Many of us are using art activities to keep children busy at home. Art can help children improve communication, strengthen motor skills, and develop a sense of self. That’s why it’s important to encourage creativity from infancy and place art alongside home learning and as an extension of their play.
When young children make art together with their caregivers, they share a bonding experience. Creativity is an extension of babies’ natural desire to share and communicate. My research, in collaboration with Dundee Contemporary Arts, found that in art therapy, the art-making process encouraged behaviors that build strong relationships, such as eye contact, pleasant touch, shared goals, and responsiveness. You may notice during art making that there is lots of joint attention—where you both look at the same thing together. This helps babies learn social skills, such as language and perspective taking, and feel connected to others.
There are further developmental benefits from experiencing new sensations and practicing motor skills. Young children also see how they can make choices and communicate these to the grown-ups around them. Even something as simple as choosing a color or making a mark lets them see the physical outcome of their choices. This builds their feeling of agency and their sense of self.
Art Making for Children
These benefits continue through childhood. Art helps children to think in new ways and explore ideas. As art and education academic John Matthews tells us, scribbles are a process of investigation, not just random marks.
When you make art together with your children, you share feelings and ideas. Art is communication without the need to be verbal, which may allow children to express themselves more honestly than through speech.
I advocate joining in the art making with your child wherever possible. So, where to begin? The best creative activities are those which invite children to play and explore without set outcomes. Your role is to create the right conditions for them to engage and then to follow their lead. You may be surprised by their ideas. An invitation can be as simple as offering interesting material and suggesting that they see what it feels like.
If you have small babies, you can start with a couple of blobs of paint on a large sheet of paper on the floor. Try homemade edible paints. Keep it short and have a nice bath ready!
Here are more ideas for creative invitations for all ages that use simple materials.
Printing transfers an image from one surface to another. Younger children can spread paint across the back of a baking tray, mixing to their fancy, then press a sheet of paper on top, making a print. Try the back of cupcake tins to get nice circular images.
Offer older children tools such as cotton buds or a blunt pencil to draw into the paint on the baking tray, then print to transfer the design. Or they could add paper shapes or leaves on top of the paint before printing, like a stencil.
Stamping uses an object to transfer paint to paper. Dundee Contemporary Arts has a nice video for children to create their own stamps from scrap card or sponges. For smaller children, try using things from around the house as stamps. Anything that can be dipped in paint will work—potato mashers, cardboard tubes, spatulas, toy animals, or cars.
Light and Shadows
If you want some non-messy creativity, try drawing with shadows. Spread a sheet between chairs, shine a light and let children experiment with their hands or holding up objects to see the shadow they cast. Older children may like to cut out figures or animals, tape them to cutlery or a pencil and use them to create an animation.
Remember, it’s not about producing perfection but allowing children to enjoy the process and sharing that with them. And it’s important to have fun.
is a postgraduate researcher in psychology and art therapist at the University of Dundee in Scotland. This article was first published by The Conversation.