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If you're like most parents, you probably cringe at the thought of easel paints and clay in your family room — but art experiences offer powerful benefits for kids. Set up an easel on the patio for quick clean-up, and paint along with your child. Grab some pencils and a sketchbook when you go to the park to sketch pictures of birds or animals you see there. You just might discover that you enjoy art as much as your child does.
Young children don't generally use art to convey feelings or ideas, but they enjoy the tactile experience of working with finger paint or clay. They may squish, dab or scribble, relishing the experience. Children also enjoy the visual aspects of art. They take pleasure in bright colors and textures. These experiences are often joyful (and fun) moments of discovery.
Art is one of the earliest forms of communication for children. Through painting, drawing and sculpting, children can express feelings of sadness, joy, anger or fear, notes Pablo Solomon, internationally known artist, designer and former teacher. Art is a soothing activity for children. Through art, children often express emotions they are unable to verbalize. Sharing art with others can create feelings of empathy and unity. "Observing art helps children recognize and understand that other children share many feelings, experiences, and fears," says Solomon.
Most people understand that art experiences build creativity and imagination, but art can also boost cognitive skills, according to the website Americans for the Arts. Art projects teach critical thinking and collaboration. Children learn to make careful observations and plan ahead. Art projects can teach basic geometry concepts, such as planes and angles. Art even boosts early literacy skills, according to Solomon, because it teaches children that symbols and strokes can be used to share thoughts and ideas. Understanding this concept fuels a child's motivation to learn to read and write as a means of communication.
Young children don't care much about the finished product, but are more interested in the process of art. As children get older, though, they may have an idea in mind when they start an art project. To execute this idea, children must learn to focus and pay attention to detail. They may even paint or draw several pictures, until they get it "right." Through art, children learn the value of effort and persistence. They learn to overcome frustration and enjoy the satisfaction that comes through careful crafting. Caring for brushes, paints and supplies also teaches responsibility, says Solomon.
If you'd like to incorporate more art experiences in your home, start small with a few paints or clay. Teach children boundaries about using materials, such as noting that paints go on paper only. Show your children how to care for materials and clean paintbrushes. Finally, take an open-ended, playful view of art, says Dr. Kip Patterson, clinical psychologist and amateur artist from North Carolina. "The primary purpose of art is to allow the child to have a safe effect on her world, to have that effect acknowledged simply for the effect it is, and to allow the activity to be the result of the child's effort without critical judgment," says Dr. Patterson. Finally, keep the dialogue going: Have your child tell you about her art, and display it in an attractive frame.