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This page has been contributed to MuddlePuddle by Steve, who along with his wife Holly, run a series of successful after school art clubs in England.

For another point of view see Tulas Montessori Art

There are many theories and some fantastic books on children's art and art education some of these, as well as other links can be found at the bottom of this page. I myself provide after school art workshops at 5 different schools together with my wife, and although have read extensively, have only been truly influenced by Viktor Lowenfelds 'Creative and Mental Growth' and Muriel Silbersteins' 'Doing Art Together'.

You Your Child and Art

The thing to remember when starting to do any art with young children is the gulf of difference between why children do art and why adults do art. It is important for parents not to project adult expectations onto a child who is busy creating. Colours, proportion, spatial relationships and other forms of aesthetics mean little to young children. Children are not static they are busy developing and as they do so their understanding of the world around them changes too. Children use art to explore their knowledge and express how they feel about what is new or important to them. To focus on the outcome of a finished art product is to be concerned primarily with the making of beautiful objects, rather than with the effects that making has upon the child. The production of technically excellent artwork may be far removed from the real expressive needs of the producer (child).

Where to Begin

Children will usually know exactly where to start with a painting. But don't expect too much. Our Son (2yrs) is surrounded by art materials but very rarely paints and when he does it's quite common for him to spend no more than a few minutes doing so. Trust is the key. Trust your child, these are her/his needs not yours, all you need to do is provide the materials and a space where they can work without fear of getting told off about the mess. For slightly older children a little motivation might be needed. They may want desperately to paint but lack confidence (usually due to the pressure associated with the quality of the finished project). Take something from their lives and get them to talk about it. The time you went to Lego land, a visit to the dentist, falling off a bike, a favourite toy shop, The thunder storm etc...All too often these important events in a child's life are not allowed to vent themselves. After a little discussion, you should have enough enthusiasm to get them started.

Some Practical Considerations

Our house like many is not large enough to have a space permanently set up
for art. However, we do leave crayons and paper where our son can get them easily (if you don't leave paper with the crayons, you may find your child draws on the walls etc.), if he feels the need to do some drawing he can do so without asking. I might use this as a cue to see if he wants to paint or do another art activity. If you're worried about the floor or walls, cover them, don't let this interfere with your child's art. We usually work at a table, easels are O.K. but 9 times out of 10 the paint runs down the paper and children can find this very annoying. Also, if you are worried about paint splatters a standing child is very mobile.

A3 paper
3 brushes: wide (2 cm) med (1 cm) small (1/2 cm)
Poster Paint (sometimes called tempera): Red, Blue, Yellow, White,Black
A clean cat litter tray (to contain any spillage's)
5 jar lids or similar (you might need a little blue tack to stop them
A small bowl of water (old coleslaw or cottage cheese tubs are fine)
A sponge
2 Aprons (one for yourself)
Some newspaper to cover work surfaces but watch out for "graphic" pictures
in national press, local papers are much tamer.

Squirt a little of each colour into a pot lid (for youngsters, keep the
colours arranged in the same order every time) and pour some water into the
bowl. Put it into the cat litter tray. The sponge is for older children (5
and over), who might like to clean and wipe their brush before selecting a
new colour.

Other Materials

Crayons: a small set of thick ones. Take the paper off of them so that they can be used on their side.
Clay or Plasticene
Graphite Stick: not at all necessary, but youngsters love them. Get one from an art shop.
A small set of water based non-toxic chunky markers. Great for youngsters as unlike crayons no pressure is needed to make a mark.
Water colours. These can be quite unsatisfying results, it depends on the age of the child.
Play Dough: This also provides a creative outlet for children and is very easy to make yourself.

Do's and Don'ts for Parents

Don't show your child 'the correct' way to paint. Your child needs to gain confidence with these materials and uses experimentation as a way of doing so.

Don't limit your child's art by not providing a proper work space.

Don't praise your child's work out of hand. 'Oh that's wonderful darling'. Your child could be showing you a picture because they are unhappy about the way the colours have run.

Don't expect or encourage your child's art to be pleasing to you.

Do hang your child's art on the wall but only if she/he can participate and don't limit this to what you might consider the 'best' work.

Don't correct your child's work. Ask, "can you tell me about this picture".Wrong proportions, wrong colours or vague representations are all clues about a deeper meaning for the child. A picture of a merry-go-round maybe just a wavy line because the child is expressing the movement it felt whilst on the ride.

Don't use colouring books. Colouring books have very little to do with art or self expression. They remove children from any association that they may have with a particular thing (a dog) and present a cliché or caricatured picture that children then have to colour in. Think of them as sweets or chocolate. Something your children may like, but are not very good for


You really should get your children to help tidy up. Part of becoming any form of craftsman whether it be artist or carpenter is learning to respect your tools. This means cleaning them and putting them away. We devote 15 minutes of our art workshop to clearing up.

Links to Other Sites
A great web site for fine art instruction. Not really for children, but so full of depth, really inspirational. If you like the site, drop her a line and let her know, she really appreciates it.
comes up on most of the search engines, has some good projects to do with children.
This page has a little info about Viktor Lowenfelds Stages of creative development
A unique page of info charting the drawing development in children, similar to above but better.
The Getty museums¹ art education site. Has some really great lesson plans (although I don¹t really get off on lesson plans) these have real integrity. You can also join artednet; an on line discussion forum for art educators (U.S.A. mainly). Expect to get around 100 emails per day.
Loads of great pictures drawn by kids from all over the world that you can send as e-cards.

Recommended Reading

Creative and Mental Growth: Viktor Lowenfeld
This is a really fantastic book but expensive. Order it from your library and add it to your wish list. From pre-school to high-school (yes it's a book from the U.S.) it covers every aspect of children's creative development I can't stress how important this book has been to me.

Doing Art Together: Muriel Silberstein
An excellent companion to Lowenfelds Creative and Mental Growth and has the added advantage of including projects for readers to do. Very inspirational.

Drawing on the Right Hand Side of the Brain: Betty Edwards.
This book is really for teenagers and above. I tried implementing some of the techniques on younger children, although their drawings improved (in my eyes) they were no happier with them.

Ways of Seeing: John Berger
Not really very useful as a home ed book (no projects, not aimed at kids etc.), but one that all my 'arty'friends have read. Originally a companion to a 70's BBC programme, this book de-mystifies art and helps the reader trust themselves when confronted by 'a great work of art'.

Drawing with Children: Mona Brookes
I have it, I have even flicked through it, but it's not really what I want to offer children at our after school clubs. I found out myself that it's a mistake to assume that children are unhappy with their ability to draw and that by offering them a method, you're interfering with their own creative process.

Adventures in Art: Laura Chapman
There are lots of these based on the U.S. grade system. I have the intro version for younger children. Although full of great projects for children it lacks a little information but is still a good and fairly undiscovered resource.

How Children Learn: John Holt
Nothing much to do with art, but it will help any home educator start to trust their own child's ability to teach themselves what they need to know.

The Anti-Colouring Book.
Packed full of great ideas to get kids motivated. I think there are quite a few in the series.

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