Being constructive, not constrictive

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As anybody who works with children knows, all children learn differently and need different kinds of support at different times to help them on their learning journey. The key is to identify when support is required and when to stand back and let them figure it out on their own.  I know many parents of younger children find it hard not to intervene and push their child towards a particular outcome even if it’s not one the child is very interested in.  In my experience with pre-school children,  this is a losing battle.  It is much more fruitful to let the child lead the way.  They often come up with completely original ideas in this way and often the ‘mistakes’ turn into the best learning experiences.  Little ones often need practical assistance, such as help with scissors or sticking.  When it comes to decisions such as what goes where they should be left to make up their own minds as much as possible.

With older children the process becomes more finely nuanced as they will require help in order to develop their skills but the help often needs to be given in a subtle way which doesn’t dent their confidence.  I try to be conscious of the language I use when talking to children in these situations.  I use phrases such as ‘why don’t you try…’ and ‘what would happen if…’ rather than direct or negative instructions which can make them feel they are not in control of their own work.  I also use A LOT of praise.  By saying ‘I really love the way you have done x’ you can almost guarantee that they will do x again, thus consolidating that skill.  If this is a group situation, and the praise is given loudly enough,  at least half of the group will also probably have a go at it too and in this way skills are shared and confidence is boosted.

All that being said, there are times when I have had to resort to saying (or pleading) ‘don’t’.  The blame for this sits squarely at the door of whoever came up with emojis.  Such is the emoji obsession amongst some of my six and seven year olds that I have had to go against my own advice and finally had to issue a direct order…’NO EMOJIS’.  This hasn’t made me popular but I am yet to see a picture that has been improved by the addition of a smiley face.  They don’t agree of course but, luckily, I’m the boss!Image result for winking face emoji

Managing Mistakes

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It is inevitable that in the course of producing their wonderful art work, children will make mistakes.  For some children, this isn’t a big deal, they just carry on regardless and accept that imperfections are part and parcel of making art.  For other children, the fear of making  a mistake can be virtually paralysing, making them hesitant to a degree that results in work rarely being finished.  This is something I come across a lot in our After School clubs, particularly with older children.  To combat this, I have rationed the use of erasers and have been asking them to draw in black fine liner as often as possible.   Many find this scary at first as a mark made in the wrong place cannot be undone.  However, it forces them out of their comfort zones and eventually results in bolder, more confident ( and finished!) drawings.

I am not a complete meany though and obviously it is upsetting if a small mistake disturbs a picture that the child would otherwise be pleased with.  In this case, I am teaching the children a couple of ‘tricks’ to help them out.

The first if to see if they can change the mistake into something else and by doing so camouflage it.  One child at Art Club recently drew the line of a field through the trunk of a tree by accident and the horizontal line was upsetting her.  With my help she managed to add some bark textures to the trunk and in the process made the line all but disappear.  One happy artist!  Most small mistakes can be disguised in this way, all you need is a bit of imagination.

The other technique is to trace the picture minus the mistake and then carry on as if nothing happened!  This is a great way of preserving all of the elements the child is happy with while allowing them to ‘start over’ at the same time.  This can be done either directly onto another sheet of paper if it is thin enough to trace though or the image could be transferred using tracing paper.  This is also a handy method if the drawing is good but the composition has gone slightly awry.  Don’t like that tiger on the right side of the picture?  No worries – try him on the left!  Once children have been taught these techniques they feel quite liberated and the fear of mistakes diminishes greatly.  The irony is that most also find that the knowledge that they can remedy their mistakes increases confidence, hence less need for fixes!

Outdoor Art Ideas

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It’s been pretty chilly here recently and with the bank holiday on the horizon, I think it’s fair to say that we are all praying for some warmer weather.  Thankfully, it does look like things will be looking up at the weekend which is great, as it means the children can get outdoors and get creative.  Here are a few ideas of fun arty activities that should keep your little ones busy whilst you start to tackle to gardening (or enjoy a quiet cup of tea!).

1.Trampoline Art

I love this idea.  So many people have trampolines in their gardens and they take up so much space.  Why not put them to good use and deploy them as a canvas?  Large, playground chalks would be great for this – they can just draw directly onto the trampoline and then, once they are done, they can have fun rinsing it all off with the hose pipe.  Double the fun!

2.  Decorate Leaves

My children love making ‘families’ of various objects so this is perfect for them.  Send them on a mission to find a family set of leaves – Mummy, Daddy, Baby etc.  The give them pens (sharpies would be best) and let them add faces and clothes.  They could then use them in a story (maybe add sticks to make puppets) or stick them down to make a picture.

3. Mud Art

Children love mixing things so they’ll love this one!  Give them a couple of bowls and spoons and a jug of water.  Let them scoop soil into the bowls and add water to make ‘paint’ .   They can then use an old paint brush to spread the ‘paint’ onto a piece of card. Challenge them to find mark making equipment in the garden such as sticks or feathers. They can use these to add marks and pictures to their muddy sheet – maybe even decorate with some leaves!  Lots of squelchy fun!

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An Inspiring Visit

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With a growing number of classes to plan for, I am always in search of inspiration, and the David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain certainly came up trumps when I visited recently.  I have long been a fan of his work and knew I would enjoy it but it far surpassed my expectations.  It is one of the best retrospective shows I have ever seen and provides a wealth of inspiration for young and old alike.  The shows walks us thorough Hockney’s career to date and in doing this demonstrates how the artist has developed over the years and how, even now, he is experimenting and trying new techniques.  I think that is is a great message for any child interested in art.  Learning to paint or draw is by no means a finite process.  It is something that is constantly evolving; the key is not to be scared to try something new and to look for subject matter to which you have a personal connection.

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Children will love the huge landscapes and this is certainly something that can provide a starting point for their own art.  They will be interested to see how these paintings started their journey as charcoal sketches before becoming vast, colourful works.  They will also love the ipad part of the exhibition which allows visitors to see how Hockney created his most recent work, step by step.  Usually I would advise avoiding the shop when gallery visiting with children but in this case I would make as exception as there is a fabulous children’s activity book available which is full of inspirational activities based on the work in the exhibition.  It covers all of Hockney’s themes from creating photo montages to thinking about the link between colours and emotions.  My children have really enjoyed working through this and we now have a very ‘interesting’ photo montage of a pet guinea pig as a result!  (A good example of a personal connection, albeit not necessarily what I would have chosen for my wall!)

The exhibition is open until 29th May.

Egg-citing Eggs

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With Easter fast approaching it seems about time to start thinking of some fun arty activities to keep the little ones entertained during the school holidays.  This is a great time of year for art and craft and the possibilities are endless.  I have noticed over the last few years that shops seem to have cottoned on to this and are now selling lots of ‘Easter Craft’ packs.  These are not only often very over-priced but I have also found that they can limit creativity.  My children would really rather be given a few basics and set off to do their own thing rather than following instructions to create a finished product.

Good news though -the great thing about art and craft with children is that it really doesn’t have to cost a lot.  In fact, some of the most fun activities use only a few materials, most of which can be found around the home.  Take these marbled Easter eggs, for example.  Who doesn’t have a few eggs, some shaving foam and a bit of food colouring?  This is all you will need for a good half hour or so of messy, sensory, colour mixing fun and I guarantee that it will be much more of a hit than a ‘craft pack’.

You need:

  • Shaving Foam
  • Food Colouring
  • Eggs (with the inside blown out – you can watch how to do it here)

Squirt shaving foam into a tub or cake tin.  Add a few drops of food colouring (gel colouring is best) in a couple of different colours.  Allow your child to use their fingers or a selection of tools such as straws to swirl it around.  Drop in an egg and cover it with the swirly shaving foam.  Lift out and allow it to sit for around half an hour before scraping off the shaving foam. You should have a beautifully patterned egg! Children of all ages will enjoy getting stuck in with this – it could even create a short window of sibling harmony!  You could hang them to make Easter decorations if you wish.

Teaching children to draw

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I have recently come across a method of teaching children to draw which has caught my attention.  In the past it is something that I might have shied away from on the grounds that it is quite prescriptive.  It follows a set approach and claims that it can help anyone (including adults) to draw better.  In the past I have been more of the ‘happy-clappy’ mindset that drawing comes from within and that it should be a free medium in which children can express themselves.  While I still very much believe this and definitely think that no child should ever be told that what they have drawn is ‘wrong’ I am being slowly won over by this more steps-driven approach.

 There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The creator of this method (Mona Brookes)makes the point that if a child is learning a musical instrument, we do not expect them just to pick it up and get on with it.  I can imagine that this would be very demoralising for the child and any potential self-expression would be hindered greatly by not being able to technically operate the instrument.  In the same way, drawing is a technical skill that needs to be learnt before it can be adapted and used creatively.
  2. I have seen in my after-school clubs how children, particularly as they get a bit older, start to feel unable to draw certain things.  This is not down to a lack of ability but more down to not having ever been taught the skills required.  Once they are shown (often with a few simple tips) a whole world is opened up to them and their confidence soars.

The more I think about it, the more odd it seems that Art is just about the only subject in which children often don’t get any clear direction (certainly in the primary years).  No wonder so many are put off art as they get older and say they can’t draw.  If they had been left to figure out Maths or English by themselves I imagine they would feel much the same about that!

So, with this is mind, I intend to alter my approach and see what happens.  I look on it as giving the children a ‘toolkit’ of skills that they can adapt and use in their own way.  I am going to  break down drawing into its basic elements of line and shape through a series of fun exercises and help the children to deploy this knowledge to tackle challenging subject matter.  My hope is that this will put them on the right track to being able to draw how they would like to and give them a sense of achievement. Watch this space to see how it goes.  I will come back to this in a few weeks with an update!

(The book I am reading is called ‘Drawing with Children’ by Mona Brookes)

Mind the Mess

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I was recently chatting to some parents in one of my mini classes and we all agreed that children seem to fall into two distinct categories when it comes to getting messy: Those who love it and dive straight in, happily spreading paint all over their hands (and arms) and taking great delight in it; and those who become tense at the very thought of putting their fingers in paint and endlessly worry about the smallest paint blob on a finger.  Often it is assumed that mess-averse children have mess-averse parents but in my experience this is rarely the case.  It seems that some children naturally enjoy this kind of play and others are much more cautious.

As I am sure I have previously mentioned, messy play is important to the development of young children.  It has so many benefits.  It can help with language skills, mathematical development, motor skills development to name but a few.  Don’t worry if you have a little one who isn’t keen on mess but it is worth persisting and encouraging them to get involved.  Here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Try to tap into what your child really enjoys.  For example, if they love cars but are wary of paint, why not let them drive their cars through some paint and make tyre tracks on paper?
  • Make sure that you continue to offer messy options even if they don’t seem keen.  Just popping a squirt of shaving foam on a tray may be enough to trigger their curiosity.
  • Let them see you getting messy.  Modelling is so important with little ones and they need reassurance that it is o.k (and even fun) to get messy.
  • Avoid negative language when doing messy activities such as ‘dirty’.   This can be off-putting and create negative associations.
  • Let them see other children getting messy and enjoying it.  In our classes this has really helped some children come around to the joy of mess!
  • Keep wipes at hand so that they can see nearly all mess is easily remedied.  Don’t over-use though as this can compound the problem.
  • Offer lots of different activities so that they can find one they enjoy.  Some children don’t like glue but are happy with paint.  It is worth experimenting.
  • Play-dough is great way in to messy play as it is feels odd but doesn’t leave any mess behind.
  • Don’t force it.  Gentle encouragement will help them find their own way.

Happy creating! x

 

Can They Cut It?

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One of the favourite aspects of our classes for many of our Mini Explorers is the chance to use scissors.  They often disregard other activities on offer in favour of cutting small triangles out of a sheet of paper.   While I understand that this can be annoying at home and result in a lot of cleaning up, this is a stage that nearly all children go through and one that should be encouraged.  It is a significant stage in the development of fine motor skills that will not only make them better at cutting out but also improve their hand-writing and other skills that involve coordinating the fingers and the muscles of the hand.

Lots of parents, quite reasonably, worry about their little ones using scissors but I would argue that it is important for them to be exposed to them so that they can learn to use them properly, under one-to-one supervision.  After all, when children start nursery they will have scissors and won’t always be supervised quite so closely.

So, if you have a child who is going through the ‘scissor phase’ don’t discourage it but make sure that you give them guidance and support, showing them how to use them properly and safely.  Their nursery teachers will certainly thank you for it!

Here are a few templates that I have found which could be helpful for you to try out at home.  They include cutting simple straight lines, cutting around corners and cutting curves.  If you have a scissor fan in your house they should enjoy these!

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Colourful Reads

Everyday in Art Explorers classes I am reminded how art is an essential tool in the development of early literacy skills.  From the smallest children who are just beginning to form words and identify colours to older children developing their expressive language skills by talking about how an art work makes them feel.  Art and literacy go hand in hand.  Of course, this means that literacy can also be used to support artistic development.  The early years is a time when picture books are key and it is often the pictures, rather than the story that draw little ones in.  I wanted to share with you today a few of my favourite books that little ones will love to read with you and which will also support their artistic development.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  (
Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle)

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This was always a firm favourite in our house when my children were small and is a lovely rhythmic story that can not fail to reinforce colour knowledge through its lovely illustrations of animals.


Little Blue and Little Yellow  (Leo Lionni)

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Another great one for very young children and a great introduction to colour theory. What happens when yellow and blue hug?  Lovely ‘torn paper’ style illustrations. Also has a nice friendship theme.

Mouse Paint (Ellen Stoll Walsh)

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An engagingly messy tale of three mice jumping in three jars of paint and what happens when they come together.  Would be a great support to some practical colour mixing activities.

A Colour of His Own (Leo Lionni)

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Another story that supports colour recognition.  A chameleon goes on a journey in search of a colour of his own and changes many different colours along the way, finally realising that no matter what colour his on the outside,  is he is the same on the inside.  More lovely illustrations here too.

Happy reading!

Next week…. great art books for primary aged children. x

 

Fluffy Paint

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One of the great things about the job I do is that I am constantly discovering new things.  I love mixing and experimenting and seeing what happens!  In our mini classes this week we have been using fluffy paint to make ice-cream pictures.  I know that there are many fluffy paint products on the market but, as with lots of kids art and craft, it seems crazy to buy it when you can make it yourself.  This is such a simple and effective recipe I thought I should share.  It could be a fun activity to try over half term if you find yourself with an hour or so to spare.

You need:

  • PVA Glue
  • Shaving Foam
  • Food colouring

Mix together the glue and the shaving foam using a ratio of around 50:50.  It should still retain the frothy-ness of the foam.  Add a few drops of food colouring.  Make up a few colours.  You can then provide spoons, spreaders, brushes…whatever takes your fancy and let them get creative.   In our classes I provided cone shaped paper and various ‘sprinkles’ in the form of dried tapioca and pasta to add decorations.  You could even use glitter!  The great thing about this is once it is dry it stays fluffy, thanks to the glue.  This is a great activity for all ages.  Even babies will enjoy grabbing handfuls of this and watching the colours swirl together.  It would be lovely to see a few pictures of your creations on the facebook page.  Happy painting!