Art Is More than You Might Picture

by Jacqueline Bodnar

Looking for a fun way to help keep your children busy and improve their academics at the same time? Art could be the answer.

Not only are painting and drawing fun, they offer a large palette of benefits. Art improves eye-hand coordination, builds confidence, exercises fine motor skills, increases knowledge of history, sociology and science, and makes kids more observant.

According to Americans for the Arts, a national arts information clearinghouse, kids involved with art are also more likely to:

Be recognized for academic achievement
Be elected to a class office
Have good school attendance
Participate in youth groups
Spend more time reading for pleasure
Engage in performing more community service

Elliot Eisner, author of The Arts and the Creation of Mind (Yale University Press, $19), suggests a variety of other ways that art helps children.

He notes that art is not defined by the limitations of language. It helps kids express things that they cannot say with words and gives them a way to experience and discover feelings they might not otherwise discover.

Getting children involved in art is easy. You can encourage them to launch art projects at home. Art classes and summer camps are available to kids from age 3 or 4 on up.

Art Classes
“When kids come together to make art in a class, it fosters communications, learning how to work together and social skills,” says Amy

Masterman, executive director of the Allens Lane Art Center in Philadelphia. Art can also help children from different cultural backgrounds to learn about each other, she says
If your child is concerned that she’s too old to start art classes, she’s not. “It’s never too late for kids, or even adults to explore their creativity,” says Masterman. “Some people might start with one medium, like painting, and if they’re not interested, they try something else, like clay or printmaking.”

If you’re considering enrolling your child in an art class, an important question to ask is class size to get “a better sense of how much individual attention your child will get,” says Nancy Campbell, director of the Wayne Art Center in Wayne, PA.

“Also ask about the teacher’s experience, both in education and in working with kids,” she suggests. You can ask what media the students will work with, what kind of projects they’ll be doing, what skills will be developed and what they will learn, such as art techniques, vocabulary, or about famous artists and paintings.

Art at Home
At home, parents can set up an art area with paper and supplies and can display their child’s creations to give encouragement and instill confidence.

“Let your child learn through trial and error by creating things with the materials you provide,” suggests Diane A. Felcyn, assistant director of the Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ. “You don’t need to spend a lot of money on supplies. Q-tips make great paint brushes for small hands, wax paper works well as a paint palette for tempera or finger paint, and you can recycle paper bags by cutting them into large sheets for your child to paint on.”

She adds, “The most important thing to remember is to have fun. These finished pieces don’t need to look like anything in particular. It’s the experience of creating that’s important, but remember to talk to your child about his creations. The stories you hear may give you a glimpse into what’s going on in his mind.”

Jacqueline Bodnar is a freelance writer. Kids' art courtesy of the Wayne Art Center, Wayne, PA.