Teaching some fine art to children is what I love and do for a living. My philosophy is quite simple: To engage, inspire and teach art with age-appropriate techniques and subjects. I’ve only been teaching art to children for eight years but it feels like I’ve been teaching my whole life. I remember what I was attracted to as an artistic child: how-to-draw books, colorful illustrations and art supplies (especially the jumbo pack of Crayola Crayons with the built-in sharpener). I keep these things in mind when I’m front and center amongst thirty kids. Over the years, I have tried many techniques for teaching line art and found some more effective than others.
Here is my list of top eight tips for teaching art to children:
1. Ban pencils and erasers.
Sounds kind of strict, right? I rarely use pencils and erasers in my classrooms with the exception of a few lessons for upper grades. The reason is purely practical: a small pencil leads encourage small drawings. If a child is drawing a portrait and then is required to paint that very portrait, using a pencil will surely lead to frustration. It’s hard to paint tiny eyes with those pencils! There is another reason: pencil markings can be erased, which leads to second-guessing, which leads to lots of eraser action, which leads to the class being over before the child has anything on his paper. Using oil pastels and/or markers allows the artist to move quickly, commit to the drawing and forgive their “mistakes”.
2. Mix paint onto paper, and not in paint palettes.
Give a child paint and an individual palette and they can spend many long hours mixing paints to find the perfect color. If you have all the time in the world, then by all means do so! But if you are in a classroom environment, with 40 kids and a short amount of time, encourage the children to mix paints on their paper. Use the double-loading technique whenever possible. It produces very cool results and clean-up is much easier!
3. Forgo art smocks and aprons
Gathering art smocks, getting them on, storing them, organizing them, etc. takes time. I just mean that by the time the children get their smocks on and get seated, 5-7 minutes of a 30-minute art class is gone. Get ’em in, get ’em settled and begin the fun stuff. I swear by Oxiclean, too. A good soaking in this powerful stuff can wipe out most stains.
4. The ten-minute quiet time
After instructions are provided and the paper handed out, the children are engaged in their project. So start the lesson with a ten-minute quiet time. This is their focusing time; the chance to reflect on their work, the opportunity to lose themselves in their art, and perhaps the most important of all, the permission notto speak to their best friend.
This quiet-time method only works if there is no transition involved. If the children are on day 3 of a project, I can expect that they will finish up at different times. Helping them transition to a new project or free-choice activity is not going to work during quiet-time.