Parents are incredibly concerned about their toddler’s artistic ability, but could care less about whether or not they can draw more than a stick figure. Does this mean that they understand the importance of creative expression for their child’s development?
This seemingly lop-sided concern is evidenced in the regularity with which child care providers get the question, “How is my child doing?” with a great deal of emphasis on art capabilities. Even if they realize that art is important, they may not understand that it is not just that the child knows how to draw a car or pony or that the picture is “pretty,” but that the child experiences “doing art” – that creativity is used to make the “picture.”
What is creating for a child? Could it be when a toddler smears finger paint – blending the colors together until he is somehow satisfied with the result? Or when he twists and smashes Play-Doh into some shape that he calls a hippo? What does he see when he takes a single crayon color and press harder in some areas than others, creating fine lines in one area and fat, dark ones in others? He suddenly stops to declare the masterpiece complete and shows it to you and you have no idea what it could be. You may never see in his pictures what he says they are. But it is important for him to do this. It is important that we allow them to work – unguided and uninfluenced – to show how they see something, to express how they perceive what is around them.
How does their little mind work the Play-Doh or put colors together? Do they fill up the entire space or use it sparingly? Even though they may make a mess, it is exciting to see their excitement in “creating” and then showing you what they have made.
As child care providers, it is important to plan this time for our children. It seems to work better when such an unencumbered time of free expression for them is planned out by us. Setting goals makes it even better. Even if you don’t have lots of room, make the most of what you have because art can happen anywhere.
Why is this important? The child isn’t just making something and taking pride in what he has accomplished, but he is honing skills. Through his artistic expression, he is refining hand-eye coordination. He is immersed in colors and shapes and learning to identify them. He is learning the skills of cause-and-effect, problem solving, sharing and cooperation – just to name a few. And art is important for toddlers because it helps them to develop self-esteem. Displaying their work provides a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Art time is an important experience in your toddler’s day because your toddler has grown enough to grasp objects, tear paper and hold and draw with brushes, paint and crayons without being told to be careful, stay in the lines, don’t spill, don’t make a mess. His freedom to express allows him to grow in ways that are new to him – allowing him to anticipate an exciting new activity and to spend quality time with adults who are important to him.
You can see how much he is growing from his new experiences by asking him to tell you about his artwork. This simple conversation not only shows you his amazing progress, it makes him feel important because you are interested in what he has created and what he thinks about it. Of course, displaying said artwork reinforces this, so always have or find a place for his “gallery.”