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Preschoolers and Their Art

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 5, 2010

What Young Children Learn Through Art

          Art is more than “just for fun”, and more than an “extra” subject.  It should be an important part of every preschooler’s life, and an important part of older children’s homeschool curriculum.  Through art, children learn skills related to every area of academia: 

*Physical Development

*Eye-hand coordination

*Small muscle strength

*Develop of small motor skills (children practice the correct way to hold and use a pencil, and learn how to make lines and shapes.  This is essential for future writing skills.) 

*Social Skills

*Children learn to express themselves and their thoughts, and how to interpret moods and emotions (this is important for speech and writing skills.)

*Talking about art develops social and speech skills

Cognitive Development

*Through art, children begin to understand that pictures can represent other things; this develops abstract thought.

*When talking about art, children learn about shapes, the positions of things in space, and part/whole relationships.  This involves math, language and art skills.

*When children observe that two colors mixed together make another color, they are learning about science (solutions/cause and effect); when they observe patterns and copy them, they are learning math.

*Planning projects develops thinking skills

Language Development

*Talking about art and asking questions about it involves cognitive development, social development, speech, language, and pre-writing skills. It also teaches descriptive vocabulary words such as straight, wavy or zigzag; color words like aqua or beige; and technical vocabulary like printing, blending, color-wash, etc.

“Teaching” Art

          Parents needn’t worry about “teaching” art. Aside from conversation and simple lessons–such as how to hold and use scissors or a pencil, replacing caps on felt-tipped pens, or how to use a paintbrush gently–little “teaching” is required.  Instead, most art experiences for preschoolers should be “child led”.  Parents provide the materials and basic instructions, and children provide the creativity—no parental creativity or skill is required.  Ideally, preschool art experiences should be open-ended, with no right or wrong way to proceed. Coloring books and parent-led cut and paste sessions should be used only occasionally, and then “just for fun”.

How to Talk to a Scribbler

          When it comes to preschoolers and art, there are a few things we should keep in mind. The first thing to remember is a “catch phrase” used in early learning circles: “It’s the process, not the product”.  This refers to the fact that for preschoolers, the goal is not a great looking creation or end “product”—preschooler’s “creations” often fall short of being beautiful–or realistic.  Sometimes they are downright comical, with purple  suns, black grass, or eyes attached where the belly button should be. But a beautiful or “correct” creation is not the goal of art at this age. The benefit and joy of art for preschoolers lies in the process of making art-the experience.

          Art experiences become a source of pride for preschoolers, no matter what adults may think of the results.  Possessive preschoolers cling to their art, almost as if it is an extension of themselves.  This is just one reason why parents should never move the eyes into their correct position, or urge children to paint the sun yellow.  Let preschoolers have their own unique perspective for now.  They will learn to put the eyes in the right place and use realistic colors soon enough on their own.  Resist criticizing, or making your child feel that his efforts are not good enough for you.  Instead, say something like, “Wow, you sure used a lot of colors on that!”

Scribbling is fun and it’s also a useful learning activity.  As your child scribbles, she gains first hand experience with all the different strokes that formal writing will require. Tilting and swerving her random scrawls around the page, she produces curved and straight lines, continuous marks and some that are broken, lines that run parallel and others that intersect.  In short, she incorporates all the variables that she will use again later on when she forms real letters.  Scribbling is not only a simple creative act that a youngster practices for its own sake, it is also a rehearsal for the more conventional forms of writing she will soon want to explore.-Time Life Books, First Steps Towards Reading


          A common mistake parents make when talking to children about their art is trying to identify the pictures. Never ask a young child, “What is it?” Sometimes parents will name pictures themselves, being sure the drawing is a car–when your child sees a house–or nothing at all.  Instead, ask your child to “Tell me about your picture”.  When you do this, children are free to name their picture if they want to– but they are just as likely to talk about their color choices, the types of lines in the picture…if you’re lucky, they might even tell you a story about it. (These are great to write down!)

          Other appropriate comments for parents:  “You worked really hard on that, didn’t you?”  “I like the squiggly lines right here.”   “Tell me about this part.”  “I like the colors you used.”

          Talk with children about the art they see and make. By doing this, you will be extending your child’s learning.  Teach your children to notice details in picture books, and note the media used if you can.  For instance, in Leo Lionni’s book Swimmy,  watercolors are used.  Point out the medium, the colors used, or how the wavy lines replicate water.  This might inspire your child to experiment with watercolors himself. (But remember, the goal is not to copy any picture exactly, but to just to explore the medium!)

          Art prints are also great ways to expose children to art. Put one up at your child’s eye level, and discuss the details in the picture.  Notice the media used, shadows and light, colors and so on.  Teach your child to look for these same details in the real world–especially in nature.


Setting Up Your Home for Art

           It’s a good idea to set up one area in your home to accommodate arts and crafts.  This area should have easy-to-clean floors and a water supply, so the kitchen is perfect. Ideally, basic art supplies should be readily available, so that children can “create” whenever they feel inspired.

          Our family’s “art area” is the kitchen table (we covered it with heavy, clear plastic from a fabric store.)   Nearby, in the drawers of our china hutch, silverware and placemats have been replaced with paper of various kinds, crayons, felt-tipped pens, colored pencils and the like.  Scissors, glue, glue sticks and tape, which are used by permission only, are just out of reach in upper drawers.   If you don’t have storage space in your kitchen, you could use plastic bins or rolling carts with drawers.  The idea is to keep the basic supplies easily accessible.  I often rotate materials or offer new ones, or set out on the table to encourage use.

Art Supplies

Here is a list of our favorite supplies:

Paper: Printer or copier paper makes good drawing paper; we keep some out all the time.  We also use construction paper, crepe paper and scrapbook paper.  If you are willing to put in the time, you may be able to collect free paper from print shops, or old wallpaper books from interior design centers.  A note about construction paper:  Spend a little extra money to buy good paper from a school supply store or internet site.  There really is a difference!  Better papers have more vibrant and long-lasting colors, and are smooth and heavy.  You also might like to try real water-color paper if your children love to paint.

Drawing Media:  Crayons, pastel crayons, chalk, twist up “crayons” (like Crayola’s “Twistables”), pencils, colored pencils, pens, felt-tipped pens, charcoal pencils/sticks

Painting Media:  Watercolors, watercolor crayons/pencils, finger-paints and paper, liquid chalk paint, tempera paint (powdered is best, and lasts “forever”—you can mix only the amount you need, and you can mix it thick or thin, as to your needs.)

Paint Accessories:  Various sizes and types of brushes; objects to stamp/paint with such as small blocks, old potato mashers, sponges, etc; a box that is 12×12 or so, and around 2 inches in height to use as a marble painting box (put paper in the box; drop a marble first into paint, next onto the paper, and wiggle the box to make designs.)

Cutting Media:  Safety scissors, hole punches. (Craft stores also sell scissors that cut different designs, such as zigzags, wavy lines, etc.  These are fun but be aware that they are harder to use, and could cause frustration for some preschoolers.)

Connecting Media: White glue, glue sticks, rubber cement, tape, stapler, brads.

Sculpting Media:  Homemade or store-bought modeling dough/play dough, cookie cutters, rollers, plastic knives

Collage Materials:  Scraps of paper, shapes cut from paper/felt, yarn, ribbon, beans, rice, peas, lentils, popcorn, macaroni, stickers, heavy paper  Extras:  Glitter, felt, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, yarn, ribbon; found materials like old egg cartons, toilet paper rolls or coffee cans; plastic lids and old margarine containers (great for storing paint or using as paint palettes.)

A Caution:  Safety first!  If you think your child may try to eat art supplies, or cut things other than paper (my boys liked cutting their own hair, and the sheets from their beds), or if you think they’d make too big a mess, keep the art supplies out of reach.  (We leave only basic supplies out all the time.)   Always supervise your children!


           Since art provides so many benefits for young children, it is tempting to think that we must need some sort of expensive “curriculum” to help us along.  But preschoolers don’t need an expensive art curriculum to receive all these benefits.  As with everything else during the preschool years, a loving, involved parent and a few basic supplies are everything you need.

          Note:  I include a whole chapter on art in my book, with more than 50 open-ended projects to enjoy with children of all ages.

          A Caution:  Safety first!  If you think your child may try to eat art supplies, or cut things other than paper (my boys liked cutting their own hair, and the sheets from their beds), or if you think they’d make too big a mess, keep the art supplies out of reach.  (We leave only basic supplies out all the time.)   Always supervise your children!


This post contains excerpts from the book,Homepreschool and Beyond”; used with permission. 

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


4 Responses to “Preschoolers and Their Art”

  1. silvia said

    We enjoy this part of our preschool days…the girls love all types of art, it comes natural to us. Again, thanks for the tip on spending more on better quality paper and materials in general, it makes a difference for the better and you save since those cheap things are sometimes a waste.

  2. Babychaser said

    Art is definitely something I struggle with. I’ve never been good at the whole let go and let them get messy thing. I’m getting better over time, but it’s still a struggle. We’re in a small house, so it’s hard to have art things out where they can get them… plus, I have a 3 year old and one who just turned 2… so out and available isn’t always safe.

    I have been trying to be better about it thought and love the tips you shared here. Perhaps it will help me get better equipped. Thanks for the encouragement!! Oh, and I’ve been reading since your first note to me… and loving it. I’ve been in a bit of a commenting slump though… trying to get my blog reading done quickly so I can get to the non computer related items at hand!

    Thanks for your visits… and for sharing your blog with me! I love it!


    • I’m so glad it’s a help to you! If you like my site, you’ll love my book. Remember, there is still time to link to my blog & post about the contest, which enters you in the contest. Just let me know if you do, so I can add your name to the entry list.

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