How to bring art into your child's life

April's guest blogger, Andrea Mulder Slater, shares ways to encourage creativity in children.

By Andrea Mulder-Slater

Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater

Loveable conversations with make-believe friends, earthworm arrangements on the front porch and maple syrup swirls on the kitchen table are all examples of how a child expresses his or her creativity. Children are, by nature, inventive and one way to keep the curiosity alive is to provide plenty of art-making opportunities at home. In addition to building self-esteem, it will help your sons and daughters develop invaluable problem solving skills.

Here are some easy ways to bring art into your child’s life as well as some tips for encouraging creativity.

First stepsGenerally speaking, children are able to start trying out art supplies somewhere around their first birthday (give or take a few months). As soon as you see your little one showing an interest in making marks on paper, provide her with crayons (and adult supervision to prevent crayons from entering the mouth). Avoid giving specific directions and follow her lead. Never force an activity and redirect as soon as you see any signs of exhaustion.

Make it stickStickers are terrific for toddlers. If they can’t yet remove them on their own, have them point to the ones they like and work together to place them on paper. Glue it downGlue sticks are marvelous. Start by applying the glue and letting your child arrange small bits of stuff (paper, leaves, tissue, pom-poms, etc). As she gets older, encourage her to use the glue stick on her own. White glue or glitter glue can also provide enjoyment. Just make sure the containers are flexible enough for tiny hands to squeeze.

Dig inModeling materials such as clay and dough are terrific for developing fine motor skills. Tried and true brands like Play-Doh are great or, if you prefer an all-natural product, check out Eco-Dough. Or you can always try making your own.

Brush upNon-toxic, washable watercolour, tempera or poster paints are fabulous for toddlers. Or you can create your own finger paints using cornstarch, water and food colouring. Provide a variety of objects (brushes, sticks, cotton swabs, cardboard tubes, etc), to paint with, or have your child dip marbles into paint and roll them around on paper in a shallow box.

Be a cut upCutting scrap paper with safety scissors is a wonderful activity for young children ages two and up. For peace of mind, look for scissors that cut paper only (not clothing or fingers).

Just imagineUse items unexpectedly. Dig into the recycle bin to find robots (cereal boxes), fish (pie plates) or caterpillars (egg cartons) waiting to be set free.

Take field tripsTake your babies, toddlers and kids to art galleries and museums and have a conversation about what you see. When it comes to expressing how a work of art makes you feel, there are no wrong answers! For a crash course, visit my website!

Empower your kidsAs your child gets older, start storing items like crayons, washable markers, paper, glue sticks and modeling clay at her level so when the mood strikes, she can act on it. Ignore the messBe prepared to overlook the paint splats and glue drips. Or, stick to washable materials and do the really messy stuff outside (or in the bathtub). Be flexible with the rules. Your child won’t be able to fully benefit from the experience if she is worried about upsetting mom or dad.

Choose your words carefullyNever judge your child’s artistic abilities and always refrain from criticizing her efforts. It only takes a second to crush the creative spirit (and it can take a lifetime to get it back). Focus on the process, not the product and applaud the attempt, as much as the outcome.

Remember, your children are only young once. Embrace art and craft time as an opportunity to slow down, relax and enjoy precious moments with your little wonders.

This article was originally published on Apr 20, 2012