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Five Tips from Bullis Visual Arts Teachers
Crayons, chalk, clay, paints, paper, markers, glitter and glue—parents know these and other art materials that inspire young artists in their homes. What they may not know is that while their children live in the moment, dabbling in clay or finger-paint, they are learning important and transferable skills.
Research shows that fostering creativity through art play builds mental, emotional, social and physical development, in addition to its ample educational benefit. Fine motor coordination, spatial understanding, math concepts, scientific experimentation, the ability to analyze, and self-confidence—can all begin with happy artistic messes on the kitchen table.
"A child raised with creativity develops problem-solving skills, independence, and the ability to make choices," says Kelsey Donegan, Middle and Upper School visual arts teacher, and one of 15 faculty members in the Visual and Performing Arts department. "It's important for them to learn that it's okay to try something new, to mess up, and find a way to work through it."
Lindy Russell-Heymann, who teaches Lower School visual arts, sees a difference between children who enter Lower School having had lots of hands-on art activity at home—and those who have had less creative time. "Children who explore art at home bring that creativity to school with them," she says. "They learn to think through using their hands making art, solving puzzles with raw materials." Donegan agrees. "Art is about experimentation, and kids learn a willingness to try something new in other areas."
Bullis visual art teachers share some tips to encourage young artists:
- Make art supplies accessible. Store art materials in an area where children feel free to use them. "Art can be messy, but let kids know that is okay—and teach them to clean up when they're done," Russell-Heymann says. "Self-driven art play helps them feel free to think and explore."
- Think outside the box. This can be literal: boxed kits, toys, and games are great teaching tools, but are often outcome-driven and adult-led, and that can limit natural creativity, says Russell-Heymann.
- Provide unexpected materials. Beyond designated art materials, keep an assortment of odds and ends and found objects like fabric, boxes and papers, sponges, bottle caps, twigs, stones, leaves, shells etc. Nontraditional materials can inspire and encourage children to coordinate their hands and their minds. "Kids love to make things," Russell-Heymann says. "Letting them use their imaginations in new ways can lead to great art exploration." Be prepared to go through lots of tape. "Tape is magic for kids!"
- Get involved. Young children enjoy when parents make art with them. Have fun. "If you're being creative alongside them without being attached to an end result artwork, that can be a very positive experience for both," Russell-Heymann says.
- Establish a "Genius Hour." One highlight of Lindy Russell-Heymann's 4th- and 5th- grade art classes is "Genius Hour," every fifth class. Students can work on projects they choose with whatever materials are at hand. Experimenting with a fresh idea, they build and make some remarkable things. "It can go in amazing and delightful directions," she says.
Art exploration at younger ages continues to benefit older children too, says Donegan. "While it's never too late to cultivate skills, Middle School students who have been encouraged in artistic problem solving earlier are more confident and eager to try new things. Those who haven't had much experience need time to loosen up. What kids find scary about art," she continues, "is that there's no right answer." Yet it's not about failing, she emphasizes. Going through various art processes helps children learn to problem solve in other areas as well. "Art helps the brain to grow in more thorough ways," Donegan says.