Art Experiences

Yuck, that’s gross

Posted on: April 9, 2011

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.


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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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