Tips to develop your child's art savvy

How you can help at home: Try these strategies to develop your child's art skills.

By Nancy Roucher, Consulting Educator

You can help your child learn about the arts with these activities.

Visual arts

Create a workspace.

Select a spot in your home to make art; tables can be covered and protected to allow your child to have a workspace. In warm weather, it's great to do art outside. The most discouraging thing you can say to a child is, "Don't make a mess!" Making messes may be just the beginning of the creative process.

Gather materials.

Have a designated space to store art supplies that is easily accessible. Some basic materials to have available are newsprint (for rubbings and sketching), drawing paper (60-pound preferably), construction paper, colored drawing pencils, crayons, markers, oil pastels, watercolors, tempera paint, clay (Sculpey can be baked and Model Magic hardens on its own), scissors, glue, rulers, erasers. Sketchbooks are a great incentive for drawing. Older students will enjoy using acrylic paints. Resist buying huge sets and focus on good-quality materials.

Collect examples.

It's important to have reproductions of works of art available to acquaint your child with artists and styles from different cultures and time periods. You can collect or purchase postcard-size reproductions. Postcard books are available in museum shops or online. Aline D. Wolf has written a manual How to Use Child-Size Masterpieces along with books filled with post cards to go with the different activities she suggests. Calendars are another source for artwork. You can take them apart and put them in a file. You can have your child sort the postcard-size reproductions into landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and action scenes. Compare the items in each group, then sort by artist. The next step is to sort by style. This is a great way to learn about different genres of art and artists.

Talk about artwork.

When your child creates art, ask her to tell you about it and what she was trying to express, rather than asking, "What is this?" Discuss with her what techniques she used — did she use asymmetrical balance? Look for progress in skills and expressiveness and always be encouraging.

Display your child's work.

When your child makes a special piece of art, it deserves to be displayed nicely. How about moving beyond refrigerator magnets to mounting artwork with a simple poster board fame, or buying frames from discount stores or Web sources. Mounting the artwork on a larger piece of construction paper and laminating is also a good way to protect and display. Another display idea is to have an "art wire" and hang the art with clips. Three-dimensional objects can be placed anywhere in the house as part of your décor. You may want to scan your children's work or photograph it and store it on disks or in your computer as a permanent record. When your child gets older, she will enjoy seeing her artwork and knowing how much you value her accomplishments.

Go to museums and galleries.

Take your child to a museum or gallery to look at artwork. Take the time to pause and look at the art and ask questions. For example ask "What do you see?" "What colors, lines and shapes do you see?" "What is happening?" "What do you think this picture is about?" "Why?" Accept her interpretation. Don't tell him he is "wrong." Artwork can have different meanings and there is no "right" answer.

Read books about art.

There are a number of books about artists that will delight your child. Three examples are: Linnea in Monet's Garden by Cristina Bjork, Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence by John Duggleby and Talking to Faith Ringgold by Faith Ringgold, Linda Freeman and Nancy Roucher.

Performing arts

Encourage your young performer.

Have a positive attitude about your child's ability. Note progress in learning notes, moving rhythmically, and speaking expressively. Give your child helpful feedback such as suggestions to make her voice louder so it can be heard by all and being aware of her posture when she is singing.

What about instruments?

The recorder is a very common first instrument and by third grade many students in school music programs have them. Some students may be lucky enough to have Suzuki violin training at a young age; in some schools strings, band and orchestra instruments are introduced at fourth or fifth grade. Experts recommend that formal lessons do not start until age 8.

Have music in your home.

Have a variety of music to play that is accessible to your child and properly stored. Have a drum, tambourine, and other rhythm instruments available. Kids can also make instruments to play along with music, create their own "soundscapes" or "orchestrate" a story. Go to Making Friends for a list of musical instruments to make.

Create a place for dance and drama.

For dance, have a clear space for your child to move in. For drama, dress-ups inspire playmaking and dialogue. But, the basic ingredient your child needs is imagination. What does she want to express? Is it a feeling, mood or a particular story? That's what you should encourage. Pose the "what if..." questions to stimulate creative thinking!

Try books, videos, and DVDs about music.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs, a DVD movie, has more than two dozen musical excerpts. Or try Charlie Parker Played Bebop by Chris Raschka; Walt Disney's Fantasia; films of Broadway shows like Annie; and E.T., a wonderful movie to discuss for character and plot.

Nancy Roucher is an arts education consultant from Sarasota, Florida. For 12 years she served as co-director of the Florida Institute for Art Education, a statewide project to help individual school districts implement comprehensive arts education. She consults with schools, museums and arts councils, and has developed a variety of curricular and program materials for arts education.