Art in early childhood: Creating quality art experiences

What can you do to create quality and meaningful art experiences for young children? Learn how to support early learning through art.

Help children get the most from their art exploration.
Help children get the most from their art exploration.

Art is in the eye of the beholder. The same can be said for the process each artist engages in to make their art. Art experiences can be wonderful learning experiences for young children; they can learn to express themselves and practice new skills. However, not all art experiences are created equal.

Creating quality art experiences

Michigan State University Extension has some tips and tricks for helping children get the most from their art exploration, including providing art experiences that are the following.

  • Expressive. Children need opportunities to explore and express their feelings, thoughts and ideas through art. You can follow up these experiences by asking the child to tell you about their work, but don’t pressure them. We want children to feel open to express themselves, but we don’t want their art experience to be only focused on it.
  • Exploratory. Activities that are open-ended give children the power and the freedom to create and experiment. We’ve all seen children take every color paint and swirl them together to create a nice brown picture. It’s tempting to step in and instruct the child how to do it “better,” but when we do this, we’re not teaching children to value exploration or their instincts. Think of it as an opportunity for them to learn, even if it’s all brown.
  • Self-directed. Children should be free to manipulate and explore different materials and methods. Adult-directed projects limits a child’s creativity and their ability to follow their instincts and their imagination. These self-directed experiences are not only educational for the child, but fill them with a sense of control, power and purpose. When we provide art activities that have one expected outcome, like an art kit you purchase at the store, we are missing out on an opportunity for children to follow their interests and their instincts.
  • Process-focused. Product-focused efforts do not allow children to utilize their creative instincts. Place value on effort and process, not the product. So you might not have a pretty picture to hang on the refrigerator. Instead, you might have 800 tiny scraps of paper your child meticulously cut themselves. That’s OK! The benefit of art cannot only be found in the finished work, more often the benefits are invisible to the human eye, but the artistic process is a masterpiece to the brain. Process art experiences are great for child development.
  • Fun! Make sure are activities are low-pressure, engaging and fun. When children work under pressure, they aren’t able to fully experience an activity. Focus on what makes the child happy.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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