Play is the way children discover themselves- starting with their fingers, toes and gradually their whole body, mind and emotions. Play is an important part of childhood and art is one such form of play. Art is a language that allows us to express and develop our ideas and emotions; artistic activities are full of processes that help us to grow and stimulate our creativity while nurturing the soul.
When children are exposed to any artistic activity the brain is stimulated from sounds, movements, colours and sizes; neural connections increase and the brain is exercised and strengthened. The process is of greater benefit for children under three years since their brain is maturing and is highly sensitive to external stimuli.
Artistic activities foster intellectual development and some of their benefits are: Stimulates both sides of the brain, increases the capacity of memory, attention and concentration. Art is a natural activity to support free play in children. The freedom to manipulate different materials in an organic and unstructured way allows for exploration and experimentation.
- Cognitive Development: For very young children, making art is a sensory exploration activity. They enjoy the feeling of a crayon moving across the paper and seeing a blob of coloured paint grow larger. Kamii and DeVries (1993) suggested that exploring materials is very important because it is through exploration that children build a knowledge of the objects in the world around them. Activities centring around making art also require children to make decisions and conduct self-evaluations. Studies show art education strengthens both critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in young children. The process of creating art gives children choices and urges them to make decisions in the course of creating their art – a crucial skill that translates into other parts of life.
- Creativity: All children are born with a sense of curiosity and art only increases this in them. Creativity enables children to create art and encourages them to become better observers, learners and creators. Hence, when creativity is fostered it helps in other arenas of life such as being inventive thinkers, innovators and great problem solvers.
- Motor skills: Art aids in developing your child’s motor skills. This is seen when the toddler uses their hands to manipulate objects. They could be holding a crayon or using a paintbrush, either way their motor skills are improving. The large arm movements required for painting or drawing at an easel or on large paper on the floor build coordination and strength. The smaller movements of fingers, hands, and wrists required to cut with scissors, model clay, or draw or paint on smaller surfaces develop fine motor dexterity and control. With repeated opportunities for practice, young children gain confidence in their use of tools for making art and later for writing.
- Social skills: Art gives children an outlet to express themselves and an activity in which they can create things that they are proud of. When children create and share their art, they develop self-esteem from experiencing opportunities to make something unique, expressing their feelings and imagination, and receiving praise and critique from those around them. Creating art with family, friends, and parents helps them learn important lessons about sharing and cooperation.
- Language development: Through art one enhances their questioning skill. A parent can ask questions such as what colour is it? What do you think will happen if we mix these two colours? We know that while language is developing, art is a wonderful way to help children express themselves. It’s often hard to decipher a child’s drawings, even though the child knows exactly what it is. When we ask, “What is it?” we are saying that it should look like something we’d recognize. Instead, ask open-ended questions like “Tell me about your picture.” You can also describe specific things your child is doing by saying things such as, “You’re making short lines, I see you are using red, green and blue.” You can also describe the actions your child is taking or the materials they are using by saying things such as, “You are using a soft paintbrush, I noticed you are making small circles, you are using two crayons at the same time!”
- Understanding cause and effect: Art also helps young children to have those moments of understanding cause and effect through opportunities to create using a Process Art methodology – meaning that children learn by doing. For instance, a child may be experimenting with colours and end up with something that looks muddy. Even an unintended outcome offers opportunities for a child to learn by doing.
- Build confidence: It’s vital to set the tone for healthy social interactions which allow the toddler to express themselves freely and openly. When the environment is positive and not judgmental then the toddler is more likely to interact in a joyful manner. Parents need to resist the urge to direct a child’s art creation or judge it. When words of encouragement are provided on the artwork by the child, it motivates them to do more and maybe give their best too.
Creative expression and making choices builds independence in young children, as they naturally learn to do more and more by themselves each day. “Art is a process, not a product.” MaryAnn F. Kohl