A Word on Art
Many of the students I work with enjoy art. Some are very open about it and share their unique visions at every opportunity. Others feel their art is not “good”. These students will refuse to draw and tell me they “can’t” draw.
Just like reading and math, art gets easier to express with practice. Many times in history an artist’s vision is not appreciated during his/her lifetime. This is especially true if the art is especially unique.
What is “Good” Art Anyway?
We, as teachers, family and community members, need to be careful of how we express our appreciation of art. For example, how many times have you heard someone make a comment about “staying within the lines”? Who decided that good art means “staying within the lines”? I have heard teachers and parents tell children disparaging remarks about their heartfelt or joyous expression of art. This can lead to children refusing to express themselves through art.
I have also heard teachers and parents penalize a child for not coloring an item the “correct” color. For example the child may have colored a banana purple. Why does it matter so much what colors a child uses to express themselves and what they see and feel?
*Vincent Van Gogh chose to stray outside the lines and color things as he chose rather than how they were traditionally colored.
Seek to Understand
Sometimes, I think, we don’t take enough time to let our children teach us. They are unique individuals who deserve an opportunity to share their visions with us, through art and voice. If you are not sure what a drawing is, that is shared with you, take a moment to look closely at it. After a time find one element to compliment, for example, “I like this big red line here” or “you really worked hard on this”. Then ask the child to explain the drawing to you. If they are reluctant, point to a part of the drawing and ask, “what did you draw here” or “tell me the story of this picture”. Then take the time to listen to the story told by the child. If the child does not want to share the story, that is ok. You can just leave it by saying a positive statement like, “I really like this drawing” or “Can I put it up on the refrigerator for everyone to see”?
How to Start
Many of my students haven’t practiced representational art very much. They feel they “can’t” draw a cat or a person. They have seen what others draw to represent those things and it feels beyond their capability. Some kids have been literally told that they cannot draw “like everyone else”.
When a child comes to me and asks me to draw for them, this is the best opportunity. I am no artist, but I can help the kids to try a few simple techniques. It seems to me that many of my students have difficulty seeing 3 dimensional objects as 2 dimensional objects.
- I put a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser in front of myself, and one of each in front of the child sitting beside me.
This child wants me to draw a cat for her. I try to find a picture to look at with the child first. I will point to the head of the cat and say, “I am going to give my cat a head” and I draw a circle. “Will you draw a head for your cat”?
- Next, I point to the cat’s belly, “He needs a tummy” and I draw another bigger oval. “Does your cat have a tummy”?
- Then I say, “Oops, he needs a neck to hold him together” and I draw the lines to connect the head to the body. By this point the child is following my lead but not copying exactly. The child feels free to alter my simple drawings and even correct them as they see fit. Next I look at the picture and say, “This cat needs some legs” and I draw long thin tube shapes to make 4 legs.
- I continue in this way with little details I can add, like claws and ears and a face. I do not draw on the child’s paper. I am careful not to judge or even look at the child’s drawing until they are finished. At that point I try to compliment the drawing, if possible highlighting something they drew differently from my version. I also take a moment to ask the child “Who drew that cat?”, and they will respond “I did!”, that is the best moment!
How to Keep it Fun!
I take time to color alongside my students. It is a great opportunity to model working together and sharing time that is not about me teaching them. I let my student pick out coloring sheets for each of us. They choose the medium we will work with. I have crayons, large and small colored pencils and sometimes I bring paint or specialized blending pencils. Whatever medium they choose, I will use the same. I model layering colors, blending colors and using non-traditional colors, like coloring a banana purple!
This activity allows me time to relax and get into a meditative frame of mind. As I model this, the students reflect this and learn that coloring can help them to release stresses as well. This is especially true if the work is not judged.
What to Color
There are many unique coloring sheets out there. I find that my students enjoy coloring sheet versions of classic paintings, like Van Gogh and Monet. I have had a lot of interest in Norman Rockwell as well. I think they like Rockwell because his work is often funny. This gives a great opportunity for children to learn about and enjoy classic art. There are a lot of coloring sheets with abstract and more modern art as well. I find my students especially like to color art with human faces. They like human faces that show real expressions – not always smiling.
Take the time to color. Color on your own to reduce your own stresses, and then color alongside your child to share in an activity for both of you to enjoy together. It is nice to do a peaceful activity alongside someone you respect.
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Katherine is a seasoned educator with a wide variety of expertise in the field. As a teacher with over 30 years of experience with students ages 3-18, she is also a Certified Elementary School Teacher (K-8), a Certified Special Education Teacher (K-12), an Inclusion Specialist, and a Visual and Performing Arts Specialist. In addition to her credentials, she has also spent 2 years as a House Parent for Severely Emotionally Disturbed teenaged girls (ages 9-18), and has worked with all types of students with various labels including Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, SED, ODD, FASD, ID, ADHD, Schizophrenia, Gifted, etc.