4 DOs and DON'Ts when your kids are doing art

Aug 21, 2016

I was doing an Artist in Residence program this month as part of the SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival which happens each year. We set up on King William Road and it was a beautiful sunny day in Adelaide. The kids came for the art classes and yet again I found 'that one child' who throws their piece of paper away and wants another to start again (and again and again). I know from experience that this kind of behaviour can come from the child's experiences with art and drawing at home or school … so it got me thinking about the best DO's (and DON'Ts!) when you’re the adult and the kids are doing art...

1. DO something easy. DON’T do long term projects.
Choose artworks that can be finished in one achievable session, especially for kids who are just starting out. If the kids are young, make it super easy and if they’re older, choose something that’s a bit below their abilities to boost their confidence before trying more challenging artworks. Long term projects almost never work for little kids; save them for the older kids.

2. DO draw on your own piece of paper. DON’T draw for the child.
Who’s learning when you draw for your child? Does it matter if their lines are wobbly? Nope. The child who has drawn for themselves will get better while the child who has someone draw for them will learn the only way to get their picture looking decent is to have someone help/do it for them. Need to show the child how to draw something? Even a simple border? Show them on your own piece of paper, not on the child’s. If you draw for them, all they’re learning is that you will draw for them when they feel they can't. Point on their paper and show them the action they need to try, but let them draw it themselves.

3. DO notice the results. DON’T pay attention to the mistakes.
“I like how you’ve chosen this colour” or “I like the way you drew the tree taller than the person” or whatever. If you make a big deal of the mistakes, you’re giving it too much airtime. Pay attention to the tone of your voice too; be calm and have a 'it doesn’t matter' attitude toward mistakes - it's art; it’s not supposed to be perfect! The best thing to say if a child comes across a mistake is “Great. Let’s find a way to fix it!”. The most important thing to do is assist the child in overcoming that mistake. Can you see a way they could fix it? Help the child see past the mistake. When the child has overcome the mistake or worked with it, be sure to tell them “I was very happy with how you chose to keep going with your artwork when you came across that mistake. You’ve done an awesome job and now it’s all finished!"

My favourite thing to tell my students is “All artists make mistakes. The difference between a good artist and a bad artist is: one will make a mistake and find a way to work with it; the other will make a mistake and want to start again”.

4. DO hang it up. DON’T put it in a folder (yet!).
Kids thrive on seeing their artwork up on the wall. It will build their motivation to do art again and they’ll grow an appreciation for what they’ve created if they can walk into the room the next day and see what they drew/painted. It’s like building a house… when it’s finished, you need to stand back and admire it! Don’t put it in a folder yet; keep it on display until the novelty has worn off. 

Happy drawing, painting, creating.