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I was very fortunate growing up—my dad was an art professor and my mom a math professor. My mom came in handy when I needed my hand held through high school pre-calculus (I didn’t inherit the math gene). My dad covered the fun stuff. I was the only kid I knew with a giant drafting table for drawing, a box full of art supplies and a huge bulletin board in our family room with the sole purpose of displaying my and my siblings’ art work.

As a professor of art education, my dad often used our art work in his classes to teach students about children and how they comprehend and explore the world of art.

Recently, he passed along some great tips for me to keep in mind as my daughter starts developing her artistic skills and curiosity about art and design. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you watch your own child develop.

• Don’t push your own beliefs about art on your kids. Don’t forget about your values, but keep them to yourself for a small amount of time while your children begin to explore and create their own stories and images before struggling with the complexities of the adult world.

• Let go of developmental timelines. It’s not necessary for a child to draw a circle at 18 months. They may skip this step entirely or not use the circle until 24 months. Just like with every other developmental milestone, your child will hit it when he or she is ready. Let them enjoy the novelty of crayons and paper without putting any pressure on them to draw a shape or object.

• Provide the tools. Around the age of two, art education researchers have found that with newly mastered language and movement skills, children are starting to have minds of their own and the building blocks of knowledge are being put in place. This is the time you should provide as rich of an environment as possible so your child can explore his or her artistic side.

Here’s how: Provide marking devices and some surfaces on which to make marks. This is not limited to crayons and paper. Your child will be using large muscle groups in the upper arm, with most early mark making coming from the shoulder and elbow. These are also known as “scribbles.”

Your child is enthralled with watching the line left by the marking device as it travels across the drawing surface (just make sure that surface isn’t your wall!).

Tools for Your Children to Express Their Artistic Side

• The driveway. Buy a set of sidewalk chalk and let your kid scribble and draw to his heart’s content!

• Large reams of paper. Visit your local art or craft store and invest in some poster-size paper and a set of washable markers. Place paper on a hard surface like a wood floor or table.

• Old wrapping paper. Do you have some outdated wrapping paper from Christmas 1999 still in your basement? Let your child use the back of it to draw!

• Play dough: Colorful dough allow kids to manipulate with their hands in ways they never have before! Try this safe, environmentally friendly dough from eco-kids.

• Finger paints: Finger paints are great because they allow your child to draw with their own hands. Some kids take a little longer to master holding a crayon or paint brush. Finger paints allow any kid to get creative.

• An easel: If your child is showing a real affinity for drawing and painting, you may want to invest in a kid’s easel. P’kolino makes a great one!

• Craft box: You can buy a pre-packaged tub of crafty items (this is a cool one) or put one together yourself. Google some craft ideas or simply let your child start gluing and painting whatever they want!

Guiding Your Child

When your child is closer to age three, he will begin to gain more control over his drawings. He’ll transition to the next stage when he begins to make circles or to call his symbols by some name like “house,” or “dog.”

At this stage, avoid assuming the symbol created has to “look like” mom or dad or the dog. By doing this, you’re placing adult standards of photographic-like realism on your child when he doesn’t have the drawing skills to meet these adult, art-world standards. The drawing skills that include shading, light sources, perspective and overlapping, will all come later.

Instead it’s better to ask your child a question about the image they have drawn. For example, “Where is Mommy going?”  or “What is the dog doing?”  Questions that are bias-free will help your child to formulate future story lines about the art work and include more and more symbols to create a complete and complex story that can stand alone as a visual statement without words to explain.

Not every child will be a Picasso or Van Gogh, but they should be encouraged to develop their creativity, just like they are encouraged to read, write and learn math skills.

Refrain from making judgmental comments about your children’s art work and give them the materials and time to sort out the world around them. They will have the soul to make their own judgments about art and what kind of creative interpretation they want to give their world.

Search “developmental characteristics of children’s art” online for more information on this subject.