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"The artist is not a special kind of person; rather each person is a special kind of artist."
—Ananda Coomaraswamy

Girl ColoringIt's the first month of the year and you may still be making room for holiday gifts. In my house, these gifts traditionally included fresh, new art supplies. As the children grew up, the size of the crayon box also grew bigger with new and exciting colors. Then one year there were pastels with a special pad of paper. Another time, a set of water color paints. Even if there are no new art supplies in your home, it's a good time to organize the art area and make it more enticing for your child.

Starting Fresh

Begin with a few, fresh new art materials. Keep the art supplies in a special caddy or box in a specific place when not being used. For two- and three-year-olds, begin with:

  • Crayons and colored pencils
  • Tablet of drawing paper (Larger paper may be kept on a shelf nearby.)
  • Construction paper in different colors
  • Stickers
  • Finger paints (For times when you can monitor more closely.)

Later you can add:

  • Scissors that cut easily
  • Washable glue
  • Transparent tape
  • Water color paints
  • Marker pens (Best introduced after your child has good eye/hand control.)

Designate a place for these creative activities - perhaps the child-size table in the family room or the kitchen table when not in use.

Freedom to Discover

Children need the freedom to draw and scribble and enjoy how the paint, crayons, or pencils work. Parents provide the paper and tools - and give directions on where to draw (hopefully on the paper, not on the walls). For the youngest, just a few items will do. They are happy with simply one or two crayons.

I still vividly recall an experience I had when I was in kindergarten. We were going to draw a picture of our home. The teacher demonstrated by drawing a picture of a house on the blackboard. Hers was a simple one-dimensional square with a triangle for a roof, several windows with curtains, a door, and a chimney. I immediately knew I wouldn't be able to draw anything close to that. I felt discouraged and very inadequate, believing that mine should look like hers.

We certainly don't want to discourage our children. We want to give them the opportunity to discover what art materials can do. After all, we are not trying to create experts overnight. But, we are trying to encourage children to be creative and explore freely without fear of being criticized, compared to anyone, or told how the end product should look.

You can help your child succeed by clearly showing her how to use the materials. Few words are necessary as you bring the art box to the table, set out the paper and crayons, sit down and draw a few lines on the paper. Then put out a clean piece of paper and invite your child to draw. Show her the basic ways to keep things in order.

Keep It Simple

With paint or crayons, start with just one color - perhaps black because of the contrast - but a deep blue would work well, too. One piece of large paper, either on an easel or table, is ideal for the youngest child. You might want to cover the table with a plastic tablecloth and then tape the paper to that. Demonstrate how to wipe the brush to avoid drips. Use fat triangular crayons to encourage a proper grip. For young children, crayon blocks are easier to hold.

Point out how to keep the drawing on the paper, even if using washable crayons. For the messy finger painting projects, you may want to choose a warm day and use the picnic table, keeping damp paper towels nearby to clean off hands.

Find a special place for the children to house their creations. An accordion folder, drawer, or basket will work. Many families display art work on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board, but ask your child first what he would like to do with his work.

Describe What You See

Scribbles are just scribbles. Do not try to make more of them than what they are. Remember, it's best not to compare or compliment; it's better to talk about what you see. Avoid the ever-popular "good job" comment. Instead, describe what is there: "You used magenta on the paper, " or "You have been drawing for a long time." The children cannot tell you what they are doing, but you can observe that they are developing their eye-hand coordination and their ability to control the crayon and paint brush. Most important is their satisfaction as they discover how colors blend and designs appear while making their own creations.

"I believe that children engage in critical thinking and learn how to become problem solvers when they are allowed to work, within very clear parameters but with complete freedom, with basic art materials."
—Susan Striker, Young at Art

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2016