Art is magical. You can’t deny seeing a striking painting evokes feelings. It's personal, everyone is welcome to see and feel something different. Art adds color, texture, and gives historical context to the past. Art is an act of preservation. We use it to freeze a moment in time and save that moment for others to see.
Art with young children is very similar and very different. When we see a master piece we are used to only observing the finished product. With young children the opposite is most important. The product they are left with is far less valuable than the process they went through to create it. With young children art is process oriented.
One of my favorite painting activities is mixing the primary colors in paint. The children have access to only red, yellow, and blue paint.
Now if I don't take pictures of them while creating, you might think I just gave them brown paint. Because the product of this activity is a paper covered in LOTS of brown paint.
The pictures of your child hard at work capture the process. They used brushes to carefully transfer the paint to their paper. This is science. Sometimes we take a glob of paint that's too big and it doesn't stick to our brush, when it falls off it leaves a splatter. This in itself is full of physics.
Once the paint makes it to the paper we see how to glides and moves the color across our page. More science.
Then if we go back for another color we can see how they mix. Adding colors together makes new colors. This is one of the earliest math concepts we explore with young children.
We discuss the primary and secondary colors we are making.
The children, eager to soak up more math and science, naturally mix the colors they make together. Behold the magic of mixing all the primary colors together- brown!
Amazing! As adults we become complacent with how things are. We forget that magic is all around us. But it is magical that science works the same all the time. If we mix blue, red, and yellow together we get brown. Every time.
Now let's explore the social aspect of what art teaches the young child.
If you're painting at school you are likely sharing paint tray. Chances are at least one friend at the table wants to keep the colors and brushes in their corresponding dish. After all the magic is observing brown being creating on your page, not only having brown to paint with.
So that friend will need to be mindful of the friends who don't mind the colors mixing. Instead of shouting “stop!” or “you're messing it up!” we guide them to language like “could you keep the yellow brush with the yellow paint please?” or “please don't mix the colors in the cups.”
We teach them that calm mindful communication is easier for their friends to understand.
We also teach the friend mixing the colors that they are sharing the trays and should be mindful of their friends wishes. We teach them that it's ok to make a mistake and forget, but to try hard to remember.
Now you remember that paint that fell off our brush earlier? Well it's still on the table. Wish our page sufficiently brown we are ready to clean up after ourselves.
As teachers we guide the friends to pay attention to any messes they make. It's ok to make a mess, it's simply a part of art. What's not ok is having someone else clean up a mess you make.
So we involve them in age appropriate cleaning technique. They can get a wash clothes and wipe off the table. They can check their chair, and the floor too.
Cleaning up is not only super fun if you're 2, it teaches self awareness and responsibility. It also builds self esteem. This age is all about finding independence. Cleaning up after art is something they can usually do by themselves. And that's awesome.
Speaking of self esteem and confidence, art gives you plenty of that. Humans are naturally vain and often materialistic. This means we especially like stuff that we make. Toddlers and young children LOVE everything they make. When they bring home that brown paper they remember creating it. They remember the process. They might have a vision for what the smears and brush strokes represent.
So when you take their art and fawn over it, they are proud. They feel proud showing you what they created, and built up emotionally over your reaction.
I hope now you know that when a brown paper goes home it is so much more than the product you see. Your child learned about math, physics, science, communication, community, self esteem, and confidence. All of these lessons were taught through fun, without even realizing they were learning. I hope now you realize the value of their work, and the fact that your reaction to their art shapes their world.