Art Smart

At some point in time, almost every child grabs a piece of paper and and a box of crayons and begins to doodle lines and scribbles – the beginning of a lifelong love of the visual arts. Even if your child isn’t a budding Leonardo da Vinci you can nurture a love and appreciation for the fine arts. So where do you begin?


Amy Briggs, assistant director of visitor learning and experience at Danforth Art Museum/School in Framingham, believes art appreciation begins with everyday experiences early on. “Visual stimulation – and the building of a visual vocabulary – really begins at birth. Much of a young child’s biological and cognitive development involves learning to visually interpret the world around him/her,” Briggs says. “A parent may sit with a young child in [her] lap, and while looking through a picture book point to various images and identify objects or animals by labeling them out loud – ‘cat,’ ‘house,’ ‘flower.’ This type of experience is building an oral vocabulary, but it is also contributing to a child’s visual literacy. By building a visual vocabulary children become appreciative of colors, textures, shapes and lines all around them.”


For 9-year-old Devon Godek, this came naturally with her interest in art began at the age of 3. “Devon would say, ‘Daddy, look at the colors of the sunset,’ or ‘Look at the design in the clouds.’ Then she would try to draw them,” says Joe Godek of his daughter. For Godek, he knew his daughter, even at her young age, possessed artistic talents.


Valerie Schulte had a very similar experience with her daughter Maggie. “From a very early age, my daughter was extremely creative,” says Schulte. Maggie started with crayons at the age of 2, then moved onto finger painting and manipulating clay. “Even now when she plays waitress, she takes our orders and draws pictures of what we want,” Schulte continues.


Experts agree Maggie and Devon both display signs of an artistically gifted child.


“If your child prefers drawing to most other activities, if you see an astute observation reflected in the images he or she creates, or if you notice a sophisticated or advanced use of a medium, your child will likely have great success with art making as he or she grows,” says Noelle Fournier, children’s studio education coordinator at Danforth Art Museum/School.


Even if a child doesn’t initially display extraordinary artistic skill, it’s a good idea to continue exposing him to the arts.


“Messing about with art materials offers all children the chance to have success, to try new things, to expand their horizon,” says Sarah Fujiwara, executive director at Brookline Arts Center (BAC) in Brookline. “We see children at the BAC who have deep curiosity and express their feelings, thoughts and ideas in their art – they can explore and reflect challenges, joys and all ranges of emotions.”


Schulte hit this roadblock with her son, now 11. When he was 4 years old, his interest in art and coloring was replaced with his love of sports., and Schulte found it difficult to get him to get him interested in anything creative.


Like Jack, there are many children who prefer other activities to visual arts. But Fujiwara says those interests can still be translated into art.


“A primary goal in education is often to extend the learning experience so if your child is interested in cars, making ramps, garages or race tracks, all can become an art experience,” she explains. “Decorate the track, paint the garage, put signs and graphics on the garages and make a map to go with the cars. When my boys were little, they were into Ninja turtles. Those turtles ‘needed’ sewers, clothes and places to explore so we gathered all the cardboard, paint, tape and scissors we could find and the boys designed forts and underground caves. They were exploring design, color, problem solving and writing.”


What’s most important is that you encourage, but don’t push. Be careful with correction, too.


“On a few occasions, I’ve tried to correct Devon’s work, but it wasn’t well received. She’s her worst critic,” says Godek, who now asks questions about Devon’s artwork in hopes of starting a discussion.


Fournier and Fujiwara both think accentuating the positive is the best approach. Praise the process and point out positive features of each piece. And don’t be concerned if something is a little “off.”


“‘Perfect’ art from a child is exactly whatever the child makes,” says Fournier. “Making art is a personal expression of ideas and feelings, so if a child wants a purple tree in the picture I say go for it!”


“All parents/teachers/others have made the mistake of saying, ‘I love the house you made’ to have the child say, ‘It’s not a house. It’s a motorcar,’” Fujiwara adds. “We should say, ‘Tell us about your drawing.’ Then compliments should be real. ‘I love the way you used red paint all over.’ We don’t want to limit them – let them explore. This is not about perfection; it’s about trying new things, exploring and playing.


One way Schulte encourages Maggie in art is to enroll her in community classes.


“She really enjoys being with other kids who are working on the same project,” she says. “She’s just realizing her individuality and how everyone’s work turns out differently because they all have their own styles.”


Another way to instill a love for the arts is to visit art museums. Many facilities in Massachusetts cater to children with kid-friendly audio headsets, printed booklets and/or guides, and free passes are often available from libraries. Even if the museum you visit doesn’t have these offerings, you can create impromptu games such as “scavenger hunts” for various shapes, colors, animals, portraits and/or landscapes. Keep the experience upbeat and fun, and leave before boredom sets in.


“There is also a tremendous amount of public art around Greater Boston that is accessible any time,” says Fujiwara. “Places like deCordova with its sculpture park. Look at Boston Public Garden and the ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ ducks, or the playgrounds in Brookline and other towns. They are designed by architects and are playful, artistic and can be a delightful place to play but to also appreciate artistic endeavors and art.”


What if repeated attempts to encourage your child in the visual arts are met with failed endeavors? Back off and try something else, such as dance, music or theater.


“I didn’t set out to make my girls artists. I just wanted to give them a well-rounded education and help them develop an appreciation for all things,” says Godek. “Devon and [her sister] Taylor have both taken dance and are learning to play the keyboard. We take them to plays, too. I think if you expose kids to a variety of opportunities, sooner or later you’ll start to see their interests emerging.”


Cheryl Crosby is the senior editor of Boston Parents Paper. Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.




Where to Go for Visual and Performing Arts in Massachusetts


• Arlington Center for the Arts;


• ArtBeat;


• Brookline Arts Center;


• Danforth Art Museum/School;


• deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum;


• Garro Studios;


• Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum;


• KidCasso Art Studio;


• Muckykids Art Studio;


• Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;


• New Art Center;


• The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art;


• Wheelock Family Theatre;


 Learn how to encourage your child's love on visual and performing arts on the next page! &pagebreaking&

How to Encourage an Interest in Visual Arts


• When your toddler is ready, give him chunky crayons and large paper to experiment with. As he grows, provide a variety of materials and keep them accessible for use at any time, including markers, colored pencils, colored paper, large rolls of paper for murals, watercolors, paints, craft sticks, glue, scissors, old magazines, wall paper samples and fabric scraps for collages, stickers, stencils, ribbons, glitter, wood cuts and nature items.


• Purchase a sketchbook and encourage your child to draw one picture a day using various mediums. Date the top of each page.


• Do art alongside of your child. Family participation will encourage her to continue.


• Find books or other resources that give the history of famous artists. Learning about their lives, the period they lived in and their culture more than likely affected their subject and style.


• Encourage your child to tell stories with pictures rather than words.


• Use your child’s other interests as springboards for art projects. If he likes photography, give him a digital or disposable camera and have him take pictures, make a collage or try to draw a depiction of the image he sees.


How to Encourage an Interest in Performing Arts


• Have a box of old clothes and accessories on hand so your child can play dress up.


• Encourage her to pretend to be an animal or object. How would the animal move? What would it sound like? What would the personality be like? Make up a story and act it out.


• Encourage your child to pantomime rather than tell stories.


• Have him create hand puppets and put on a puppet show.


• When she is young, create simple, repeatable dance steps and encourage her to engage in rhythmic movement to music. As she gets older, have her create her own routines.


• Help your child become familiar with differences in pitch and encourage him to sing songs.


• Purchase simple rhythm instruments your child can experiment with. Or have her create her own with simple household materials.


• Expose your child to various instruments at your local music store or at a symphony’s musical petting zoo.


• Let your child try a variety of musical instruments. Rent until he is ready to commit to playing long-term.


• Encourage him to write a skit or find a play he can do with friends or siblings. Make it into an all-out production by creating tickets, providing snacks and inviting family and close friends.


• Attend local dance, music and theater performances. After the production, discuss the event with your child. What did she like about it? What didn’t she like? Would she enjoy being part of something like this?

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20 Mar 2015

By Cheryl Crosby and Denise Yearian