Art work gives kids direction, control and self-esteem


Patrick "Paddy" Breen enjoys art class because he has discovered that he can create things with clay.

The third-grader at Paramount Elementary School in Hagerstown recently made a pot that reminds him of his Calico cat, Eevee.

The miniature pot has a head, tail and paws.

Jenny Breen, Paddy's mom, says her first-grade son, Brady, also likes art class.

"Art gives them a direction, a place where they can go and be special," Breen says.

Art helps at home, too.

"It gives them self-control," Breen says. "When they get hyper at the house, they can sit down and channel that into drawing."

It also can be gratifying - a good self-esteem builder.

"I'm very good with clay," 9-year-old Paddy proudly says. "I didn't know I was as good as I know now."

Paddy's art teacher at Paramount, Robin Taylor, says her students love working with clay.


"If I tell them we're going to have a clay day, everybody claps," Taylor says.

Clay helps children learn the difference between shapes and forms - shapes are flat; forms are fat, says Taylor, who also teaches art at Funkstown Elementary School.

She teaches students four basic forms, often using words children can relate to - sphere (ball), cylinder (log), slab (pancake), cone (what holds ice cream).

In kindergarten and first grade, she has students practice making these shapes and putting them together to make animals or other items.

By second grade, they're usually ready to make containers, starting with simple pinch pots - spheres that can be flattened in the middle like a doughnut. Then the child pinches the sides to make a pot. The pot's lid can be a "pancake" that is formed to size.

Unlike Play-Doh, which can crumble and harden, modeling clay doesn't dry out. You don't want to get it on your carpet, though.

For a less messy option to clay or Play-Doh, try Model Magic. The child will need to work with this quickly, though. Once it air dries overnight, it's set. It is paintable, and it colors easily with markers and is available in multiple colors, according to

Beth Doggett, art teacher at Williamsport Elementary School and Jan Madsen, art teacher at Boonsboro Elementary School, recommend these projects you can do with your child:

Create with them

Just as it's important for a child to see a parent reading, it's also important for a child to see a parent creating.

"It's good for a parent once in a while to sit down and work alongside with them," Doggett says. "Show your child you enjoy it, too."

If you see your child copying what you're doing, make a comment such as, "Let's see if we can each add something different," Doggett suggests. Then tell the child that you like his idea, encouraging the fact that it was original.

Ideas with paint

- Remember those veggies in the fridge that were going to be part of last week's salad? Don't throw them away. Your child can use them to make prints with paint. Carrots, mushrooms, green peppers, radishes, broccoli, lettuce and cabbage make interesting prints. Fruit, such as oranges and lemons, also work well if you cut them in half and let them dry out overnight.

- Save Styrofoam trays that meat comes on. Clean trays can hold paint for printing projects.

- Try textile paints to make place mat or T-shirt prints.

Drawing possibilities

- Make a silly animal together as a family. Divide a 9-by-12 inch piece of paper into thirds. One family member can draw the animal's head at the top of the paper. The next family member draws the animal's body in the middle. The last family member can draw the feet at the bottom.

Mixed media

- Make a pussy willow. On a skinny piece of paper, take a brown, green or black crayon (or a combination of these colors) and draw a "branch" - a wavy vertical line. Then dip the fingerprint part of a finger in gray paint and the tip of the finger in white paint. Put pussy willow prints on each side of the branch. If possible, show your child a real pussy willow branch prior to starting this project.

Next week: How to help your child appreciate the artwork of others.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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