Why Art and Creativity Are Important

From Parents Magazine

Your preschooler is having a blast finger-painting with a mix of colors. Trying to be encouraging, you ask her, “What are you making?” and she shrugs. Until you mentioned it, she hadn’t given it any thought. Little kids are masters of the moment—they love the way it feels when they smear paint on paper, how it looks when they sprinkle glitter, and even the soft sound a brush makes as it crosses the page, says Amy Yang, founder of Brooklyn Design Lab, an art school for children. Unlike older kids and adults, most toddlers and preschoolers aren’t self-conscious about what they’re doing or focused on creating a finished product. That can be hard for parents to accept, but letting go—and allowing kids to enjoy the process of creation—can reap big rewards as children of all ages learn how to express themselves.

Why is art important?

Fostering creativity won’t just increase your child’s chances of becoming the next Picasso. You’re also helping him develop mentally, socially and emotionally. Creating art may boost young children’s ability to analyze and problem-solve in myriad ways, according to Mary Ann F. Kohl, author of Primary Art: It’s the Process, Not the Product. As kids manipulate a paintbrush, their fine motor skills improve. By counting pieces and colors, they learn the basics of math. When children experiment with materials, they dabble in science. Most important, perhaps: when kids feel good while they are creating, art helps boost self-confidence. And children who feel able to experiment and to make mistakes feel free to invent new ways of thinking, which extends well beyond the craft room.

Inspire and encourage creativity.

Foster process-focused art with advice from Leslie Bushara, deputy director for education at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.

  • Prepare for a mess. Set up an art space where your kid can be free to experiment (and get messy!). Throw a drop cloth or a newspaper on top of your kitchen table or in the garage. If weather permits, let kids paint outside.
  • Avoid giving direction. Don’t tell your kid what to make or how to make it. Instead of suggesting that she paint a rainbow, encourage her to experiment with mixing colors using different types of brushes and paper.
  • Speak specifically about art. When talking to your child about his artwork, try to be precise in your comments. For instance, instead of giving a generic compliment, try saying, “I see you used a lot of purple. Why did you choose that color?”
  • Explore your child’s process. Often the best way to encourage conversation about your child’s art is simply to say, “Tell me about what you made,” or ask, “Did you have fun making it?”
  • Don’t draw with your child. When parents draw something representational while a younger child is sketching, it can be frustrating. Better to simply be near him and let him know that you’re interested and supportive of his art-making.
  • Let it be. When a child finishes a piece, don’t suggest additions or changes. It’s important for a child to feel that what she’s created is enough—even if it’s just a dot on the page.

Provide some fresh art ideas.

Go beyond doodling with markers or crayons with these projects that encourage kids to enjoy the process of making art.

Natural arrangements: Present your child with natural objects such as pinecones, stones, sticks, leaves and shells, and a blank stretched canvas. Let her choose and arrange her nature materials in various patterns and designs on the canvas.

Shaving-cream canvas: Spray shaving cream onto a cookie sheet and add a few drops of food coloring. Let your child blend colors and make designs in the foam.

Found-object printmaking: Take everyday objects (bottle caps, wood pieces, cut cardboard, fruit and vegetable slices, corks, sponges, marker caps) and let children ages 4 and up dip them in washable paint that’s been spread on a foam tray. Use the objects to make unique prints.

Packing-peanut sculpture: Slightly dampen the end of one packing “peanut” (the biodegradable kind made from cornstarch) and stick it to another to build tall, spiraling towers and beautiful shapes.

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