Dena asked this question on my blog the other day:
I can't draw very well, and really don't want [my daughter] to take after me, would you suggest an art class as a good idea for a 3 year old? There are a few in my area that look fun.
My short answer?
No. I wouldn’t send your three year old to an art class to learn how to draw.
(Note: There are other reasons for which you might choose to take your young child to an art class, and I will get to those in a minute.)
I also have a longer answer which addresses the four issues I see in this question: whether to teach drawing skills to a 3 year old, whether to take your 3 year old to an art class, lack of drawing skills and possibly creative confidence on the parent’s part, and worry about transferring that lack of drawing skill, and possibly confidence, to her child.
First, drawing skills and creative confidence in young children….
There is a lot that goes into drawing ability. Self confidence is one of them. Believing that you can draw as well as enjoying the act of drawing are as important – no, MORE important – than technical drawing skills. I really believe that.
My first and most important suggestion is to help your daughter hold on to her self confidence (in art specifically, but also in herself in general) and her enjoyment of art.
How? Here are some ideas:
1. Don’t ever denigrate yourself or your own drawing abilities.
Show her that you have confidence in yourself and are at peace with your abilities (fake it ‘til you make it, baby).
If you sit down and draw and doodle beside her (and I think you should at least once in a while!), don’t say, “I can’t draw.” If you don’t feel like you can draw a realistic elephant, that’s okay! Realism is overrated! Or, if you don’t think so, pretend you do for a little while. Draw a completely abstract elephant in bright colors. Or just draw abstract, period. Doodle squares, circles, spirals, hash marks, letters, and whatever else you think of across the page. Enjoy the process. Keep your pen moving. Perhaps try for a design or a mandala. Whatever. But don’t utter the words, “I can’t draw” in front of your child. Children learn by example.
2. Be conscious of how you talk to your child about the art she makes.
Don’t just say, “that’s pretty,” but talk about the marks she is making on the page or the colors she is using or say, “Wow! You really worked hard on that!” My default is to ask children to tell me about their artwork. If your child is a young three, she might not be assigning meaning to her art yet (or then again, she might be), but as she gets closer to four, she will likely be more and more elaborate with the stories that go along with her art.
3. Make art fun and exploratory.
Keep your child's art activities as process oriented as possible at this age. Try not to expect particular outcomes but rather encourage her to explore the art materials (paints, crayons, shaving cream, etc), ideas (big/small, themes from her life, similar and contrasting colors), and techniques (watercolor resist, splatter painting, shaving cream marbling) in her own way. Introduce new materials and techniques, but also stand back and let her explore art on her own in her own way.
Besides giving her freedom to explore during projects that you set up for her, try to have some art materials accessible for her to use any time she likes. This could be an art caddy with markers, crayons, scissors and tape near the kitchen table or it could be her own little dedicated art space with a table or easel and a wider range of children's art supplies.
4. Keep your art activities appropriate for her age and developmental stage.
I don’t think that teaching a child “how to draw” is appropriate at age three. You can guide her through the occasional observational drawing exercise if you like, preferably in a way that is as much about observing as it is about drawing. But the most important thing at this age is to encourage open-ended exploration of art materials, self-confidence, and enjoyment in art and learning.
Let her go through the normal developmental stages in drawing and art at her own pace.
If, when she’s older, she expresses an interest in drawing things a certain way or learning drawing techniques, you can consider a drawing class, a book for you, or a book for her. But I wouldn’t do that now.
By the way, along with keeping art process oriented and age appropriate, I would suggest that you avoid coloring books and tracing/coloring-in activities as much as possible. Their emphasis on adult-drawn images and coloring inside the lines is not helpful to a young child’s burgeoning creativity. You don’t have to be militant about it (we’ve used them from time to time when Maia has received them as gifts, but I don’t buy them myself and generally don’t keep the gift coloring books around too long), but don’t make coloring books a regular part of your life. I’ve written more about coloring books over at Babble (and received some strongly-worded comments for it!) if you’re interested.
What about art lessons and art classes for young children?
I said that I don't think you should send your 3 year old to an art class to learn "how to draw." However, an art class for young children may be a good idea for other reasons.
- It might provide you with ideas and instructions for more art activities to do with your daughter at home.
- It might expose your child to more materials and activities than she has at home.
- You and your child might enjoy the social aspect of the art class.
- The art class might provide messy art experiences that you might not feel comfortable providing at home.
If you want to try an art class with your young child, I would suggest looking for one that is focused on age appropriate, process-oriented art. See Julie Liddle’s Art in Hand program for an example of an ideal art program for toddlers and preschoolers.
Would you like to improve your own drawing skills?
If you'd like to learn how to draw better or more confidently, consider taking that drawing class yourself (well, one for adults anyway). There are classes oriented toward all levels of drawing ability. And I have heard good things about the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. There are some pretty dramatic examples of drawings done by adults before and after they went through the exercises in the book or took the class.
To recap, my suggestion is to focus on process-oriented art for your 3 year old, build her self-confidence, keep art fun, and don’t ever let her hear you say, “I can’t draw.” If you choose an art class for your child, do it for the right reasons and make sure the class is appropriate for her age and her developmental stage.
Dena – Does this answer your question? Does it bring up any others for you?
Everyone else – What do you think? Do you agree with my advice or would you suggest something else for Dena (or someone else in her situation)? What do you think about teaching a 3 year old drawing skills?
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