by Lisa Henderson, B.S. Child Development
Art is necessary for young children’s proper development. Art helps children work through emotional stressors, expand their levels of creativity, explore new materials, and challenge their abilities.
As a provider, you should provider art materials every day. It is best to introduce new materials to the children as a group, in order to explain how to use the materials (such as scissors or wet modeling clay). Then leave the materials where the children can safely experiment and create on their own.
Art projects are different from “free art.” A project normally has a list of required materials, a set of directions, and a completed product (such as a paper plate mask). These projects require high supervision and guidance. Children enjoy such art projects because they have created a “thing” from nothing. Even more important, though, is allowing children the freedom to express their own creativity in free art. By providing a wide variety of materials, and a special place to explore the materials, the provider can feel confident that the children are developing a sense of art.
It is often said of children’s art, “It is the process, not the product.” This is very true in young children. A provider should be careful not to compliment the children’s “product” but rather their “process.” Some things you might say include, “You are working very hard on your art,” or “Tell me about your painting/coloring,” or “Look at all the pretty colors you used,” or “What an interesting combination.” Be careful NOT to say, “Is this a house or a dog?” because the child may not have intended that at all, and it may cause the child to think all art must become a “thing.” Be careful, also, not to compliment a childn’s finished art too often, or the child may come to depend on other’s appreciation of the art, rather than their own joy in creating it. When a child says, “Look at this!” or “Do you like my picture?” you might say, “Wow, you must be very proud of that!” or “I like how the colors go together.” Even “Great work!” goes farther than a lame “That’s nice, honey.”
Art materials include a huge array of items. All of these items need not be provided at the same time. It is best to have a variety in stock, and then allow the children to make some choices on their own. Rotating your art materials is important to allow children new experiences and the development of new skills.
As a bare minimum, your art center should include: safety scissors, glue and paste, different kinds of washable paint (watercolors, tempera, fingerpaint), paintbrushes, crayons and washable markers, colored construction paper, white drawing paper, some kind of modeling clay or play-dough, pipe cleaners, yarn, chalk, stamp pads, pencils, colored pencils, a stapler, a hole punch, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, and art smocks or big t-shirts.
Other materials you can add a little at a time include: paint sponges, rubber stamps, stencils, collage trays, beads, clothespins, ribbons, buttons, glitter, pompoms, feathers, wiggly eyes, lace, fabrics, and doilies. You can also begin collecting clay hammers, clay cutters and rolling pins. Packing peanuts can be fun, but be sure to get the kind that dissolve in water in case a child accidentally puts one in his or her mouth. There is debate on using food items in art, but you may consider using colored rice, colored pasta, and different types of dried beans in your art center.
Keeping a full stock of art materials can become expensive quickly. By using some items from your home, you can introduce children to recycling and reusing. Add these to your art center and watch what happens: newspapers, paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, small boxes, brown lunch bags, and paper plates.
Your art center does not have to be fancy. A table and chairs will do fine. If you have space for an easel, it is a wonderful way for children to work too. Be sure to locate your art center near a sink! A floor that can be mopped easily is better than a carpeted area. Some providers allow children free access to the art shelves. Others prefer to set out a limited supply of materials on the table, or at the easel, for that day’s art exploration. Either way, the art center should be accessible throughout the day for little creative artists. Don’t worry too much about the messes. Overreacting may inhibit a child’s desire to create or even approach the art center. Enlist all of the children’s help at the end of the day to assist in art center clean-up. They will learn on their own that more reserved art center behavior makes for quicker, easier cleanup.