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    How {Not} to Micro-Manage Kids' Art (Part 1)


    After participating in many children's art classes and projects, I'm convinced that most leaders spend a lot of energy attempting to control the final work of art. Interestingly, children actually benefit from less control and more freedom over their art projects.

    What happens when you stop managing the outcome? 

    • Kids naturally use their unique perspective and capabilities to create
    • Kids build self-esteem
    • Kids are free to explore ideas and techniques
    • Kids use their creativity
    • Kids gain independence by directing their own art
    • Kids learn from each other

    How do you break the habit of managing the outcome?

    • Do not invest yourself in the finished artwork. Work toward not caring about the final product. When you let go of that facet of the project, suddenly it's just another creative experience.
    • Increase creative adventures. Decrease step-by-step projects. Show kids different ways to use a specific medium, such as acrylic or pastels. Or teach a concept, such as shading or painting, but without a specific outcome in mind. Share a basic technique, concept or process and the kids are free to explore in their own way. You will be amazed by what happens!
    • Focus on the experience. This is where doing art with kids is precisely like art journaling! It's the process, the experience, the colors, the joy of creating something. 
    • Make art part of everyday life. Your patience will grow as you build experience. The more creative activities, the less riding on each individual experience.
    • Set up art space and materials to minimize stress. For babies that can grasp a crayon, tape paper to their high chair and let them scribble. For kids under 7, try a short table with a laminate top that cleans easily. Tape newspaper or  butcher block paper to the floor around the table. Kids of any age enjoy doing art outside on a porch at a plastic kiddie table or in the garden on a blanket. Older kids can work at the breakfast table. Make some place in your home or classroom a place for art.
    • Organize for a smooth set-up and clean-up process. Group art supplies that are used together in clear lidded boxes. For example, rubber stamps + stamping ink, watercolors + brushes, beads + string, block printing ink + brayers + linocutting tools, embroidery floss + scissors + needle threader + hoop, play-doh with plastic shaping tools. This works for your art supplies as well! 

    Check out all of the posts in the series on micro-managing kids' art!

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    Reader Comments (8)

    thank you for the link!

    you know, this reminds me of a toddler art class i taught years ago. mothers attended with their two-year-old children. the kids had access to a studio with four different open-ended art experiences set up. many of the mothers just couldn’t handle the freedom/flexibility. they wanted to know what the children were *supposed* to do, then they more or less manhandled their child into doing that, while i tried to gently educate and redirect them.

    one child who was painting on a easel noticed that if he put a lot of paint up, it would drip down on the floor. he was crouched and watching fascinated as the paint dripped and pooled and the colors ran together. i brought over a sheet of paper and we laid it there so the paint would drip onto the paper and he could take it home. as soon as his mother saw what was happening, she made a fuss and told him to stop making a mess *even though she saw me supporting his work*. it was so strange. it was as though she felt judged by the other mothers because her child was doing something different -- instead of being proud that he had made such an interesting discovery!

    07.28.2009 | Unregistered CommenterLori

    Yes! Good words.

    07.28.2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

    I really hate the mess, but I do love it when my boys (2 and 5) get messy with the paint or chalk outside on our patio. It usually ends up on the concrete, the grass, the bricks and themselves, but I enjoy watching their freedom. Let kids be kids, I say!

    07.28.2009 | Unregistered CommenterDebra

    I love having my Love's nieces and nephews come over and create a mess. Unfortunately, we live with his parents, and his mum can take half an hour pulling the curtains 'just right', and is hiddeously allergic to 'smells' and 'mess'... One day we will have our own space, with a huge table to play on all day long when they come over!

    07.29.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEveline

    I agree with 90 percent of what your premise is, especially when it comes to young kids creating art. The ten percent I don't agree with comes from my training with Monart philosophy. In my classes I try to balance the step by step projects with the open ended ones. I try to generally contain the directions to the actual drawing part of the projects though. Most of my students get free reign when it comes to color choices, though I do offer tips for specific mediums. I have seen the very open ended projects result in frustration for older kids who really just had no clue where to start and no confidence in their artistic abilities. Guiding this type of child through some projects often unlocks that "I didn't know I could that!" wonder. Granted this type of 'I can't do that" attitude may have been the result of some of those parents described in the first comment, giving artists skill and technique training often requires those "step by step" instructions.

    07.29.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Moses

    I am a new visitor to your blog and am so glad I found it. As and Early Childhood Teacher and mother of 1, I wholeheartedly agree with this post.

    I think many adults are confused as to what constitutes 'art' versus 'craft' for children.

    A new follower,

    08.8.2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristie

    This post reminds me of a great book I just discovered called "The Dot" by Peter Reynolds. It points out that anything can be art in the eyes of a child if the people around them give them the right encouragement. My 2 1/2 yr old loves this book.

    08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterScrapperMom

    As a perfectionist, this was a must read for me. I tend to be final product oriented and lose the joy that happens through exploration and process. I have to be conscious of not fixing things to my liking and allowing imperfections to be beautiful.

    08.23.2009 | Unregistered Commenterturnitupmom

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