty first for providing so much inspiration and wise guidance and teachers who are paid to share the love of art and those of us who volunteer. Mostly, thank you – those teachers who were terrified and had never thought they could teach art for being willing to reach out to kids who desperately need an outlet that isn’t “fill in the blanks”. Keep on inspiring!

    • Patty

      Hi Kimberly,
      Thanks for your wise and gracious comments! I agree with you with respect to the lack of creative thinking in our students. Children aren’t practiced in free-thinking exercise but that is a whole other debate, isn’t it? I do see many children who have a great creative mind and I’m starting to think it’s something they are born with. I see that in my children: two are creative thinkers and one is quite linear. All are exactly who they should be.
      I would love to meet you someday. Maybe I’ll organize an art teacher meet-up in Ventura/Santa Barbara! Thanks again for your wonderful insight.

  • Amy Broadmoore

    I really appreciate you raising these excellent questions! These same questions have been running through my head but for different reasons. I am a parent of a 1st grader who seems to be opposed to following instructions in art classes, and I am unsure what to say to him.

    My son loves art and he and his two younger siblings have lots of opportunities to engage in open-ended art projects at home. However, his teacher tells me that he is doing badly in art class. I suspect that it is because he has taken the lesson in The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola to heart: “If you want to be a true artist, practice and never copy” (or something like that). At Christmas time, I had my son and his younger sister make snowman collages from your website and had the chance to observe the types of problems he must be having with art classes at school. Before he got around to creating his collage, he carefully mixed his paints, painted ~7 paintings of snow people, elves, and abstract painting, finally created a collage background with tissue paper and modge podge, and then accidently painted over the entire collage. Finally, on perhaps attempt number 10, he painted a snowman on a collage background. In art class at school, he does not get 10 attempts to practice a new technique presented by a teacher.

    On one hand, I think it is so valuable for kids to be given time to experiment with art materials on their own…to figure out what various art materials can to and to develop their own style. I know that you like bright colors, but you likely have some students who are drawn to creating pictures with more muted colors. On the other hand, I think my son could learn new techniques from his art teacher if he would follow her instructions.

    I have absolutely no training as an art instructor. That said, for an elementary classroom where most students don’t have the opportunity to experiment with tempera paints, watercolor paints, oil pastels etc. at home, I wish that kids had the opportunity to engage in both types of instruction — some classes where they are allowed to experiment with materials and other classes where they are given more instruction to try out new techniques.

    (For my son who gets plenty of opportunity to experiment at home, I think guided instruction is great. After reading these comments, I think I am ready to talk with him about the value of following directions in art class.)

    • Patty

      Thanks for the great parent perspective. I agree, I wish children could have unlimited access to paint and paper, too. I have students who are like your son. They like art but they need much more time with the process. For these kids, I encourage the classroom teacher to, in a way, back off a bit. The classroom teacher generally sees how a child’s decisions in art class is directly related to his decisions in math and reading. It’s their job to help the child learn in the best way possible for them. So they take every opportunity to streamline a child’s learning. I respect that alot because it’s really a hard job teaching 25 very different children.
      Thank heaven’s that you take a proactive approach to your child’s artistic development as well. That’s the ultimate wish for every teacher I suspect! But a little direction wouldn’t hurt your son. He might actually like the structure providing that he is still allowed to create.
      Hard to say what the perfect balance is right?

  • Amy Broadmoore

    Also, I love Phyl’s comment above. I am always thrilled when my kids receive art instruction from an enthusiastic and dedicated art teacher, and that no doubt describes you.

  • Patty G

    Regarding the issue of “guiding” the students or letting them be creative (i.e. work on their own), my feeling is that working on their own and being creative is what they get to be when they are not in my class (which basically translates to most of the time). During the 16 times a year or so that I actually get my k-5 students in my class, I TEACH them – yes sometimes that involves guidelines and templates. I often simplify the template so they are doing much of the work themselves and when it involves something symmetrical, they design it and cut it themselves. I am teaching them how to use control, how to take shortcuts, how to work carefully and how to put as much effort into their artwork as possible. If all it took was a child’s own creativity, we wouldn’t need teachers at all (and the kids wouldn’t be learning). I know I’ve accomplished something great with my students when I see their eyes light up because they created something more than they imagined they could, because of my guidance. Students have their entire lives to create and explore on their own, but without our careful guidance, tricks and instructions, I don’t think they’d be able to get to as great a place. Keep on doing what you’re doing! I love coming to your website to browse and have downloaded and used many of your ideas! And because of your great ideas and instructions, my attempts are very successful! Thank you!!

    • Betsy

      I wasn’t going to weigh in on this since you received so many comments and so much support but I can’t help myself. You are fantastic and I really don’t know how you do it all!
      I have a private art studio and so have the luxury of small class sizes and time for each child. I have GREAT respect for Art Teachers with large class sizes. Even with a small class it is absolutely necessary to provide tools in the form of templates, guided line drawings etc for children to learn to be creative. Without these tools they cannot express themselves adequately. It would be like trying to express emotion but you lack the vocabulary. How frustrating. Directed lessons serve as a springboard to expressive freedom.
      Love your Blog and your teaching values.

  • Cheri

    Here’s what I do–I take off my art teacher hat for a little while, and look at my students’ work with my art appreciation hat on. Since I can pretty much be fascinated by a one square inch area on a four foot by four foot canvas, I’m probably an outlier on the art appreciation scale, so if I’m bored by the eighth or ninth piece, I know I’ve overtaught, and next time I do the project I’ll try to be less limiting.

    • Patty

      Excellent idea!

  • Cheryl Trowbridge

    Hi Patty!
    I love your blog and all the ideas you share! I think it’s great that you’re reflective about your teaching style and so willing to consider the value in other points of view. When you think about it, all of our situations are really so different…. different schools, students, cultures, needs, etc., etc., so there isn’t going to be just one right answer when it comes to how to teach. We can share ideas, use the ones that work for us, and let the others go…. they may work for someone else! Personally, I rarely use any kind of template, but once in a while that’s exactly what I need – so I use one and don’t think twice about it. I’ve gotten so many great ideas from you, and from other bloggers, too. I really appreciate having a community of art educators to share ideas with. Thanks for all you’ve done to encourage and inspire all of us!!

    • Patty

      Thanks Cheryl! I love your blog as well. And I agree, having such a great network of art bloggers out there is inspiring and helpful!

  • Erica Forman

    I completely concur will all of these positive replies, and then some. Your site and all that you do, it awe inspiring and such a blessing to us all. I just wish I was an art teacher to I could give these wonderful art projects more of my time, and attention. I make sure to tell as many people as I can about this website, that do work with children. Every teacher at my sons public school, Centennial Elementary in Springfield Oregon, has been told about Deep Space Sparkle, and the hall ways are progressively becoming more and more beautiful thanks to you! As a matter of fact, one of my many Sunday duties I have planned for today is to print little quarter sheet flyers and hand them out to the teachers on Monday, just in case any have not given Deep Space Sparkle a whirl. I am sure to mention the art links in the drop down menu, “inside the artroom”, as in the occurrence one does not find what they are looking for on your site, there are dozens more wonderful art sites to peruse. With all that your site is and all it offers, it is truly everything I, as well as many others, could ever wish for. I honestly could not think of a criticism if I had too. We are all so very fortunate to have your God sent creativity (or whatever higher power you happen to believe in), encouragement, and knowledge, to guide, inspire, and motivate us. I thank you and appreciate you from the bottom of my heart. You are simply an angel of creativity and inspiration.
    I could go on and on, but I will keep it short as you have much to read; much adoring and admiration for you to keep up with 🙂
    Sincerely and faithfully,
    Erica Forman (and son Jalen ) from beautiful Eugene Oregon

    • Patty

      Thank you Erica. It’s really lovely receiving these comments. I’m so pleased that the site is helpful. I know people read my blog because I have see my stats, but I really don’t know how well my information is translating to people. So thank you! I appreciate you spreading the word!!!

  • Marilyn Beilstein

    Patty, I love your website! For the past 12 years, I have taught art and library in a school that has all special education students. We have all types of students, from those with autism to emotionally distubed and everything in between! I have used many of your lessons sucessfully. I have to be very flexible, since there are so many types of students and many age groups. We have students from around age 7 through age 22. Some of the students do not have the skills necessary to complete even a pre-school lesson, yet I believe they enjoy watching someone help them make their projects. Some will allow hand-over-hand instruction, and some will not. They seem to enjoy the sociialization that comes with having someone work with them on a project. Right now I am in the middle of teaching the one-point perspective lesson to a group of middle school and high school boys. Some of them seem to have so little faith in their own abilities. They want to give up if it doesn’t come out “perfect” (Whatever that is) the first time they try. I have told them several times how difficult I found perspective to be when I was a child, and to not give up. I think they are really doing well. I will keep you posted on how this lesson turns out. It may take us a while, but we will get there! Keep doing “your thing” and providing such great art lessons!

  • sumo

    Hi Patty,
    Like everyone else here I simply love your site. I am NOT an art teacher but I am a parent who is passionate about art and I have a 5 year old who simply loves to draw and weave stories with her drawings. I thought I’d share the perspective of a parent here so that would add another dimension to the discussion. My daughter goes to a lovely montessori school in the neighborhood and she has an art class at school too. She simply loves her art class but I find she churns out great stuff at home ( without any guidance or support) and most of her school art work is rather anaemic. So initially I wondered if her art teacher was doing enough with her or did she need more instruction. But after much analysis I’ve realized that she actually loves getting the instruction in class. She is learning a lot of stuff about lines, shapes, textures. It is just that she gets back home and then puts it all out in her work and if I look at how her drawings are progressing I think I must give credit to her art teacher! So to sum it up I think each child takes in instruction differently but with a passionate art teacher all of them learn to love art in their own special ways. Thanks so much for sharing all your work here. I truly appreciate and admire your patience with kids. Thanks again.

  • Erin

    You took the words right out of my head. We are very similar. I had the same artistic childhood, and approach my class room exactly as you stated you approach yours! Keep up the good work, your site gets me through those occasional teaching blocks!

  • Erin

    By the way I always tell my students that art class is for learning the basic skills and exercising your creative brain so that when you are doing art on your own you have the ability to do it and then try it your own way. I compare it to other things you learn at school, one must learn to read “see spot run” before they can go home and read The Hunger Games

  • Amber

    Hi Patty – I am really enjoying reading the discussion your post has prompted so thank you for posting it! There are a lot of very good and well thought out comments here and I have learnt so much about the restrictions which art teachers have to face in regards to teaching art to children. I did teach Secondary and Primary Art for a while, then I gave up and became a full time artist represented in a commercial gallery so I do have some knowledge in the area of teaching and also understand the frustrations expressed here.

    At the moment I am researching children and art e.g. Different stages of creative development, why teach or encourage art at all, how to encourage self expression, how to observe (my focus). These are just a few themes thats interest me, there are many more. There are so many thoughts, concerns, questions I have when it comes to nurturing creativity in children and getting them through those self-doubt years where they start to question their work, most are influenced by my life as a professional artist and not a teacher. Though having an understanding of the school environment is a bonus.

    I have a strong belief that their needs to be a drive to educate parents about the benefits of art in the first place. Many parents I speak to about this have no idea about the benefits, how THEY can and should guide their children at home, what they should say and especially what they shouldn’t say to their child about their work. I tell them about things like confidence, self-esteem, problem solving, perception skills, commitment, list goes on – skills which influence ALL other areas of their schooling. They don’t know this, well most don’t. I understand that time and resources are limited at school but if parents were aware that THEY can creative an environment at home and had the knowledge which allowed them to guide and nurture their child’s creativity surely this is beneficial. I have spoken to parents who didn’t know “What is that?”is the wrong thing to say to their child in regards to their latest work. It has been proven that parents DO understand that art is important so naturally, they are concerned at the thought that they might be discouraging their child’s self expression.

    When I talk about getting children though the self doubt years – WHY? I guess it all relates to the practice of art making in adulthood. I ask my friends now if they would like to know how to draw or if they had some basic skills would they like to have a regular paint, they all say YES. The process of art is one of those things like mindfulness which allows us as adults to focus on one thing only while we are in the act and all of those other stresses in our life like finances, health, time etc. evaporate. So this is why I get concerned when I hear a 10 year old say “I can’t draw” then stop enjoying it and inevitably doing it.

    There have been a few comments regarding students who need to be told what to draw otherwise they sit their with a blank face. I also encountered this when I taught art myself. I believe this starts from when they are very small, they have had things like lessons, performance, right/wrong, right school/right school, expectations, university, PRESSURE etc etc shoved down their throats. No wonder in a school environment they aren’t sure how to even approach art without rules. It’s just a completely different kettle of fish and I think a lot of kids struggle to understand the concept at all. They DID draw without guides once – it’s universal, they drew from THEIR imagination, THEIR memory, THEIR experience. This is how I draw now . A blank canvas terrifies me, but I need it so I can exercise all of these things because my work is my world. As it was for a 3 year old. It seems to me that as children get older the “YOU” part dissipates. Again though, time, resources, restructuring are issues but we (teachers, parents) need to encourage “YOU” first and foremost and this might take a long time, especially in this day and age. It is now that we need new ideas, fresh thinkers.

    As a teacher if you could start from scratch, had the freedom to design your own program – what would it look like? Would it be the same or different? (I don’t mean for teachers to comment here by the way -these are just things that I am curious about!).

    Thanks again.

  • Anissa Anwar

    Hi..Patty, I am art teacher from Indonesia…I just found your website. And I love your website and your ideas. Keep up the good work, and its very inspiring me your website. Love it and Like it…Thanks again.

  • Melissa Carpp

    Hi Patty,
    I love your website. I discovered it a about a year ago and I have done many of your lessons. You have a very similar art program, I teach about 400 students in a K- 8 Catholic school.
    I love reading your blog and looking at your lessons. I want my son to help me start a blog spot just to keep all my lessons online so I can use them again. I am so impressed with the time you take to share your thoughts on how your lessons go. I also use directed drawing and yes, even templates to help my students start projects! You are an inspiration to art teachers everywhere. I agree that you can give students some guidelines to get started on a project and then they can take off and add all the fun details that they want. If I don’t give my classes a starting point with some helpful hints about placement, size, and how to get started I would be out of paper before Christmas!
    Keep up the great work !

  • Meri Lee

    Hi Patty,

    I have been an art teacher for 36 years and LOVE your site. I retired from public school art teaching and now teach art classes to children that are home schooled.

    What is wrong with teaching art in sequential steps? What other subject is NOT taught in sequential steps? Would you have a young child a book to “read” or a musical instrument to play without first teaching them HOW in sequential steps? I would hope not. When I present a lesson, I will say something like “If you know how to draw this you can do it your own way. If you are not sure, then follow my steps one at a time.”

    Your site has given me a breath of fresh air to try other artists for teaching. Keep up the good work!

  • Robin M.

    As a teacher we know that each student has a diverse ability to understand, process, and create a beautiful piece of art work. Just as each student is different physically so are their abilities. First, this person who gave a personal critique of your teaching style, needs to understand the mechanics of an art room-or any classroom.
    Most of my students LOVE art. They want to learn from me. They desire to please me through their art but also find value in whatever they create-because it is THEIRS! First, this person’s opinion of cookie-cutter art is different than what I believe it is.
    My definition of cookie cutter art is when you pass out pre-crafted shapes that look perfect and the same for each child. All they have to do is glue, and sign their name.
    I share your teaching style and I love to go to school to teach children! (the extra paperwork that is required this year, well…that is a different story…but that is not my focus…the children are!
    Today in second grade, the children analyzed the painting by Vincent of “SUNFLOWERS”, noting the colors, shapes, and where the vase might be located. The children asked questions like “Why did he paint only in yellow? Why is there a shiny part on the vase in the front? Why did he write his name on the vase? INQUIRING MINDS LEARN MORE! I wrote all their questions down on the Promethean board! They were all engaged!
    Then, we created SUnflowers like VanGogh by cutting out triangles (negative space) creating petals of the flower. The process was fun beginning to end and students followed the directions according to how they received it; all processed it differently as well;-thus creating a different work of art but on the same subject. Some sunflowers were not round. Some sunflowers had squared off petals. Only a handful looked like a flower, but is that wrong? Is this cookie-cutter art? Absolutely, NOT! The children had fun, experimenting and processing finding solutions to problems that they might not have encountered had they just drawn the flowers. (By the way, no crayons were allowed for the project this week. Scissors were their drawing tool!) I wonder what new things we will discover next week when they return? 😉
    As art teachers, we teach about different genres in art, artists, and Art History. We have a passion to do what we do because that is how we are created! If you love, do it! I say: Proceed with Your Passion! Never give up!

  • mary

    I have taught Kindergarten, second and now am teaching college students. I grew up being told I was creative and winning awards for it. I was the one who designed the stage for Proms/Homecomings, I did teacher’s bulletin boards, I loved displaying my own boards while teaching and my classroom every month with the children’s work. Now I have a Creativity Studio on campus and I teach a class called Creative Learning Environments. We have an outdoor area that has been designed with towers to depict the artists the students/children work with…my artist-in-residence paints the tall towers with Monet, VanGogh, Audubon, Wyland or any other artists famous works. We planted a Monet Garden and a section of vanGogh sunflowers.
    Inside the studio I was fortunate to be able to design it myself from a blank canvas…so we have earthy tones of green on the walls, wooden floors, taupe painted shelving, a pottery area, soft transparent drapings, lighting that is tranquil and lovely displays for the art materials. It is beautiful.
    The children are preschool age that come for 5 weeks in a row, while I do the research for the art projects, literature to weave in, music, science, math and soc. studies concepts are all a part of the experiences the children will be exposed to based on a chosen artist.
    That sets the background and this is what I have learned…the environment is conducive to creativity and experimentation…but their age is what sets some barriers to that. Very often these little ones have never held a paintbrush, a pair of scissors or even a pencil at times. They are still in need of strength in their fingers in order to do so. Talking to them about the tools of an artist and how to manipulate them helps us to be better artists…so we can actually put on paper/pallette what our brain and eyes are thinking about or seeing. Much modeling is needed to know how to draw a circle for a sunflower or a swirl shape for a starry night. Once these skills are better then the choices of colors, mixing, blending,
    testing can take place. Sometimes a template for a butterfly for Monet’s garden is ok for fine motor skills…but tying Science in and looking at the many many types of butterflies allows many templates to be made up…their choice of the shape of a butterfly and the colors chosen to paint it makes everyone different and their own rendition.
    Older children have more skills to draw upon, but still need many visuals and even modeling done by a teacher with more refined skills. Naming their creations, choosing background papers to mount on are all ways to show creativity.
    I have done research on creativeness…with results that indeed show that with practice and proper questioning techniques to include fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration ideas…what children and (people for that matter) do helps them to reach to a higher level of creativity…even if we model some ideas, brainstorm together and show samples. It’s how we learn.

  • Elaine

    When I first began teaching art, I wanted to do more of a give-them-a-bunch-of-supplies approach and let them be completely free to create. That was quite a flop! Perhaps if I had different students, but with the ones I had it didn’t work. Eventually I found your blog and used a few of your lessons, along with some other more directed lessons. The students did much better. This is now my second year teaching art and I’m using a balanced approach between total freedom and specific direction. The students have specific types of lessons for 3 days (25 mins/day) and then art centers for the 4th day. The art centers are set up so that they are using specific skills, but in a free-form manner. They love the mix of formal and informal and so do I 🙂 Over a year, I have my students for about 24 hours total.

  • Mikel Ibarra

    I admit I didn’t read all of the comments, so this may be a repeat of information. Teaching For Artistic Behavior is a method that many may confuse with “putting” out a bunch of supplies and saying “go for it”; however, it is really an in depth student led instructional practice when done properly. I have taught art for 15 years and am a NBCT/ EMC- Art so I identify with everyone’s perspective. It is easier to lead instruction than to allow the students to lead, but my artist heart feels best when they are leading. That said, we a do the best we can with what we are given and our experiences. We should lift each other in praise because teaching art is a TRUE challenge at every level!

  • Amy

    I have a been using your sight for 5 years. What I absolutely love is that your directive drawings help students to know that they can create! Many students sometimes come into the uppergrades and believe they cannot draw anything but stick figures. When I use your easy 10 step or less drawing lessons the kids are amazed at what they can do. And then it is awesome to put a whole class of artwork on one subject, like lizards and they are all unique. I have had success with many of your lessons and it is great to get the “Wow” factor of parents but even more, to have the kids proud of what they created and eager to draw almost anything because they can. Thanks.

  • vetri

    Hi Patty,
    I love your wonderful website. I have just started to teach kids, which includes my g.son who is 8 years old. Have to learn a lot. I take inspiration from your wonderful lessons, care fully planned. The wonder in the eyes of the kids as well as the parent coming to pick up the kid at the end of the session says it all…! Thanks a ton!

  • Study Art

    Its a good post!! Art instruction may interrupt kids to do freely their work. So give them complete freedom to paint whatever they want. This is the right way to to enlarge your kids creativity and build their confidence also.

  • Simon Silva/www.simonsilva.com

    We teach art for two basic reasons: One as a possible future vocation and two to nurture a child’s natural abilities, individuality and creativity. As a creative type that has been in the art business both as a fine artist and an illustrator, I have found that regardless of the reason why you’re teaching art we still need to be fully aware that the more creative and the more individualistic a child is, the more success they will have as a profession or whatever profession they decide to embark on.

    I believe that there in fact is a right way and a wrong way to teach art/drawing to very young children. I have found that children DON’T need any art lessons as young children. They already have genius level drawing abilities and the reason I know this is because I have been applying the principles of design to Kindergartners artwork and what they are able to produce is quite unique, creative and individualistic.

    In my opinion we need to use art in the lower grade levels to enhance, nurture or re-nurture what’s already there. I believe directed drawing runs the risk of damaging the child’s individuality and creativity.

    All of our children are basically born with all of the so called: 21st Century Skills that we as adults are trying to relearn and re-nurture because we have become damaged goods because some one either damaged our individuality/creativity or someone didn’t enhance our individuality and creativity.

    If you want to teach directed drawing I believe we should wait until the child is much older (Junior High or High School). There is a huge difference between talent and creativity/individuality, please make sure you’re not damaging your students creativity/individuality because you want them to create realistic images. Art isn’t about the pretty images, anyone can create those with enough practice and enough time. However, very few of your students will be successful “artists” if they draw/create like everyone else.

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