Just this week I had a friend ask me, “My child is artistically-inclined/talented—what do I do now?” As a professional artist, it’s not uncommon for me to hear this question from parents. For parents that don’t consider themselves to be creative people, having a kid beginning to show an artistic inclination can feel a bit daunting.
As we’re just on the brink of summer starting (and parents are naturally looking for opportunities for their kids at this particular moment), I thought I’d take a minute to answer the question in more depth and hopefully show just how simple fostering creativity can be. Creativity contributes to the brain development, resiliency/problem-solving, and overall happiness of all children not just the “artistic” ones (If you’re interested to start learning more about the science behind this, here's a piece by the NY Times with links to studies inside).
I think the assumption must be that since I’m a professional artist, surely I must give all my children formal art lessons at home and facilitate elaborate Pinterest-style crafts. This simply isn’t the case. (I do a Pinterest craft with my daughters once or twice a year at the most.) My approach for doing art with my kids over the last several years has been a lot simpler and more sustainable than spending hours on Pinterest and hours of setup and cleanup for involved craft projects. Truth be told, I hate messes of all kinds: I’m just not a glitter-glue-and-slime kind of mom.
Here are the 3 surprisingly simple ways I foster creativity with my kids:
1. Make a dedicated space that your child can EASILY create things.
This is without a doubt the most important point in this article. If you forget everything else, go back to point #1. Make it EASY for your child to create. My mother had a super simple setup for me as a kid, and I spent countless hours at my little table making things. I had a little coloring table available for me with fresh crayons, coloring books, and construction paper. That’s it. (Similar table here).
For my kids, we have a long table with an “art cart” at the end of it. (Here's a great tutorial on how to make an art cart here.) This setup (table + art cart) gets countless hours of use:
If you want your child to actually use it, it must be reasonably clean and the supplies easy to access/somewhat organized. (Once the surface and supplies get buried, no one will go through the trouble of digging them out to use them, so doing a quick clean-up every couple days is essential!)
Having a dedicated space is really a game changer for how often my children create (and I feel the same way in my own studio so I can relate). Teach your kids early on how to manage/take care of their supplies (like putting the caps back on the markers), and do a maintenance sweep every so often to replace old markers, bring in fresh paper, etc. Here’s a look at our setup after cleanup/when it's ready for action:
And here is a better view of our art cart:
2. Expose your child to good art.
Besides having a coloring table, the other thing my mother did to encourage my creative interest was to take me to art museums. This is where I fell in love with the Impressionists. I’ve taken my girls to our local art museum, which happens to be the world-class (and free!) St Louis Art Museum (you can check out their current exhibits here). Here I am enjoying a stunning art exhibition with my daughters at our local museum:
With my kids still being young, I don’t take them to an art museum for a whole day at a time; I’ll take them for maybe an hour and have them tell me their favorite paintings. When they were even younger and we were going to art museums, I had one child in a baby Bjorn and another on a child harness, or we did a double stroller to roam the halls. :D If this sounds too daunting or you don’t live near an art museum, art fairs can be a more fun and interactive environment for children. My girls love going to art fairs with a small budget of $5-15 to pick out something they like, and I get them exposed to art and the people behind the art, which I feel is valuable.
3. Find art education that works for your child and you as the parent.
This last point is purely optional, but I want to show you an example of how simple this can be. Art "lessons" in this busy season of life look shockingly simple at our house: my oldest (8 years old) loves to watch Bob Ross videos (on Amazon), then practice what she’s seen with watercolor paints at her art table. Formal lessons can be great, but keeping creativity fun is far more important than having your child excel artistically at a young age.
If you feel like art lessons could be a good fit for your family, many communities offer great options for children. (Here's a link to an arts organization in the St Louis area that offers great classes for kids.)
Happily, pursuing art is not like becoming a pro gymnast or pro hockey player—you don’t need intense formal training at a young age to make it as a professional artist. I had seven years of classical training (college and grad school), and I place a high value on education, but there are different ways to go about getting an art education, and there is no rush to start formal art lessons. I was mid high school before I received any formal art training, and I don’t feel that it stunted my growth as an artist. Opportunity to explore and play is the important thing in those younger years, and that opportunity can take place at home or in a classroom.
I’d be equally happy if all three of my girls chose other things in life besides art, so I’m definitely more interested in keeping artistic things fun, and following their interests as they grow, than I am in turning any of them into professional artists. If they continue to be interested as they grow older, I’ll introduce more artistic opportunities for them along the way. Some of the art I create now:
4. Take the pressure off.
Ok, I know I said 3 simple ways, but I felt like I needed to add this one (consider it a bonus. :) I believe there’s a great deal of increased pressure on parents today. The expectations to do it all and to ensure our kids excel at something early leads to over-scheduling our kids (and exhausting ourselves as parents). I believe modern parents with the very best of intentions can place too much pressure on kids to perform early and to perform at a certain level. This kind of debilitating pressure ends up squashing instead of nourishing creativity.
The above ideas are just that—ideas—so use some or all of them IF they are helpful for you in your season of life. Leave them behind if they feel overwhelming. I hope these ideas if nothing else help you to take a deep breath as a parent. You are doing better than you know. Encouraging an artistic child doesn’t have to be difficult; it can be (incredibly) simple. I hope this article has helped you to see a family example of just how simple it can be to foster creativity in your child this summer! Let’s take the pressure off and make it easy to enjoy creativity—for our children and ourselves.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts to share, you can reach me by email at email@example.com—I'd love to hear from you!
With creativity and gratitude,
Angela Burns is an impressionist artist living in the Midwest US with her husband and daughters. Her paintings capture the beauty of people and places with a dreamlike, expressive technique and are collected internationally. Her work has been awarded and published by the Oil Painters of America, Southwest Art magazine, and American Artist Drawing magazine, among others.
Your article surely eased my nerves. I have a child, one of 4, who is naturally gifted at drawing. Her creations amaze me. I, on the other hand know nothing about drawing, more musically inclined. I do however still feel a sense of urgency to expose my child to more opportunities that allow her to foster her gift. I recently started looking into classes for her but am very open to other simple ways to help her. She made the comment to me today that she has lost her talent because she has not been practicing. I reminded her that it is not lost, just sleeping (dormant) waiting to be awakened again and resume in all its glory as before or even better.
Please, any other suggestions would be great. She is such a sweet, kind, creative child who simply comes alive when she draws, designs, etc. Thanks