guest post: creating with a kid

I don’t have children, but I appreciate the determination of women (and men, for that matter) to continue making art after they become mothers.  I sincerely admire moms who are willing to deal with the mess and chaos that inevitably accompanies young children playing at art.  My delightful friend, fellow college classmate, talented artist and loving mother, Katerine Jore of Daydream House, has been kind enough to write the following insightful guest post about her experiences as an artist/mother.


 

The fantastic and creative, Katherine Jore.
The fantastic and creative, Katherine Jore.

Creating with a Kid

Three year olds get a bit of a bad rap. Headstrong, temperamental and flighty are all common (and often accurate) descriptors tied to them.  But with all that, it’s easy to forget words like sharing, focused, eager and enthusiastic. At this age, they really are at an ideal apex. A love of learning has finally been met by a new skill and vocabulary set. They are starting to understand step-by-step process and are more and more able to follow it. Learning art at any age has different advantages. But if there was a so-called ideal time, in my opinion, the toddler and preschool years are it.

Since I began creating art with my daughter (well before she was three), the biggest challenge for me has been pace. It makes sense that she would move at a slower speed. The tools are new, the materials are new. But more important, the experience itself is new. I’ve mixed yellow and blue a thousand times, but she is still delighted to discover green. I have cut, glued and layered a hundred types of media during hours-long free-flow sessions. She is still thinking hard about why a glue stick won’t work on glass.

Understanding the process from her vantage point has taken away all the frustration of waiting on someone else. Of course, the patience level varies from parent to parent. I’m sure some people would rather not watch someone painstaking cut random shapes out of craft foam. But this idea applies to pretty much all areas of raising kids. Waiting on them to complete a task that you could do in a fraction of the time can be grueling, but it pays off in the long run. When it comes to art, now you have the joy of helping a new person forge their own creative way. Even if your kid doesn’t “take up” art as a long-term interest, there are a multitude of lessons to be learned. Motor skills are fine-tuned, they learn cause and effect as well as open-ended problem solving. Patience, material manipulation, confidence and hand-eye coordination are all strengthened. Best of all, they are learning about themselves in so many ways, it really can’t be quantified.

Coaster painting: Painting ceramic tiles with acrylic paints is a great, simple project for a kid of almost any age. It’s inexpensive, easy to clean up and there’s no right or wrong.
Coaster painting: Painting ceramic tiles with acrylic paints is a great, simple project for a kid of almost any age. It’s inexpensive, easy to clean up and there’s no right or wrong. Photo by Katherine Jore

Before my daughter was born, creating art was largely a solitary endeavor. I did work in studios and make art with friends during college, but after moving home, it switched to pretty much just working alone. Which I really do like. There is something wonderfully intoxicating about getting into a private space, physically and mentally, and hitting that flow state, waking up later to find hours have passed. Little kids change that. I still crave that quiet, private flow time, so I sneak it in when she is sleeping or someone else can watch her. But when I can’t do that, we create together. Instead of it being a chore, I make it fun. We find a spot to sit, she gets her supplies and I get mine and we can work on our own projects side by side. Since it is summer, I will set her loose outside with chalk. She goes nuts drawing the sun and babies while I read or sketch. Sometimes I will think of a specific project where we can share supplies and work together. Last Christmas, I bought cheap white tiles at the hardware store and let her use my craft acrylics to decorate them. I sat with her and helped her mix colors and test different brushes and sponges, but she did all the actual painting. In the end, she had very cool coasters for her grandpas and was also pleased she got to use Mommy’s paints. The whole point for me has been to not put pressure on anything. This is not the time to learn hard skills like perspective, scale or the color wheel. This is when she needs to just learn the simple joy and satisfaction of creating with her own two hands.

How can you put these ideas into practice in your life? It’s really not too hard, it just may mean changing up how you work a bit. Here are some good basics to keep in mind.

1. Have good, age-appropriate supplies and tools.

I’m not saying you need to go spend $300 getting every cool thing you see from the local school supply shop. Just make sure you have things that are non-toxic, easy to clean and sized for small hands. And never underestimate the value of non-traditional materials. Mesh fruit bags, toilet paper tubes and plastic food containers are all endlessly valuable. Remember, they are not creating master works for a museum. They are just creating.

Toddler art prep: A good, basic setup for my kiddo to work on collaging. A cardboard box loaded with precut paper and fabric scraps, a garbage bag taped down with painters tape, a small water dish and foam brushes. When she was done, I just let the jars dry on the bag. Once they were done, I just wrapped up the mess and threw it out.
Toddler art prep: A good, basic setup for my kiddo to work on collaging. A cardboard box loaded with precut paper and fabric scraps, a garbage bag taped down with painters tape, a small water dish and foam brushes. When she was done, I just let the jars dry on the bag. Once they were done, I just wrapped up the mess and threw it out. Photo by Katherine Jore

2. Make a space for them, even a small one.

Have an area, even a small one, where your kid can make a mess and spill things without it being a major issue. My daughter has a small table in our living room that she used for most of her creative time. It is worth saying we have hardwood floors and space to keep her away from furniture a bit. When she plays with play dough or water colors, she uses a cookie sheet to keep it corralled. If she uses messier paint, we have a plastic table cover my mom made and a vinyl tablecloth for under the table. Add a smock on the kid, and that takes care of about ninety percent of the mess. If you don’t have the luxury of a designated space, try to rethink the space you do have. Can you spare some kitchen counter or the dining room table for a few hours? Do you have an area of hard floor that is out of the way? No matter how small your space, you can find something for your kid to work with.

Finger painting: The classic little kid art project. Bright, messy and squishy.
Finger painting: The classic little kid art project. Bright, messy and squishy. Photo by Katherine Jore

3. Expect a mess.

Kids are messy. That’s life. In my experience, it’s almost never as bad as TV, internet and other parents make it seem, but messes happen. Definitely enforce rules like do not throw paint or do not feed the dog play dough because that’s just good parenting. But if an excited kid runs at you to show their latest work and they touch you with their painty hands, don’t have a meltdown. Freaking out upsets you, it upsets them, it undermines the idea of creativity and it doesn’t clean up the mess.

4. Balance out your “help”.

Question the voice in your head that says your kid is doing something wrong. Are they struggling to use scissors? Ask if you can help and then step in if they say so. Are they using so much paint in one area that the paper is brown and torn? Get over it. They are learning color theory and material saturation. Odds are it will be in the trash within the month anyway.

My personal pet peeve is coaching from parents. “Don’t you want to draw this instead?” or “Shouldn’t it look like this?” This is the only time in life where creative flow is 100% natural. For most people, this will already fade as they get older and turn into work to maintain. Don’t kill that natural urge and ability to just create.

Sewing: She still isn’t nearly old enough to sew on her own, but she is already getting the hang of guiding the fabric through and keeping her hands out of the way.
Sewing: She still isn’t nearly old enough to sew on her own, but she is already getting the hang of guiding the fabric through and keeping her hands out of the way.  Photo by Katherine Jore

5. Keep up communication.

You can keep a dialogue going without being a pain like I mentioned above. Ask questions tailored to your kid’s age and skill level. Don’t stress about this; you know your kid, the questions will come naturally. When my daughter was just starting to draw with more than just a pen, I would ask her favorite color. The answer changed from week to week, but she always had an answer. Now I ask what she is drawing, or what the story behind her picture is. The last few weeks, she will draw the new baby. And often, a tiny house for the baby. This turns into a whole story about how the baby is too tiny to live in our house and needs his own house. It’s fun for her to tell and really fun to hear. I won’t bore you with the details of the tiny toilet that goes in the tiny house.

There is a flip side though. Showing interest in the 900th rainbow your kid has drawn can get tough. But this is where the phrase “fake it until you feel it” comes into play. It sounds awful, but it can help. Some people are genuinely enthralled with each and every part of parenting and breeze through it. But most people don’t, so it’s understandable when sheer repetition wears you down a bit. That just makes you human. But putting a big smile on your face, telling them you love how they only used green and giving them a hug is huge. That is validation and confidence building on a major scale. And that lasts way longer than any feelings of boredom you are experiencing.

Scooping cookies: A more recent round of cookies. This time, she got to choose and mix ingredients and scoop them onto the cookie sheets. The cookies included nuts, reeses pieces, m&ms and sunflower seeds.
Scooping cookies: A more recent round of cookies. This time, she got to choose and mix ingredients and scoop them onto the cookie sheets. The cookies included nuts, reeses pieces, m&ms and sunflower seeds. Photo by Katherine Jore
Painting cookies: One of my daughter’s first independent cooking projects, done when she was two. She got to roll out the dough, cut the shapes and then paint the cookies. She had so much fun and was very proud of herself. She presented packages of cookies to all her family members and carefully explained how she made them.
Painting cookies: One of my daughter’s first independent cooking projects, done when she was two. She got to roll out the dough, cut the shapes and then paint the cookies. She had so much fun and was very proud of herself. She presented packages of cookies to all her family members and carefully explained how she made them. Photo by Katherine Jore

I hope these tips and a quick peek into my creative world with a kid are of some help to other parents out there. No matter where you are at in life, keeping your creative self alive and thriving can be hard, but it is essential to your overall health. And if you get to take some others along for the ride, that’s even better.

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