If you teach art to children, no doubt that you’ve come across a child who is unhappy with their work. Some children become rattled by a torn piece of paper or even a color choice. What can you do to help these children work through the sticky points of art-making?
There is plenty of advice out there but sometimes the best way to help a child is to put yourself in their shoes. In today’s show, I share my philosophy and how I approach frustrated artists, what I say and how I help children enjoy the creative process.
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Mistakes are a part of art. As soon as we can teach children this concept, the more fun you will have as an art teacher and the more creative the students will be. I can’t say where children get this notion that everything must be done correctly, but it certainly resides in many children’s heads.
Some children are wired this way. I can see the battles some children create in their heads; these are the children where life is black and white, lines are either straight or crooked. There is very little doubt in this kid’s head that a drawing is correct or not. I don’t consider this a wrong state of being, but rather a child expressing his authentic self. My middle son is very exact. Everything he views in the world has a purpose and most concepts and ideas are linear. There is a correct sequence for everything. He was like this at 6 and he is the same at 16. Is he artistic? Nope. Not at all. But so what? He still enjoyed art at school because he was able to set aside his wired state and have some fun with his drawings without judgement. He loved directed drawing lessons because well, they were directed. You either did them right, or wrong (in his opinion, not mine!)
So how do you see that mistakes are important to some children and that it’s not a reflection of you? It’s not easy, but I think it comes down to trust. I know my students. Well, the truth is, I often forget their names but I always remember their art and how they express themselves through it. I am gentle with my little kinders and first graders as art class might be their very first experience with art. I make sure I am in a relaxed state before they enter my art room because I want my energy to be positive and calm. Little kids can sense whether or not you feel they have made a mistake, so it’s important that you block it from your head.
With older students, I am honest. If a child isn’t doing their best, I push them. I know many art teachers rarely offer comments or even praise, but I do. If you pay attention, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not a child is proud of her work. I build upon that notion, even if they did something completely opposite of what I taught. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to sense when a child is totally frustrated. A child might need encouraging words to push through an art project until it’s completed. This is hard for an eight-year old to understand. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at one of my pieces of art and grimaced at what I saw. But by working through the process, I sometimes found that in the end, the piece turned out better than I had initally thought.
Frustration might be the emotional response but in some cases, a feeling of helplessness can result. If I sense this, I just cut straight to the problem. I’ll ask a few questions to see what the child doesn’t like about the painting and then we’ll brainstorm ways to fix it. Don’t assume that a child will be hurt because you recognize that the bear has five legs but only needs four. The kid wants to know how to get rid of the leg! Telling him that the bear looks fine, is often frustrating. I’m a creative thinker so we’ll come up with a couple of options for the kid and the kid will choose. And yes, I know what you are all thinking…what’s wrong with a five-legged bear? Nothing, but it’s not me that matters. It’s the child.
Of course, finding solutions for one artist is tricky if you have 30 kids and five minutes left in art. You have to be quick. Offer good solutions and then move on. Not easy, but the more you teach this way, the easier it becomes.
Here are a few concrete tips that may help a child get back on track or prevent meltdowns in the first place:
- When doing a direct line drawing without pencils and erasers, tell the children to follow along as best they can. Even if they make a mistake, keep going. Then, when the drawing is finished, they can turn the paper over and begin the drawing again. Most kids will accept their first drawing because that’s when I bring out the paints. Most everyone will want to start painting. Manipulative? Maybe, but this encourages the kids to go with the flow and see what happens. They always love their work in the end.
- Rarely use pencils. Start children in Kindergarten to draw with markers, crayons or oil pastels. The earlier you start with drawing this way without constant erasing, the more confident they will become as artists. Don’t get me wrong; pencils and erasers have their place in fine art instruction, but I think they are best left for older children.
- Here’s a tip I received from one of my readers and I thought it was brilliant. Have the children do a directed line drawing with pink erasers! The pink will show up on the white paper. The child can wipe away anything he doesn’t like. Cool, huh?
- For little kids, starting a drawing is the hardest part. Placing the eye of an elephant or the center of a flower can be hard. To help find the “right” starting point, have the child point to the perfect place on the paper. Once they receive a”thumbs-up” from you, they can make a dot and then begin their drawing.
Working through mistakes is the hardest aspect in teaching art. But how children deal with it in art class is up to you. Make sure you have your head in the right place and believe in what you are teaching.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I would love to hear how you help frustrated artists in your classroom. Share your thoughts or tips so that you can help other teachers impact children with their love of art. Leave your comment below.
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