I was recently hired to help convert a family garage into an art space for 3 children ages 4 to 10. It got me thinking about why every parent doesn’t just dive right into art activities with their children. After all, it’s so much fun. Here’s what I came up with. A lot of parents don’t want the mess AND it’s hard to even know where to start.
Drawing on paper is one thing, but beyond that, I think a lot of parents are just overwhelmed and afraid that before they turn around there is going to be a new mural all over their living room couch. I’m here to let the cat out of the bag. Art with your kids does not have to be scary and it doesn’t even have to be messy. It can be fun, engaging, confidence building, therapeutic and contained. Your kids will thank you for it for sure and you might find out that you are more comfortable with a little mess than you thought.
So, in honor of all the parents out there who want to bring a little more art into their children’s lives, but aren’t quite sure how, here are 10 Art Secrets I want every parent to know, plus five bonus art tips just because. I’ve also included a bunch of pics from my friends art space in hopes that they inspire some ideas.
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Simple Art Tips For Young Children
1. Use a tray.
Trays offer a contained work space for kids to work on. You can get flat trays, round trays, cheap trays, fancy trays, ikea trays like the ones below, whatever you like. They will create the perfect little working space for tons of art activities. If you want to first cover your table with butcher paper and the floor with a drop cloth (ha, I pretty much never do that but my husband would really like it if I did) you can be doubly protected by keeping things on a tray. There is something about a tray that makes art supplies look beautiful and inviting. Kids understand that what is on their tray is theirs to work with. (Awesome for siblings!) Trays offer a great framework for art activities, especially with young children.
This is a big one because it can increase you and your child’s art enjoyment in a major way. If you take the time to set something up, I’m talking 5-10 minutes tops, you will see a noticeable difference in their experience. This is especially helpful during the witching hour. Consider setting up a tray with watercolors and paper squares on a tray, or some tinfoil and sharpies, or pom poms and glue, while your kids are either napping or at school. The wow factor when you bust out the trays is priceless. You may score and get 20-40 minutes out of it and your kids will get a whole lot more, I assure you. I’m not saying every activity you place on a tray they are going to fall in love with. I’m just saying that when you work on preparing something special ahead of time, they can sense it.
3. A simple set up is the best set up
Since we’re talking about trays, I think it’s important to mention that a simple set up, often referred to as an invitation to play (here are some favs of ours) or in the Reggio world, a provocation, (here are some great examples from an An Everyday Story) is often the most engaging and satisfying for kids. In the pic above, my girls are playing with a few play dough patties, and bowls of dried pasta, googley eyes and straws. It’s nothing fancy and they love it. I prepared it while they took their naps. This was a great invitation to wake up to.
Kids from the age of about 1.5 and up can work wonders with a simple bottle of glue or a glue stick. Art and creativity doesn’t have to be complicated. When kids are young, it’s more about exposing them to new materials and honoring their process. Set up a tray with some glue and paper and some beads or pom poms and see what happens. Know ahead of time that as long as they stay on the tray, they can use the whole bottle or the whole glue stick. This way you don’t spend your time saying, too much, too much! Though, if you want to introduce them to my favorite glue song feel free, but you’ll have to make up your own tune. – A little dab’ll do ya : )
If you’re doing art outside, keep a bucket of water nearby. It doesn’t have to be big, but it certainly can be. Kids love to get messy, but they also love to get clean, especially if the mess is a little over stimulating. With a water bucket, kids can go back and forth from the activity to the water as part of the play. This is especially great for kids who are highly sensitive to certain materials. Sometimes, the “out” of the water bucket is just what they need to feel more comfortable with certain art materials. Wash a little, paint a little, wash a little, sculpt a little, wash a little, wash a little.
Now, a few trade secrets. Let’s party.
6. When working with tempera paints, add some water to the cups to make the paint last longer
This is great for two reasons. One, your paint lasts longer. Two, kids think they have a lot of paint and kids like that. Also, when you set down the paints, you might say something like, “This is all the paint you will be getting so make sure to use it wisely, carefully, slowly, etc.” and stick to it! Before you know it you’ll have kids who are quite conscientious about wasting paint. I like to store paints in baby jars, recycled containers, squeeze bottles and no-spill paint cups.
I wish someone told me this sooner because I’ve wasted A LOT of paintbrushes. There are a lot of projects that call for glue and water applied by a paintbrush. Here’s a great example. If you use regular brushes with natural bristles and don’t wash them fast enough, the glue will dry and the bristles will harden. If you use nylon brushes like these, you won’t have that problem ever again. Yay.
8. Your child is (most likely) not too young to use a scissor
Don’t freak out but I let my almost two year old use scissors. Yes, it’s true. Don’t report me. She is determined to be as skilled as her 3 year old sister who is a master paper, straw, play dough, kinetic sand and felt cutter and super proud. The scissors are not very sharp. We use these. We only use them sitting at the table. We talk about never running with scissors and holding them properly. I know both my girls will go to kindergarten being expert paper cutters. Knock that one off the list. I know this isn’t for everyone by the way. Your child may not be ready for scissors. Do what feels comfortable for you!
9. Spray bottles and squeeze bottles are a fantastic kid friendly way to store and use art supplies.
We use spray bottles and squeeze bottles all the time. You can keep liquid watercolors (we love these) or water and food coloring in spray bottles for all kinds of art. Here’s a great example. You can fill squeeze bottles with glue or tempera paint, as well. If they get stopped up, just cut off the tip.
10. White Gesso ( a thick white paint) and white spray paint make just about everything reusable and super pretty
We do a ton of painting on cardboard and wood. It’s really nice to give kids a clean white slate to work on, which can easily be achieved with spray paint or white gesso. If you’re anything like me you have a ton of cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, and cardboard pieces you’re saving for some art project. Try spray painting them or covering them with gesso next time and see what your child comes up with. You can also use gesso to cover used canvases, making them reusable. To read about evolving canvases, a favorite in our house, click here.
Now, for some Meri Cherry favorite BONUS TIPS
11. Collaborative art/teamwork art/family art is one of the best ways to connect with your child
Sometimes it’s really nice to just sit down with your child and do a painting, sculpture, or drawing together. How about this time you let your child make all the decisions and you ask a lot of questions while following their lead. You can say things like “Where should I paint? What color should I use? Is this right? I really like the lines you’re making over there. Can you show me how to do that? It’s really nice creating with you. I wonder what you’re going to paint next. I notice you’re really concentrating while you’re working. This is fun! Thanks for spending this time with me. I really enjoyed it.” You can click here and here to see examples of our family process art.
Like I said above, kids just want to spend quality time with us. Get a piece of oversized paper and a watercolor set and have some fun. That’s how we started this collage project and it’s been something we’ve repeated over and over. Or how about a big piece of cardboard and make a collage? Maybe you can gesso it first.
13. Hanging your child’s artwork is everything
I can’t stress the importance of displaying children’s artwork enough. When you hang your child’s art you are saying, your work is important to me. It has value. I am proud of what you are doing. Plus, there are so many great ways to hang art work. You can do an art wall. You can get this great wire situation from Ikea. Or just hang a string from some nails and use clothespins to hang up your child’s art. It’s all great.
14. Move things around
I’m not sure why, but moving art activities out of their normal area and into a different area, is like introducing your child to a brand new ice cream flavor. All of a sudden they are totally into it. We keep painting easels in our backyard all the time and they rarely get used by my girls. I moved one into the girl’s bedroom and look out. They couldn’t get enough. So get creative and shake things up a little bit. This goes for toys too by the way.
If you don’t see what’s in your container, you likely won’t use it. I know I don’t. Mason jars are my favorite way to store art supplies. I know some parents see mason jars and think “Eek! Glass. Kids. No way.” But think about it for a minute, there are tons of things in our homes that can break and we still use them. If we spend some time training our children about materials and how to use them, they will recognize their value and rise to the occasion. In the three years I’ve had our supplies in mason jars, and tons of toddlers coming in and out of our house, two have broken. We quickly cleaned up the mess and used it as an opportunity to talk about how important it is to be extra careful with our materials. Here is a whole post dedicated to organizing art supplies if you want to check it out.
So, those are my secrets. I hope there is at least one, if not more, that you can take home with you. Do you have any secret art tips that work for you and your family or students? I’d love to hear them. Please leave them in the comments below. Above all else, thanks for reading along and have fun!
And if you’re still not sure what to do, try this pinterest board. It’s full of awesome art activities to do with your kids.