The Importance of Art in a Child’s Development
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso
I find it absolutely fascinating how children are instinctively drawn to art. With only a few blank pages and colored pencils, a child can spend almost an hour doodling or creating pretty much anything from scratch. Without being told to do so, children naturally start drawing the world around them. They like to draw their parents, siblings, family pets, their house, friends, favorite cartoon heroes and other animated figures. This is just to show how much of your child’s world, emotions and reality is found in his artistic work.
More and more studies show nowadays how important art is in children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. I am so disappointed with the overwhelming amount of toys that are being produced and sold each year. I am simply outraged to see that there are more and more toys out there reducing the amount of engagement, creativity and free exploration of children. Parents seem to forget that children don’t need that much stimulation and that they can engage in a creative game without too much material to start from. Instead of buying a plastic gun for your child, I encourage buying some colored pencils, play-doh, some scissors and colored papers and just watch the creativity unfold.
Art is so beneficial for a child’s cognitive development. When you buy a plastic gun or car for your child, the toy can be used in only a limited amount of ways. With the gun they will shoot different objects and with the car they will drive to different imaginary places. But think about the amount of possibilities that you have sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper and a bunch of colored pencils. This is where true cognitive development happens! Questions such as What can I do with this? How will I do it? How will I start? Where do I start? What colors will I use? How does this person or object look like and how will I represent it? will invade your child’s mind. He is faced with making choices, using his memory to reproduce the world around him and most importantly he has to have the confidence to take charge of his artistic work and develop it entirely by himself.
As an adult, think of how frozen you sometimes feel looking at a blank sheet. The amount of choices can be so overwhelming and we are so scared not to mess up that blank sheet of paper. It takes courage and confidence to start something from scratch and not be afraid that you will mess it up or that the product is a failure. Therefore, it’s needless to say how powerful and engaging art can be for a child’s mind and its development.
Another important aspect of art is how beneficial it can be in developing problem-solving skills. Art encourages kids to explore and find creative ways to solve problems. Only by looking at the art works done by my nephew in the picture of this post you can see how his creativity was challenged and developed. He used flour dough to make a human body and bottle caps to make the eyes of the mask. He used a tissue box to make a fire truck and toothpicks to make a ladder. I am sure that just buying a fire truck is less challenging and fun, than making one from scratch and exploring different ways of using certain objects. The amount of things that children can learn from these artistic experiences are endless.
Emotionally speaking, children sometimes don’t have the verbal or cognitive capacity to express their emotions. Art is a tool that can help your child express the emotions that they don’t have language or even a conscious mental concept for yet. They can express their joy, sadness, anger and any other feelings that are locked inside. This is why it’s important for adults and parents to know that they should always show respect towards their children’s work. Adults unconsciously give routine comments like “That’s such a pretty picture!” “It looks beautiful!” and so on. Comments like these can actually be damaging to a child’s self-esteem and can even make him feel misunderstood. Some works sometimes communicate anger or sadness and it can be damaging to call them “pretty”. It’s important for parents to analyzing slowly their child’s work before making any hasty comments. Encourage your child to talk about his work and find out what he really wanted to express in his artistic expression. This will help improve his communication skills and he will be able to communicate his emotions through words.
And now, let’s try to answer to Picasso’s question: how do we help our children remain artists once they grow up? First of all, to be an artist doesn’t necessarily mean to be an artist professionally speaking. To me, this means how do we encourage our children to use art as a form of expression later in life. Once children reach the age of 11 or 12, they stop creating things because they start judging their art. They start looking at it with a critical eye and saying: this does not reflect the reality, I have no talent, so it’s time for me to stop wasting my time with this activity. The reason behind this is because adults unconsciously give feedback only on the esthetic aspect of art. Adults usually describe art with words such as: nice, pretty or beautiful. These comments can be damaging because a child will associate art with the esthetics of the final product, rather than the artistic process that takes place before the final result.
It is important to let our child know that the artistic final product doesn’t matter. What matters is that during the artistic process you felt mentally and emotionally challenged and at the end you managed to express something that you felt and that it’s basically an extension of yourself.
Therefore, encourage your child to think, feel and create. It takes courage and confidence to do so. Also, keep in mind that art is not coloring books. Art is not copying or coloring between the lines. Art should not be restrictive! Art is a work that should encourage and demonstrate individuality.
Artist: My nephew Alexander Burhans
Photo credits: Anamaria Olaru
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