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Why Making Art Is Essential for Children

June 13, 2019 by

People walking through the Bruderhof schools are often lavish with their praise of the children’s artwork on display: “How talented!” they exclaim, or, “What gifted children you have!” But I’m not convinced it’s a matter of talent. Rather, it’s more a matter of opportunity and development. The more art children do, the better they will do it.

little kid painting
The author’s grandson, Thomas

Art is an important vehicle for every child’s self-expression. Raising my own children (full disclosure: we have nine!) and working as a teacher of young children, I’ve had plenty of time to observe and watch their creative inclinations develop. These inclinations are nurtured by a child’s environment and caregivers. Watching each child express himself is a unique lesson. Some of these lessons are well worth passing on.

Even one-year-olds enjoy painting. Let them use brushes to dab, brush, smear, and swirl. It’s immensely satisfying. Ask Thomas!

They’ll delight in mixing colors too. Muddy brown can be a pleasing discovery.

Not all children choose to draw, but coloring with crayons is something to encourage. It is said that a child who plays hard will grow up to work hard. There is definite truth in that. Coloring can be hard work, but remember, it is reckoned to be as important as puzzles in the preschool years. Focusing on pictures prepares children for the concentration they’ll need later at school. It starts with scribbling, so let a child scribble as much as he likes – on paper! You can always comment on color or shape and commend him for his accomplishment. Eventually he’ll want to tell you stories about what he’s drawing.

crayon drawing by a child

One of our children liked to draw rainbows… over, and over, and over! I found those pictures rather predictable and trite, but to her they certainly weren’t boring. The child simply delighted in this beautiful wonder of creation and in the blending of each vibrant hue.

Our oldest daughter crayoned bands of color diagonally across her entire paper again and again when she was three years old. I thought she would never start drawing people, but in her own time came the stick legs and pin-point eyes on the laboriously drawn potato head. One year the Christmas picture featured beaky-nosed kings. On other portraits it was the fingers or fingernails that got special attention; still others zeroed in on hair, feet, glasses, or freckles. Children are much more observant than we are, and it’s amazing what details they notice.

Children’s art is definitely influenced by their surroundings and what they see in their daily life. They need to express what they experience, both positive and negative, and drawing is one of their best tools. As a teacher in an English as a Second Language after-school program, our older daughter saw through their depictions of guns and airplanes what trauma her refugee students had lived through. On a happier note, our family well remembers our neighbors who came from Nigeria. How our little daughter loved their bright clothes and flashing smiles! She marveled at their new (to her) style of dancing and their ability to carry heavy loads on their heads. When I look back over her drawings from that time period, the color and drama evident are an obvious result of this cross-cultural stimulus.

In their impulsive simplicity, children have a way of transmitting their inmost experiences through their pictures. As Maureen Burn, a community member who lived to nearly 101 years, commented, “If a child does his artwork freely and from his heart, it will be a blessing to others when they look at it.”

drawing by a child

That says it all. At the Bruderhof schools, our goal is to provide an environment where a child’s artwork can flow freely from the heart to the paper. I’ve found that if materials are always available to a child, his drawing increases. So when it’s time for the children to choose an activity to do in their own space, be sure to include some paper and crayons among the games available. It’s a soothing activity and an important life tool.

And remember, there is nothing that will strengthen their self-esteem more than to see their work displayed on the walls around them. They value their accomplishments, and we should too!

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About the author

Veronica Brinkmann and her husband Tobias

Veronica Brinkmann

Veronica Brinkmann has lived in Germany, England, and the United States. At present, she and her husband Tobias live at...

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  • thank you veronica, most enjoyed and appreciated. i do share your love of children's art. alice

    alice wareham