Art as Connection: Joining with & Talking to Your Child about Art
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
My 3.5-year-old son has entered a drawing phase, and I could not be more delighted. He fills page after page with solar systems, family and friends, classroom pets, and, most recently, a cat driving a car through the McDonald's drive-through.
Talking to kids about their art and joining them as they create can be an incredible tool for connection. Here are some tips I'm finding helpful and effective as my son and I enter this PROLIFIC drawing phase together.
"Tell me about this."
Nothing shuts a kid down faster than having an adult say, "I love that bird you drew!" as that adult points at your cat driving a car through a drive-through. My strategy when hit with "Look at this, mom!" is to point at a specific part of the drawing and saying "tell me more about this part."
Pointing at a specific point of the drawing helps demonstrate that I'm paying attention and really looking. Asking an open-ended question communicates my curiosity and leaves room for me to learn about his incredible imagination and the story he is telling.
Reflect their language
This is a magic trick, honestly. I first read about this tip when asking kids about their day in the car on the way home from preschool. It 100% works for talking about art too. Whatever they say, you just say it back as a question. Here's an example:
Kid - "I drew a cat in a car."
Adult - "You drew a cat in a car?"
Kid - "Yeah! They're driving at McDonald's."
Adult - "At McDonald's?"
Kid - "Yeah. They are getting fries and a cheeseburger."
This lets kids lead the conversation and keeps the focus on them and what they are communicating. It can be tempting, as an adult, to steer conversations toward what we want to say or teach in a moment. It's good to leave spaces where kids are in charge of telling their own stories. We are also modeling for them how to be genuinely curious about other people.
Observe, be quiet, model self-confidence
Observe, don't critique. There will come a time when your child learns that M's aren't endless squiggles and people have arms and torsos. It doesn't need to be today. Let them relax at their art tables. I firmly believe this is the reason all children consider themselves artists but very few adults own that title. At some point, art changes from a place to explore and express to a place to get things "right."
It's okay to draw in silence together. It's okay to draw your own thing. You'll notice your child picking up ideas from what you are making. Let them take them or not. Honestly, sitting quietly side-by-side in a mutual activity with your child is rare. Enjoy it and don't rush yourself or them out of it.
Be very conscious about the fact that your child is learning how to be an adult from you, their adult. Want your child to approach their art freely and with confidence? Then you must also do this. Your child thinks your cat is 100% the best-drawn cat there ever was. Try to catch yourself before saying "I can't draw," or "this looks so bad." Are those words you want them judging themselves by? Nah. So, make a point to let loose. This isn't about art, this is about connection. Connection doesn't do well under constant judgment and critique.
Set the space for a win
I leave art supplies out at all times. This lets my son create when inspiration strikes without me having to stop what I'm doing and find all the markers and paper he requests. This begins art on a win instead of on a frustration.
These art supplies have well communicated and enforced boundaries. This will change depending on what your personal boundaries are, but the most important thing is everyone knows the rules and they are restated often. Again, once they are established, kids can operate freely within them and you don't need to bring frustration into the mix (or at least, less often).
Our art supply rules:
Don't draw on anything that is mom or dad's without asking
Permanent markers ("special markers") stay ON the art table
That's it! I keep him well-stocked with different kinds of paper and washable markers. This leads me to my last point...
Get them the good stuff
THE QUALITY OF ART SUPPLIES MATTERS TO HOW YOUR CHILD EXPERIENCES ART. Let's get real, NO ONE wants to color with a cheap crayon. Just, no one is going to like that. It's like coloring with a rock. No.
I'm not saying you have to go professional level, but at least go Crayola. Almost every kid is going to prefer a thin marker to anything else. And EVERY kid wants that Sharpie. It just feels good to draw with something that works well, and their art will look more like what they imagined as well. This leads to confidence and more enjoyment in the activity.
Kylee is a wife, mom, maker, and YouTuber! Check out art videos for your preschool and primary-aged kids on her YouTube Channel! For educator and parent resources, check out KyleeMakesIt.com. Already have a Kylee Makes It fan in your house? Check out Kylee Makes Merch.