Lessons in art

Parents urged to nurture artistic development in their children

Parents urged to nurture artistic development in their children

October 07, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

A lesson in fine motor skills, teamwork and solving problems, coordination and design is taking place among Leslie Gates' third-grade art students.

To the untrained eye, however, her Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School classroom looks just like a giant mess of tiny paper cutouts.

Leslie Gates is leading her 8- and 9-year-old students in a paper mosaic project that draws from lessons about Roman gods and the Pompeii ruins. In teams of three and four, students must decide on a theme together and cut out tiny, multiple-shaped pieces of construction paper to create one, tiled image.

Projects like this encourage artistic development and teach children about the wide realm of art, Gates explains.

That's because, like language, art is a natural, yet learned human expression that evolves with the development of the brain, Gates says. Children need to grapple with materials, textures and form in order to grow artistically.


Gates believes that if parents understand the natural development of artistic ability, they will be better able to guide and nurture their children's endeavors.

"Part of what happens when kids develop is they scribble," Gates says. "They do that until they realize that those scribbles can be shapes."

Kids then enter into the line and circle phase.

"They wouldn't be able to draw in great detail until they have fine motor skills. That's not at 2," Gates says. "The best thing that parents can do, especially when kids are very young is give them as many materials as they can. That actually increases their fine motor skills."

Third-grader Haley Kipe enjoys working on art projects at home with her mom. Her favorite is painting stained glass.

"It's kind of hard to do because the paint doesn't show up that well," Haley says. "So you have to put a lot of paint on."

Haley's discovery is exactly the type of art interaction Gates wants children to have.

"They are interacting with something that they are not used to, so they are getting information that they didn't have before," Gates says.

Art and music teachers with Washington County Public Schools are firm believers that kids need more artistic stimulation at younger ages, says Rob Hovermale, the school district's director of visual and performing arts.

"All the research that we have says that a child's brain is craving stimulus of sounds and sights." he says. "The more we can give students at a younger age, the better."

That's why the school district has been focusing on an "art immersion" experience for kindergartners.

"The use of art will enhance the learning environment for students at an early age, building appreciation for the arts and creating lifelong learners," according to a portion of a grant application written recently by the school district.

Fourth-grader Shelley Khanna already has learned that lesson.

"Without art, you can't imagine what's going on," the Greencastle-Antrim student says. Shelley says she learns better when teachers incorporate art and visual examples into lessons.

As Shelley sketches an image of a chair, she says she's not worried about being "good" at art. She just really enjoys the subject and keeps working at it.

With art "you just do your best and it doesn't matter if you're bad or good," she says.

Gates often is surprised when her third-grade students tell her they are "not good" at art. Just like any other subject, art is learned and practiced, Gates says. For her young students, she hopes that art in its many forms will be an outlet, rather than a strict subject that has right and wrong answers.

Tips to encourage discovery and interest in art

When it comes to art education and a child's development, the most important role a parent can play is to encourage discovery and to stimulate interest, says Leslie Gates, an art teacher at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School in Greencastle, Pa.

Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  • Find different textures.

    Encourage children to "make art" on many different surfaces and with different materials. For example, have them work with fabric, cardboard or felt. Figuring out how to cut felt, for example, requires a child to try different techniques and gives them new information, Gates says. Drawing on a sidewalk with chalk forces kids to draw in new ways, making bigger movements and adjusting to a bumpy surface.

    "Play-Doh is really great too," adds Rob Hovermale, the director of visual and performing arts for Washington County Public Schools. Working with Play-Doh or clay encourages kids to create three-dimensional forms, which requires different fine motor skills than drawing with a pencil on paper.

  • Encourage and admire.

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