Parents who understand the value of creativity often send their kids off to ballet, violin or piano lessons. While learning a pirouette or a Mozart sonata does teach rhythm, grace and technique, these activities are often too directed to let kids truly explore the world of free-play and self expression.
How about sending them them off to the “art room” with a blank paper and paints? Yes this will help them practice self directed creative choices. However I suggest a more effective way to support their creativity is to go off to the “art room” with them.
Young kids look up to their parents as models. If you model an interest and excitement about getting messy with the paints and seeing what happens, they will follow your lead.
My husband says “When I put paint in front of Wyatt (our three and half year old) he just paints the whole page the same colour. I don’t know how you get him to use so much colour?”
Here is how I do it:
Project – Paint With Your Child
Preparation: Tape a large plastic sheet to the wall with a lip for spilled paints. Tape a huge piece of paper on top of the plastic. The paper should be at least three feet wide by two feet tall or bigger. Kids love to move and if you make the painting area as tall as their arms reach they will be able to dance and move around as they are painting. Set up a tray of non-toxic wet paints and a box of crayons. Put a smock on your child and wear clothes that you are comfortable getting paint on. Put a mason jar of water in a shallow plastic bin for washing off brushes or for watering down paints. If your child accidentally spills the water (which my son does frequently) it lands in the plastic bin and no big clean up needs to happen.
Step One: Grab a crayon and scribble on the paper. Your child will follow your action. Scribble big and fast, without care as to what it looks like. The fun is in the action not how it turns out. Once you start using wet paints the crayon will help create a layered effect.
Step Two: Move on to wet paints. It is okay to establish some ground rules. Mine are 1) Paint is for the paper… i.e. not for eating and not for your clothes or the walls of the house or for Mommy’s face. Often my son will create other “rules of play”. His rule of play from the example above was “paint over everything Mommy paints”. This rule led to a game of paint tag in which he was chasing my paint brush. The rule of play I added in is “we must fill up the paper and leave no space not painted”. I liked this rule because it was fun to fill up the paper and it gave our painting a creative end point that helped us know when it was finished.
The most important aspect of this project is to engage in the fun of it without care about how the painting turns out. When you and your child or children are finished painting you all can then stand back… and you might be surprised with what you have created.
My final suggestion is that sometimes negotiation is needed. In the example below I had painted a tree with leaves. My son started to paint dark blue over it and I felt sad because I really liked the tree. A negotiation process proceeded in which we agreed that he would paint over my leaves and then we would use the end of our brushes to scrape the leaves back into the picture.
The great thing about this project is I felt relaxed and enlivened by the end. There is nothing like the tactile feel of paints and creating something out of nothing to make my parenting day alive with joy.
My three and a half year old and I just finished a painting that we had started yesterday. The light and dark blue clouds, the brown explosion in the background and the blue vertical line in the middle are all his. There was some negotiation towards the end. He wanted to paint over the whole image with blue paint but by that time I had already fallen in love with what we had done. So we negotiated a compromise which was that he painted over my leaves and then we both then used the end of our paint brushes to scrape the leaves back into the painting.
Later that day my son made himself some clay shoes. He came running around the comer into the kitchen wearing them saying “Mama I made myself slippers”. We tried to make me a pair but alas there was not enough clay.