Art is essential for children. Besides the intrinsic pleasure of creating art, its value in childhood development is often overlooked in a culture of raising test scores. Not only is it a creative outlet and a visual form of self-expression, art has been linked to greater academic success in schools. From improving fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination to creating a sense of pride and accomplishment in young minds, art can provide a litany of benefits to children.
I am an artist. I don’t mean that I enjoy painting in my spare time (I’m a stay-at-home mom–what spare time?!?!?). By artist, I mean who I am in the very core of my being; It informs all that I am and everything I do. I also happen to be over-educated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in the discipline of painting. I began a career teaching college art before we decided to have children. But ultimately, I just wanted to be home with my kids and be involved in every aspect of their childhood. There have been times when I’ve felt conflicted and I miss the challenge of working with young adults and I miss the thrill of preparing an exhibition. For the most part, being a mother and being home has been entirely rewarding! But that’s besides the point. I want to talk about children’s art!
My son goes through phases here at home when he enjoys making art, and I usually just follow his lead and provide him with whatever materials he needs to spark his artistic genius. 🙂 I always saw my forte as working at the college level, but as a parent I am consistently blown away by the way my son paints! I stand beside myself in awe at his natural sensibility for composition (the layout of the picture), and his use of color is just out of this world! With total confidence he puts brush to paper and performs the raw act of mark-making without any hindrance by concepts of representation or style.
As a mother with a background in art, I curiously look forward to the art my children will bring home from school. So far with my son in Pre-K, it has been mostly crayons on a print-out picture. At our school’s open house we did receive one laminated “keepsake.” But other than my son’s hand prints at the bottom, all the pictures looked the same, with the same poem cut out in the same shape, glued on top of the same color and formatted exactly the same.
At home, I regularly save my son’s paintings. I have a visual timeline of his creations since he was an infant and just able to scribble chaotically across a sheet of paper. He is now almost five and I patiently await his future creations. When he was three, he made several watercolor paintings on artist quality rag watercolor paper. One is framed and hangs above my rocking chair. I receive praise all the time on the beautiful little abstract piece of art on my wall. Everyone is astonished to find out that Oscar made it when he was three. And I hear comments all the time from parents who wish they had a piece of their child’s art to save and cherish like that.
It doesn’t take that much to create an environment for your child’s artistic creativity. There are so many media you can use: crayons, pencils, watercolor paint, tempura paint, collage, rubbings, finger paints, stamps– you name it!
Oscar has a friend named Jonah. Jonah’s mom is a friend of mine. She once commented that she would love a framed piece of her son’s artwork. I was lucky enough to have him for a few hours this past weekend and I thought… “why not make that happen for her?” I’m going to tell you how he made his mom so happy and how anyone can set the stage for their child to create a wall-worthy piece of artwork that can function as a childhood keepsake, as well as a wonderful gift for family and friends.
Purchase any picture frame that you like. 11×14″ is a good size as it isn’t huge, but still leaves room for a decent painting. Although any paper will suffice for a child’s creative outlet, you’ll need decent paper for this project. If it’s too thin it will buckle and you risk the paper tearing if it gets too wet. It’s worth it to find a sheet of artist quality watercolor paper. You can buy these by the sheet from an art supply store or you might even be able to find a tablet of watercolor paper in your local Walmart, Kmart, or Target.
Cut your paper to fit the frame. Then prepare the table! Tape the paper down so it doesn’t shift and tape each edge of the paper to create a 1 1/2″ wide border. I used artist’s tape, but painter’s tape will work well as you will be able to remove it from the paper easier than masking tape. If you do use masking tape, just be careful when removing it. Get out a watercolor set, a cup of water, a brush or two, and some paper towels to blot the brush, and let them paint! That’s it! Let them fill the space with color. You might need to encourage them to work out towards your taped edges so that you get a nice crisp line between the white border and the painting when you remove the tape. I like to tape down several sheets of paper at the same time and let my son move from painting to painting, doing a little here and a little there, going back and forth, letting parts dry a bit then going back in to finish it up. I just think it gives him more freedom without feeling the pressure to “finish” any single one.
When they are done, let the paintings dry before removing the tape border. Pull it carefully off of the paper, being sure to pull it away from the painting in case you get some tearing. Insert your child’s beautiful work of art into its frame and… Voila!
Oscar and Jonah had so much fun doing this. It was an enjoyable experience by itself, but having a frame and taping the edge and knowing they were making a gift gave this particular project a sense of importance to them. Jonah’s painting is on the right–he loved the idea of making a surprise for his mother. Oscar’s painting is on the left–he hasn’t decided to whom he will give this picture. They are wonderful, aren’t they?
I wrapped the framed painting for Jonah and he just couldn’t wait for his mom to open it. He was beaming with pride, she said! And her reaction:
“I think it’s the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen. I can’t stop staring at it! Jonah was so excited and so very proud to give it to me. It means so much that you remembered me wanting to frame his art and you took the time with him to do it. Thank you so so so much! Best Christmas present ever! I really can’t stop staring at it!”
So give the gift of art this year. Give it to your child in the form of a valuable opportunity. Give it to yourself in the form of a keepsake and you’ll capture a memory of their early childhood. Or give it to others as a present under this year’s tree!