Art is a part of how children establish their sense of identity. The authentic self does not need someone else to create a work of expression for them. Jocelyn, the Arts and Literacy Coordinator at Rhyme and Reason, shares some ways she facilitates self-expression through art at home, and in the classroom.
The importance of MESS
Any parent with a small child can testify to how hard it is to contain things… especially mess. We quickly learn what washes off, what doesn’t, and which shirts were maybe not-so-precious in the first place. Fewer parents though, will testify to the need to stop TRYING to contain things, especially in the arena of self-expression and discovery (likely some of the messiest arenas out there). The need to find the perfect clothes for painting in (which are usually the ones that are stained already). Or maybe providing the chance for your child to get naked and play around in paint before they have their bath… Going to the part of the kitchen with the linoleum and avoiding carpeted areas… Using the old shower curtain as a drop cloth…and… just simply letting go.
After letting him paint with his hands, my then-two-year-old son insisted on painting with his feet. This was only natural to him – and I helped him facilitate this idea by painting his feet with a brush and then literally lowering him down on papers and canvases so he could start creating his multicolored footprints. I had wondered if other kids, slightly older than him, would also be game for this sort of concept, so I brought it to the classroom. One four-year old was beyond delighted, and decided to experiment with different types of locomotion using his hands and feet… all this took was a long, rolled-out piece of paper, some children’s paint, and the permission to just simply let go.
Letting go of our ideas of what counts as a “tool” for creating art in the first place is another way we can foster our kids’ growth and discovery. It is one thing to set up a kid-sized easel, plop out some paint, and hand them some brushes, and another thing entirely to provide, say, just the IDEA that you and your child are about to create something. Let them choose how it happens.
Where to start
Potato prints are always a big hit with kids — using something that is traditionally used for a single purpose, in this case eating, in a new way will really spark your child’s imagination. But my son (again, in letting him take the lead and make his own discoveries) has used multiple other forms of print-making under his own initiative – everything thing from pine cones to the different sets of wheels on his toy trucks and tractors. It probably would never have occurred to me to dip the wheels of a toy truck into paint and roll them across a canvas…which is a shame really, because the results from an aesthetic perspective are quite stunning. But more importantly, what I was doing was providing some materials, letting him take the lead, and letting him use his imagination to improvise on his own. And this is, I would argue, the difference between doing a craft and allowing for something creative to happen, allowing ART happen.
What can you paint or make prints with? Just about anything: leaves, feathers, coins, lace, fingers, elbows…whatever materials you can get your hands (and maybe feet) on, and whatever your imagination allows you to do with them. Get a big roll of paper, some washable paint; any and everything you can find to get those creative juices flowing! Let your child’s imagination run wild, and you’ll have a hard time catching your breath trying to keep up with the amazing things they’ll surprise you with.