“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso
Art Encourages Neural Connections
As a child I was a daydreamer. I found it difficult to pay attention to the teacher and stay still during lessons at school. I wanted to move around and explore. But I was a good kid who followed the rules so while my body sat still in a chair with my feet swinging in my seat my eyes wandered around the room. I remember noticing the shadows created by a big tree outside my kindergarten window and the reflections it made on the walls in the classroom and the calming sound of the leaves rustling in the wind. The teacher would notice my wandering eyes and remind me to pay attention. I was a good kid so I tried. I kept one ear focused on the calming sensation of the tree and the other ear focused on her. That way I felt calmer while I tried to sit still and listen.
During recess we made leaf piles from the tree enjoying the sound and texture of the dried leaves as we hurled our little bodies on them. We picked a favorite from the pile and made prints by placing the leaf under wax paper and rubbing crayons over them. We also used the leaves as stencils and stamps while we painted. Content and full of wonder and making something pretty to hang on the refrigerator at home.
Art Helps Kids Understand Themselves and Their World
I remember we had an assignment to draw a self portrait of ourselves for open house. I looked at my color choices… the basic box of primary colors. I longed for my crayola big box at home neatly categorized by color shades. My page was blank when the teacher came over to see my work. She asked why I hadn’t made a picture. I said, “I can’t find the right colors.” She grabbed the yellow crayon and said, “Your hair is yellow.” In my head I thought, “No it’s not. It’s almost white and shines like gold and it’s green too from the swimming pool. It’s like a unicorn mane.” I was mad but since I was a good kid I took the crayon and drew the whole portrait of myself with yellow. When our portraits were hung neatly in rows mine stood out among the others who had used all the colors, had chosen carefully and some who still scribbled. My mother commented, “Mona, I could hardly find you up there. Your picture is almost invisible.” It was. I told her my teacher said my hair was yellow and it’s not. She said she liked my portrait because it was all yellow. It was different from the rest.
Art Promotes Creativity
I began to tune in during class when we learned about the color wheel. I remember my teacher going through books, not reading them, but just identifying colors. I was more interested than I had been all year. I discovered magenta and turquoise. They became my favorite colors. I came home from school and told my mom, “My favorite color is Magenta. Can you make me a magenta dress?” She made me a little magenta dress. I wore it to school with a pretty apron, white gloves, my Easter bonnet and my ruffled parasol and my slightly scuffed white patent leather Mary Janes. I loved scuffing white patent leather. I thought it was neat that I could make marks when my shoes scratched the pavement. I was finally learning- falling in love with colors, textures and how to create a great outfit!
Art Builds Fine Motor Skills
I became a master doodler during class. When ever it was lecture time I was the kid decorating my pencil box, or drawing on my desk under my name tag. I loved how the desk top was a nice smooth surface for the pencils and I became very good at shading. I would tune in when I knew the teacher was about to give us important information and take notes while decorating my notebooks and pee chee folders. My doodles sometimes were visuals that helped me understand what we were learning about. Other times they were daydreams which helped me sit calmly when I wanted to move.
Scribbling is a Precursor to Writing
I still have the first little scribble my daughter, Sadie, gave to me. We were at a coffee shop somewhere in Santa Cruz on a rainy day. I was preoccupied and Sadie was restless. I gave her a little notebook and a pencil and said, “Here. You draw.” She was about one… very little. But babies are so smart. She held the pencil with a fist and drew tiny delicate lines and scribbles. She made dots. I asked her what she was drawing. She said her baby version of the word bird, “bur” when I pointed to the scribbles. When I asked her about the lines and the dots she said, “Smew” which meant smell- her word for flowers.
Art Helps Kids Connect
During high school I finally found classes where I wanted to pay attention and naturally excelled- art classes. In art class you can roam around. You can talk to other students. It’s actually encouraged. I loved sitting with another student working on our drawings and talking. I finally found people like me who thought high school was stupid, had cool style, had good taste in music and were sensitive. I was finally thriving and finding a community of people who were like me. This gave me confidence. I felt smart. I began to perform better in other classes as well. I used my ability to see things creatively as a tool in areas I found challenging. I became a good essay writer because I could elaborate the little I actually knew about the subject. I got good grades with remarks like, “Interesting perspective.” “I like where your going with this.” “Nice descriptive paragraphs.” The art of BS which came in handy later on in art classes that required an artist statement.
Excerpts from The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity, © 2013 by Jean Van’t Hul. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA