TAHOE/TRUCKEE — It’s amazing to watch a child exploring a new art form. Their eyes wide open, fully attentive, their concentration intense. If you have been a witness to this you have witnessed creative art in process.
I don’t think many would argue that art is not important for children. We know that being creative and experiencing art is a valuable skill that benefits a child’s development. It allows children to create, uninhibited by guidelines, show self-expression and tap into a part of their brain that allows them to open their mind to endless possibilities. Studies show that there are many skill sets that are learned and fine tuned while creating art.
Art is a language, a way of communicating. It allows those who may otherwise be reclusive or unconfident a chance to put their feelings, emotions and thoughts onto paper, canvas or other forms of media. It gives the creator more opportunity to express themselves in a non-verbal way, yet they are still given the chance to communicate.
When a child is fully immersed in their artwork they are being truthful and open. It may be the only time that day they can focus and feel happy with their accomplishments. They have begun to communicate in a new way.
Art allows children to problem solve by exploring ideas, testing possibilities and working through challenges. The child’s brain becomes engaged in discovering “how” and “why.” Children, when given the opportunity, want to learn to solve their own problems. Through art they begin to see that there may be more than one answer to a problem. Instead of following specific rules, the child begins to understand there is freedom in creation.
Children also learn social and emotional skills through art. They alone control their creative process and, along with it, they control the outcome. Taking ownership of their creations allows them to gain confidence in themselves. It allows them to confidently stand before their peers and exhibit their work with conviction. Children learn to be content with their individual styles and abilities, understanding that uniqueness is a positive quality.
Many fine motor skills are engaged when children are creating art. Using scissors to cut shapes out of paper, holding a paintbrush in just the right way so as to make a desired stroke, molding clay into intricate objects without smashing it, these are all fine motor skills that can be developed through art, yet are very helpful in all aspects of life.
Most importantly, children learn self-expression when creating art. Most subjects taught in school have strict guidelines that need to be followed: 2 + 2 = 4, “I” must be capitalized in a sentence. But in art there are no steadfast rules. This gives the child the opportunity to go into uncharted territory. It allows them to make “happy mistakes” and realize that art is alive — it can grow and change in the process of making it. And it allows the child to be proud of their accomplishments
No matter what others’ opinions might be, if the child loves the art piece they made, then it is good! When else can children feel this way?
As we grow the chances of being creative seem to diminish. We become focused on other things — work, family, surviving life itself. But I challenge you to sit with your children (or your friend’s children if you don’t have any) and get creative. Let yourself be free. See how engaging art is, how important it is developmentally for the child and then realize that you too need these skill sets.
Bethany Lund is a member of the Arts for the Schools Board of Trustees.