Art Experiences

Archive for April 2011

When babies are born, parents innately dress them according to their sex. We put our girl babies in pink dresses and our boy babies in little blue jeans. I think part of this stems from the fact that often babies look like, well, babies. It can be hard to tell the baby’s sex if it weren’t for their clothing. Plus, we adore our babies and want to dress them up and show them off. As our babies grow into toddlers, we just continue what we started. Most girl’s clothes are pink and most boy’s clothes are not.

Even at the age of two, many girls seem to develop a bit of an obsession with pink. A well known study surmises that females are biologically programmed to prefer colors in the red spectrum. This comes from our prehistoric days when men hunted and women gathered. Women needed to spot red berries and ripe fruits.

Society tell us that pink is not only a color for girls but the color for girls. Stroll down the toy aisle and you will see a sea of pink plastic doll houses, jewelry, kitchenware and so much more. There are entire stores that sell only pink clothing and accessories. Like it or not, Disney Princess items rake in over $4 billion a year. I see many little girls decked out in pinkwear with their sparkling tiaras every day.

I recall a controversial rant last year that made the Facebook rounds posted by the mother of a 5 year old boy who wanted to dress up like Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween. She thought it was fine, bought him the pink and purple costume and posted a very cute photo of him in it. Some other mothers however, were a bit disgusted and dismayed that this mother “allowed this to happen.” Granted, it’s not exactly like wearing a pink polo, but the point is that adults do transmit gender biases to children.

Interestingly, there are also many children who do not develop this bias regarding the color pink and see pink as one of many colors in the world to choose from, be it on a shirt, in a painting or on a toy. Boys are very happy wearing pink, painting with pink and playing with pink toys. Girls can take pink or leave it, they may wear pink clothing sometimes, but not all the time. These children aren’t necessarily the ones with the most confidence, but maybe they are the ones with the most innocence – their choices come straight from their hearts and have not yet been clouded by the expectations of others.

As the nature versus nurture debate goes on, art teachers will continue to show our charges that pink is a color just like green, blue and yellow.

Even I find myself occasionally wincing when a boy chooses to paint his whole picture in pink. Is it because I think his parents will wonder why I let him do that? Is it because I think I might be promoting some kind of not exactly normal-ness in this boy? I mentally kick myself when those thoughts fly by and then let the creating continue!

I am pretty gung-ho about recycling, conserving resources and generally saving the planet. I am also a passionate artist and educator. Sometimes I find these ideals in conflict with each other. I utilize natural elements such as sticks, rocks and sand in creating art projects. I find ways to make art out of recyclables and items that people give away or throw away such as fabric scraps and packing peanuts. However, in order to embrace all that art has to offer, I need to buy things. Often things that are not environmentally conscientious, like paint, foam sheets and wood. And I need to throw things away, sometimes lots of things – paper that has paint on it, various tough to clean containers, unusable or broken supplies. I feel a bit guilty about generating more trash at my job than at my house.

However, it is all in the name of learning. Especially when you are creating with young children, there is a lot of waste. They are not adept at conserving and we should not limit their resources. We need to provide our children a large variety and quantity of materials to give them the freedom they need to experiment and therefore learn.

We have emphasized Earth Day issues with our preschoolers all week, and many of us do this all year long. Today being Earth Day, we put together a fun set of activities to celebrate.

Nature Bugs – the children had a handful of clay to use as the basis for their bug. On the table were items from nature such as rocks, sticks, acorns, a variety of colored beans, various types of seed pods and spent flowers. There were no googly eyes, pipe cleaners or plastic beads. The kids had a blast! Did their creations look like bugs? Many did not, but the point is that they created using only natural materials that were also very interesting to work with.

I Love Earth tee shirts – I have some reservations about painting a t-shirt in celebration of Earth Day because first, consumerism is not much of a way to celebrate anything, and second, by purchasing t-shirts we are consuming cotton, the second-most pesticide sprayed crop in the world (the first being corn).  However, it turned out that creating our t-shirts was a great way to promote awareness. I placed foam letters that spelled “I <heart> Earth” on the shirt and had the kids place wood shapes of flowers and butterflies around it. Then together we sprayed on fabric paint diluted with water. The children took the stencils off and loved the resulting white shapes! They were really proud of their creations and enjoyed wearing them all day.

Shoe Garden – Parents brought in shoes that were worn out or too small and the children put soil in them, planted seeds and watered them. A great lesson in recycling and reusing items in new ways. The shoes looked very inviting placed in a circle around a large tree on the playground and hopefully soon they will start sprouting.

The personal lesson I took away from today is that the best we can do is much more than doing nothing at all. I help teach a new generation important lessons about our environment all year long. I give children opportunities to create with natural materials. I am not going to be fanatical about recycling every glue container. I am not going to limit my students to one piece of paper each in the name of conservation. When I step back and look at the big picture, I feel great about the efforts I am making to raise awareness and connect with our Earth. What are you doing?

Four mornings a week, I teach art to small children ages 2-5. I actually teach exploration, self-confidence, creative thinking, problem solving, cooperation, patience, persistence, pride in your work, adventure, positivity and so much more. The idea being that children this age do not have the cognitive ability to understand, say, a lesson on perspective in art, however they do have the ability to learn that trying new things, although it can be a bit scary, can also turn out to be a lot of fun (and a lot of learning, but they don’t know that part!). When you are little, your job is to figure out how to navigate your world. You don’t have much experience so many things are new to you. How do you find things out? You try them! Our jobs as teachers and parents are to provide small children with as many opportunities as possible to absorb the world around them.

Science has shown us that children’s brains grow most rapidly from birth to age 5. Millions of synapses and connections are being made daily. The more children experience, the more connections they gain. As we age, the connections we don’t use slowly fall away. This begins at the shockingly young age of 6! (Yikes, do I have any brain connections left?!) The conclusion being that when you are very young is when you learn the most.

One of the important things I want to teach youngsters is to try something new. The only way to figure something out is to try it. Some children are inherently adventurous and will touch or try most anything. However, more and more, I have children who are afraid. Afraid of touching something that looks sticky, messy or “gross”. Afraid of trying something that they think might be too hard for them to do. Giving up after a single poke of clay or a few seconds of trying to build a sculpture. Some children are just more cautious than others, some learn quickly from their parents or caregivers not to make a mess and some learn early that failure is a huge disappointment (the subject of a future post).

I am here to say, “Push past your fears children! It’s OK!”

If they learn to push past their fears now, they will not only learn more presently, but carry this confidence into other areas of their lives as they mature. They will try new foods, try playing new sports, try learning a new language or subject, try new social strategies, try playing an instrument, try new technologies, try new careers. In short, be an interesting and successful person.

When I was a child, my backyard had an area that was just for playing in the dirt. I spent many happy hours there making mudpies, building stick towns and creating adventures for my plastic toys. Sometimes with other kids, sometimes alone. Nobody cared if I got dirty, least of all me. In retrospect I see that all this play was actually a lot of learning. In fact, play is a child’s work.

Every Friday at my school, I set up an activity for the children to do outside on the playground. It is optional; if a child wants to try it, great, if they just want to go down the slide a million times instead, that’s fine too. Yesterday I set out a dozen trays of mud. Yes, dirt plus water. I also placed plastic spoons and cups on each tray so children could try it out without much touching at first, and so they would have some props to use the mud with.

Many children loved this new sensory experience. They reveled in the cool, thick feeling on their hands, they drew in the mud with their fingers, they filled the cups to make chocolate ice cream and put sticks in the mud to make trees. Some children came over, saw the mud and said, “yuck, that’s gross!” My cheery response was, “the grosser, the better!” Some of those same children returned a few minutes later to poke around in the mud for a bit.

I have seen enormous transformations in children. By the last half of the school year, children who wouldn’t try are trying. Children who wouldn’t touch are touching. Children are experimenting and experiencing all their wonderful world has to offer. We adults can learn a lot from small children.


Hi! I'm Susan Stein and of my many passions in life,
two of my biggest are art and children. In the process of teaching children art, I also teach them problem solving, brainstorming, inventive thinking, originality, working with others, hand eye coordination, and so much more. It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or not, everyone will benefit from experiencing art.

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