As parents, many of us cringe when our children want to do art with materials like glitter or sharpies. Memories of marker mayhem on the wall come rushing back, and our first reaction is likely to say “no” to avoid the mess to come. But kids love art and, the truth is, they have fun getting messy while doing it.
Whether it’s watercolor paint, coloring with crayons, or completing a drawing with oil pastels, there are few things that universally make children prouder than being able to show off one of their fridge-worthy masterpieces. However, the benefits of art go way beyond just having fun. Research shows that the process of creating art actually helps support children in almost all areas of development.
According to the International Child Art Foundation, children who are exposed to the arts gain a special ability to think creatively, be original, discover, and innovate. Researchers at the University of Michigan have linked childhood engagement in the creative arts to measurable success later in life. And, other studies show that creating art can validate the uniqueness of a child, giving rise to a sense of accomplishment and to feelings of self-worth.
Why is art such a valuable vehicle to help children learn and develop? First, it helps kids process thoughts and feelings in different ways. It can foster a love of learning that helps improve a child’s lifelong ability to read, write, and communicate effectively, and it teaches mental habits that lead to more well-rounded individuals.
Let’s take a look at some specifics of how art makes children smarter in many ways.
Motor Skill Development
Many of the motions involved in creating art are essential in helping children to learn fine motor skills. Using a paintbrush or stringing beads on a necklace can help develop dexterity. Scribbling with markers is a skill that paves the way for learning to write, and cutting with scissors hones motor skills necessary to help kids tie their shoes and hold utensils.
Self Esteem and Expression
Children are natural storytellers and can express themselves even without words. When doing art, a child can take pride in her unique work, and as children perfect skills as they complete art projects, they also gain confidence and perseverance. Multi-step projects are good ways to teach patience and concentration, and longer projects condition children to develop longer attention spans.
Bianca Kauffman, a mother of three children under age 7, says, “All my kids have different personalities. My youngest is still learning to talk and my oldest is in first grade, but they all can do the same art project and make something uniquely beautiful in their own eyes. They love to share their artwork with everyone.”
Art is about making choices, evaluating options, and choosing a path to pursue. Reasoning, intuition, perception, and critical thinking are among the thought processes associated with creating art. As children create works of art, they learn to be flexible thinkers, figuring out the best way to accomplish their vision of finished project. They learn to approach problems as an exciting challenge, not an obstacle, and they become open to trying multiple ideas or methods until a solution is found.
Art is universal. Everyone can participate in his own way and at his own level. When kids are able to share in art with their peers, it helps them feel part of a community, even if they have different backgrounds or interests, and it encourages positive behavior like sharing and taking turns. As children learn about and create art, it brings a greater understanding of the world around them. Younger kids who start doing art learn colors, shapes, and sight words more quickly, and older children learn social tolerance and empathy alongside history, culture, and diversity. Children of all ages also learn through art that it’s okay to explore and respect things that may be different from what they know.
Visual Learning and Sensory Input
Art offers so many opportunities for kids to engage all of the senses. It provides children with sensory input that can spark curiosity and imagination. Using various materials, little children acquire diverse tactical information, which is critical since they learn primarily through touch. Drawing, painting, and sculpting with clay refine visual-spatial skills, and doing arts and crafts projects promotes executive functioning ability like working memory, self-control, and adaptability.
The visual input of art also enhances basic knowledge, as well as providing children so much to talk about. Megan Gliebe, who has an 8-year old son who is autistic, says, “My son Ian loves to do art. It has a calming effect on him to get sensory input by painting or sculpting with clay. There are a lot of things he doesn’t have control of in life, but doing art is not one of them. He lights up when he’s doing art projects and can let go of frustration he may feel when doing other things.”
Imagination and Creativity
Kids who express themselves through art learn to take risks. When kids are comfortable taking risks and exploring those outcomes—good or bad, it feeds their imagination. Creative children accept that there is more than one right answer, and that multiple points of view are valued. When kids approach projects or problems in life with an open mind, they indirectly learn a spirit of innovation from very early ages.
Learning to Accept Feedback
In so many areas of life, children have to learn that there is a “right” and “wrong.” Art gives children the chance to step back from that and focus more on the process and less on the outcome. Having a teacher or parent assist with producing art lets kids experience getting feedback in a safe, constructive way. They come to learn that feedback is a normal part of learning, trying hard is important, and redirection with positive reinforcement can often produce better outcomes.
Local mom and successful photojournalist, Karen deWysocki is the owner of the newly opened Kidcreate Studio in Newport News. For more information, visit www.kidcreate.com/newport-news.