Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Talk to your Kids about their Art

Dillon, Age 6
The talk at the end of each art class is consistently one of the best parts of teaching young artists.  This is time when we look at  the day's work and talk about the things we like and the things we learned. It's a great way for kids to reinforce the  day's art vocabulary and think about the concepts of the lesson.

Talking about what we see in our drawings -  color, line, texture, symmetry and shapes, offers a wonderful opportunity for the kids to understand that there is no one right way to create something. As we go around the room and really look at each others work, it is easy to see that the drawings (like kids) are each beautiful in their own way.

I encourage (and model) the idea that perfection is never the goal of making art.  It is the process, and the learning,  not the product that makes art so much fun. And, since I hope to help each child see that there is something to appreciate in everyone's work, I help them find the words to use to express what they see and like.

Of course, when I watch the quiet smiles on their faces as each child receives honest and relevant praise for their work, I know they are getting more from the day's lesson than just dirty hands and a (fabulous) drawing to take home.

Then the parents arrive. These are great parents, filled with joy and pride at what they see.  I regularly hear them gushing about the 'fantastic' drawings.

Unfortunately, as one of my students point out, "you can't just say its 'terrific' all the time." So, in the interest of creating opportunities for meaningful conversation, here are some tips (some from the Big Black Pig Studio website)  that parents and teachers can use to talk about art.

Don't over-praise.
If you rave about everything equally all the time, your kids stop valuing your praise and may eventually doubt that anything they do is praiseworthy. Instead of saying, that is brilliant, or beautiful, or amazing (what does all that mean anyway?) offer meaningful comments that relate to the actual work.

Ask the kids what they like about their work (and listen in on class conversations - parents are welcome at the end of class).
Ask the kids about the words they learned and have them show you examples of lines, patterns, blended colors, symmetry, pastels, ink, or ...  This kind of conversation reinforces vocabulary and concepts and opens the door to conversation. 

Praise them for doing, not being.
Focus your praise on what they have done, not how talented they are. "What a great idea!" or "You really worked hard on this painting!" rather than "You're so clever." Get it? Kids who are rewarded for "doing" (working hard and making progress) continue to strive and  thrive. Kids who are congratulated for "being" smart--or artistic or imaginative--often start playing it safe to protect their image. Nothing gets in the way of creativity like fear of failing. 

Praise the process, not the product.

Ask, how did you do this? Talk about what YOU notice in the drawing. e.g.,  What an interesting shape. How did you blend those colors? Those curved lines make a lovely shape. (Don't say, you colored outside the lines, that doesn't look like a fish. Who ever heard of a purple chicken?)

Praise the effort.

That took a lot of work. You were really concentrating. I can see you had fun. I like the way you drew these strong lines. 

Praise the imagination and creativity.
What a great idea to paint the cat green (or the chicken purple.)

Ask the kids what THEY think about their work.
Invite them to evaluate their own work. What is your favorite part of the picture? What was the hardest part of drawing this? Is there more you want to add? 

Ask open-ended questions when talking to kids about their art (or anything else). These kinds of questions allow kids to respond with thoughts, not simply yes or no.

Look at art with your kids. Take them to an art museum, stop into a gallery you pass on the street. Get art books from the library. Go online. There are endless resources available. Then,  listen to what your kid has to say about what he or she is seeing. (When your boy says a painting is "gorgeous" ask, what do you like about it? This is a great way to understand what he is seeing and thinking.

Follow this blog. I regularly post information, ideas and resources that parents and teachers can use when talking to their kids about art. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcome. So are posts of your kids art. I love to see what they are doing when not in class, so will my readers. There are two ways to do this, follow be email or join (scroll down to find links to either option on the lower right side.) 

Check out the Art Ideas and Resources page on this blog, and visit all the posts that include the words ART, RESOURCES and KIDS. You will find ideas for making art, taking photos, finding and using resources, and lots more. 

Gallery Stroll
- this activity is an opportunity to talk about art and build art language. Expect to hear words that describe color, shape, motion, emotion, and much more. Chosing favorites also builds decision-making skills.
  • Arrange ten to fifteen pictures (magazines, photos, paintings) around a room to create a gallery
  • Have kids walk around the gallery and study the images on the walls
  • When they have completed inspecting each picture, have kids rank the pictures numerically, from their favorite to their least favorite. (Note: Suggest that kids write or sketch a brief “memo” of each image in a notebook.)
  • After they’ve made their choices, have kids talk about their reasons (criteria) for choosing their three favorites and their least favorite. Then, ...
  • DISCUSS: What attracted you to the pictures you liked best? Why did you choose the one you did as your least favorite.