Mini Monets and Mommies: March 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Art Viewing With Your Young Child

Art viewing for toddlers and preschoolers? Alright, I'll be the first one to admit that after working as an art teacher in a museum I'm somewhat (more like really, really) biased when it comes to incorporating art viewing experiences into kids' art activities. As an art history major, there wasn't much I could do with my degree. So, why not spend another few years in school, get a grad degree in child development, and combine my two very different degrees by teaching tiny tykes about art?

Museum Viewing

While I enjoy a good kiddo craft as much as the next mom, I also truly believe that art isn't only about "making stuff." I know that taking a young child into the sterile-looking museum setting is scary for many parents. I was used to taking kids en mass into the museum's galleries, making it no big deal when I brought my then-young son to see "real" art. But, many of my friends shy away from the art museum, thinking that their little one's will surely reach out and touch the uber-valuable art. Yes, it's true that young children do struggle with the hands-off policy. I've had to call the conservation department more than once to tell them that a 3-, 4- or 5-year old just put his sticky hands on one of the works. That said, viewing real art in a real museum (or gallery) has real benefits for children. It can improve their critical thinking skills, build their spatial reasoning abilities and amp up their creativity.

Before you take your preschooler on the most boring tour of his life, standing him in front of paintings and rambling off names and dates, try some of these kid-tested tips and tricks to inspire positive art viewing experiences:

  • Review the rules beforehand. The rules should include: Do not touch anything, use your inside voice and use your walking -- not running -- feet. Your older preschooler (or grade school-aged child) can help you to create a rule list, instead of you dictating it to her. Ask her what she thinks the rules should be and why. this will help her to think critically about what a museum is and why it's important to act respectfully (and carefully) around the art.
  • Play a game. Instead of saying, "Ohhhh, look at the little girl in that painting!" try, "I spy a little girl. Can you point to the painting where she lives?"
  • Bring a piece of string along. It sounds silly, put a magical piece of yarn can make the difference between your child touching a priceless piece of art and staying back a reasonable distance. Place the yarn on the floor at least two feet back from the painting or sculpture that you're looking at. While other patrons may look at you like your crazy the "magic" of the string can put up an invisible barrier between your child and the art.
  • Ask your child, "What can you find?". This open-ended question encourages young children to really look at the art and take notice. You can follow this up with, "What do you think is going on?". This helps your child to turn art viewing into a literacy lesson, coming up with stories or a sequence of events from one static image.
  • Focus on the basics. Don't overload your child with information. She doesn't need to know Vincent Van Gogh's entire bio (especially not the ear-cutting-off part). Tell her the artist's name or stick with simple parts of the artwork such as shapes and colors.
  • Give your child a few new vocabulary words. Again, stay basic. Name shapes, new colors (such as magenta or violet) or point out that the horizon line is where the ground and the sky meet.
  • Bring a "feely bag" with you. I've taken a class of toddlers (yes, 2-year-olds) into the museum's galleries. I can tell you that they definitely want to touch everything. After all, hands-on learning is essential for the young child to explore and make her own discoveries. Even though your child can't touch the art, she can touch other objects that mimic the art. Take a look at the museum's website before your day out and pic a few artworks from their online catalog or "what's on view" section. Put together a lunch-sized paper bag of items that match up with some of the artworks, giving your child something (other than the art) to touch. For example, if you're planning on looking at a painting that features animals, bring along a swatch of craft fur for your child to pet. Ask her if she thinks that the animals in the art feel like the fur.
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Friday, March 28, 2014

What Your Child's Art Teacher Probably Should Tell You, But May Not

For the better part of the last decade I've taught children's programs at my local art museum. Having taught kids from toddlers to teens (seriously, I taught a class for 2-year-old's -- in the museum's pristine galleries to boot), I've amassed a treasure-trove of do's and don'ts when it comes to children's art classes. Here are some of my favorites:

Art classes
  • You know that pretty pink party dress that your 4-year-old cherishes? By all means, do not under any circumstance put her in it for art class. Sure, she looks cute now -- but, fast forward two hours and she'll be running to your arms, crying over the blue and red tempera paint splatters that Johnny got all over her dress.
  • Spring-boarding off of the "don't let your child wear her favorite outfit to art class" lesson, here's another piece of knowledge that I found out the hard way -- washable paints aren't always quite so washable. Case in point, I once wore white pants to teach in. While the red paint marks on the pants did fade, they were still noticeable enough to render the pants non-wearable.
  • If your child absolutely can't stand anything art, forcing her into a class won't help. I even tried this one with my own son. Years later he still remembers how I forced him into art camp.
  • We can't stand coloring books and "product" based projects. Please don't tell us arts educators about how your precious little Janey spends every night coloring in the lines so neatly. We're likely to roll our eyes behind your back and tell Janey that she should stop coloring in the lines. Immediately.
  • Art class does not equal project for grandma's birthday. Your young child is exploring art processes, and shouldn't be going to class simply to make cute gifts for family members. Don't get mad or complain when she comes home with a handful of abstract-looking clay masses, scribbles or Jackson Pollock-esque paintings. If you're looking for a way to have your child make "something" to show just how artsy she is, try one of those paint-your-own pottery places.
  • It's ok to ask. Did your child make the coolest thing ever and you want to try the process at home? Ask the teacher what to do and what materials you'll need to do it.
Before you send your mini Monet off to art class, think about this list (although it's entirely not exhaustive) and make the most of your child's artsy adventure.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One Time at Art Camp: How-To Choose an Art Class for Your Child

How do you pick the best art class for your young child? There isn't one easy answer to this question. Word of mouth can go a long way, but just because one organization's class helped turn your neighbor's 4-year-old from a scribbler to a masterpiece-maker doesn't mean that it will do the same thing for your little one. As a museum-based children's art teacher for the better part of the last decade (and the mother to a child who decidedly does not like art), I've come to learn a few lessons on how to match the right program with the right kid. Although I teach year-round, it was always the summer art camps for preschoolers that proved the best at showing how the match-up between the child and the class could make things go impressively well or terribly wrong.

Kids Classes

So, here's my list of "one time at art camp" musts (and must not's) for choosing the right class for your child:
  1. One time at art camp, there was class that focused on exploring messy, and seldom used processes. In the brochure copy it said something about the children trying art activities that they may have never tried before. On the third morning of class a not-so-happy parent stormed in and said, "Well, my child has done all of these projects before. I thought this class was supposed to teach kids how to use materials that they've never used before!" here's an example of a miss-match between the parent's expectations and what the class really is. Most of the processes were new to most of the children. Maybe this mother was hoping that her 4-year-old would get to try applying gold-leaf or metal-working, I couldn't be sure - because she didn't bring him back. My advice is to set your expectations at a realistic level for what a preschool or early childhood art class is. Don't expect your 4-year-old to learn art processes that your 14-year-old will. 
    Kids Art
  2. One time at art camp, there was a boy who absolutely, positively did not want to come to class. He wasn't shy, and he wasn't scared. he simply didn't like art. How do I know? He told me so. he also told me that his mommy made him go to class and had told him that he'd learn to like art because she loved art so much. You are not your child, and your child is not you. If you're choosing an art class for your child because you want to change his mind, it isn't likely to work. If anything it may make matters worse and will definitely disrupt the other children's learning. Instead, slowly introduce a few art projects at home or take your child to the museum or a family day out.
  3. One time at art camp, there was a teacher who knew quite a lot about art, but very little about child development. Ask those who are in the know (i.e., the program administrators) about the teaching staff. The staff should have training in art, as well as teaching. If your child's teacher has five MFA's and has exhibited in the coolest galleries around town, it won't make a difference when he's trying to wrangle 10 tiny tykes who aren't getting it when he's telling them how to create realistic highlights on their still life paintings. Find a happy medium between an artist and a teacher (aka the teaching artist).
  4. One time at art camp, there was a child who painted himself from limb to limb. And, it was ok. While in the context of what we were doing this was acceptable (not exactly wanted, but it really wasn't a colossal deal), in some schools it would be grounds for expulsion. If you want a free-to-explore environment, choosing an art program that is strict and structured isn't the way to go.
  5. One time at art camp, the students all went into the museum's art galleries and looked at real art. Ok, this is a bit of an understatement. It's more like every day at art camp the children looked at real art. This brings up the questions, "Do you just want your child to make art or do you want her to also look at it too?" Art viewing provides a host of benefits, increasing your child's critical thinking skills, giving her visual literacy tools and introducing her to the world of art at an early age. If this is something that you feel is important for your child to do, you'll need to choose a museum-based program.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kids' Paper Mache Sculpture Activity

Paper mache art with kids is ooey, gooey and it's messy. When I say messy, I don't mean messy like your child may have a stray marker mark on her hand or that a dab of paint could get on the table. It's majorly messy, and that's half the fun.

Kids Sculpture

 Put the temptation to constantly clean up after your little mess-maker or wipe her hands every other minute on hold. Yes, you should prep for the mess. But, no, you shouldn't go overboard cleaning while the art-making is going on. Accept that a mess will happen, let your child explore the process and pretend that you have someone else to clean up afterwards (if that helps you to stop hovering with a wet rag). Before you begin, cover your work surface. You can use old newspaper, but the paper mache mix is likely to leak through. Try a painter's tarp or even a cut-open garbage bag instead.

What You'll Need:

  • Paper mache mix: You can buy this at your local arts and crafts store (make sure that is labeled for your child's age and is non-toxic). Follow the directions for mixing it on the package. I prefer the powdered kind to anything else. The first time that I used it was when I started teaching kids' art classes. My co-teacher told me to mix the powder with water until it felt like warm snot. When I told her that I've never stuck my hand into a bowl full of warm snot, she said that I'd just know. She was right. It does feel exactly like you'd imagine warm snot to feel. If you don't want to use a store-bought mix, you can mix water and flour (it gets kind of chalky) or clear-drying school glue with a small amount of water. There are a zillion recipes on the Internet for these at-home mixes. I like to pour about 1/4 of an inch of school glue into the bottom of a Tupperware container, and then slowly stir in enough water to make it the consistency of lumpy milk.
  • A plastic bowl: Don't plan on reusing it for anything other than art.
  • Paper: Some people like to reuse newspaper scraps. That's fine. I like construction paper.If you don't want to tear up brand new paper, save your child's scraps from other art activities, and use them for this one.
  • Something to use as a base: Your child has to cover "something." She can just wrap the paper strips around the air - it won't work out well for anyone. Look for an object that is roughly the same shape as what she wants to make. For example, I'm making a paper mache Easter egg, so I chose a balloon as a base. You can also tape a few different objects together, such as toilet paper tubes to the bottom of a sideways soda bottle to make the legs and body of a horse.
Kids' art

What To Do:

  1. Tear the paper into strips. The size depends on what your child is covering. If she has a large surface to cover make the strips bigger.
Kids' art


2. Have your child dip her first strip into the  mixture, coating both the front and back. Squeegee off the excess by having her run the strip in-between two fingers.
3. Wrap the first strip over or around the surface of whatever she's covering. She can use her hand to smooth the strip down.
4. Repeat this process, slightly overlapping the strips, until the entire surface is covered
5. Set the project aside to dry. If it's uber-wet (which it most likely is), it may take a day or two.
6. Add to the paper mache project. Your child can paint her project with temperas, she can add googley eyes or she can embellish it with glued-on fabric scraps, craft fur or almost anything else that both of your imaginations can come up with.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Preschool Paint Project: Pointillism to the Point

Get to the point with this art-history inspired project.

If pointillism is something that you may vaguely remember from your college intro to art history class, don't worry - this project is easy enough for the novice art mom and her paint-loving preschooler to do. Before you begin the actual painting, tell your child that he's going to make a picture using tiny points or paint tip blotches. You can easily adapt this project, tossing the paintbrush and having your child try it with his fingertips, a q-tip or even the end of a twig.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Paint: Choose a washable tempera or finger paint.
  • Thin paintbrush (or not, if your little artist is using his fingers, a q-tip or another similar "pointing" tool).
  • Paper: Pick your own - construction paper, printer paper, card stock or even tissue paper.
Here's what to do:
  1. Choose a subject. Go for an outdoorsy seasonal scene, create a still life from a bowl of fresh fruit or let you little one go wild and design his own abstract art.
  2. Mess-proof (or at least prep for the mess) by placing newspapers or a painter's tarp on the work surface.
  3. Pour quarter-sized pools of paint onto a paper plate or piece of cardboard. Use a rainbow of colors or add in a color mixing aspect to the activity. If you're trying color mixing, use red, blue and yellow (tell your child that these are the primary colors) and white (to make the colors lighter - e.g., pink).
  4. Have your child dip the end of a thin paintbrush (or finger, q-tip, etc.) into the first paint color. Using the paint-covered tool, he can dot away to start his masterpiece. Help him to wipe off the paintbrush with water and a paper towel in between colors.
  5. Encourage your child to layer dots in different colors or place the hues right up against each other.
If your child is struggling to understand the idea, don't do it for him. Instead, make your own and let him watch. Then have him create his own artwork on his own piece of paper - that you don't work on. Add another layer to this learning opportunity and take your child to the local art museum to see real pointillism pieces. Don't have an art museum nearby (or one with a piece in this style)? Go to the library and check out a picture-filled art history book or search the web for artists such as Seurat or Signac.

Are you looking for more famous artists/ art style activities? Check out and follow my Pinterest board!
Follow Erica Loop's board Famous Artist Kids' Activities on Pinterest.