Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A piece from a speech I gave on "Nurturing Your Child's Inner Artist" at USES's THINK ART THINK SMART event

I am a mother of 3, ages 7, 5, 2.  I was a corporate lawyer, and felt a calling to teach.  I got my Masters in Education and taught in 2nd and 5th grade classrooms.  Since having kids, I’ve taught art and theatre to preschool aged children, and I now teach preschool part time at the Corner Coop in brookline.  I also homeschool my daughter who is seven - and have for kindergarden and first grade.   I recently wrote a children’s book about a historic tree at Martha’s Vineyard, and I’m now working on another book which will come out next spring.  When I was asked to speak at this conference I was initially overwhelmed by the many hats I wear with respect to art and education and the many ways I could address this topic...perhaps that can be another book!

But I only have a few minutes right I want to discuss what I feel is the truly most important way for an adult to nurture a child’s inner artist - or for that matter - anyone’s inner artist.  And that is through the messages we give.  

When we are parenting, teaching, babysitting, or caring for children we are constantly sending messages to our children - messages about what is good and bad, desirable and undesirable, important and unimportant.  We send these messages explicitly, by telling children that certain things are “good” or “bad.”  Or by sharing certain stories or anecdotes designed to teach our children.  We implicitly send messages by choosing activities and schools and playdates for our children, and for how we allow them to spend their free time.  We send messages by what - if any - television we allow them to watch, what books we read to them, and by how we as adults interact with other adults, how we as adults spend our free time, and how we as adults interact with the world as a whole.

So when we consider the plight of arts in education - a plight that we at this conference are all aware of, a plight we all want to work to changing - we cannot ignore that we as parents or caregivers can be really incredibly powerful figures of influence in the development of our children as artists.

If we set an intention today, this moment, at this conference to make art and artistic endeavors a priority in our families and communities, we can impact change.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say a second grader comes home with a story written about an adventure.  The story is cute and funny, and has a couple of illustrations.  Lets imagine reading the story.  The parent might say, “Wow, what a great story!  You’re such a good writer.”  Or imagine the child got a good grade on the story - we as adults would probably praise the grade.  If we then look at this story with the perspective of making arts a priority, we would probably focus first on the illustrations.  We would tell the child, “Wow, you are a great artist.” and then, “It’s a great story.”  You might discuss how certain elements of the story are in the illustrations.  You could praise the color scheme, and the expressions on the drawings of people or animals.   You could ask the child to explain the pictures.

A recent article discussing this issue stated, '"Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence," sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork."

We all know that children who do art are smarter, more well adusted, and happier.  So, don’t we all want our children to be artists?  We need to send them the messages that allows them to identifiy themselves as artists.  Adults can do that by simply saying to children on a daily basis, “You are a really good artist.”  Or, “My little artist, can you get your shoes on so we can go?”  Or “Hey artsy kiddo - go brush your teeth.”  

We can also point out both the author AND the illustrator when we read books to our children.  We can take them to art galleries and art museums, and point out art in public places, statues, paintings, murals, graffiti, animation, architecture, art is everywhere.  Most of us live in Boston, a city rich in art, history, and beauty.  The definition of art is as broad as you make it.  Teach your children, and the children around you that art is everywhere, art is important, and that they are creators of beautiful, important art.
I created this sheet of little phrases and conversation starters about art.  I’ll have them at our table after this talk (email me and I will send you one  Please stop by and grab one, and hang it on your fridge, or on a cabinet or cork board, somewhere you will see it and be reminded to send positive messages about art to your children.  The more they hear it, the more they will believe it and identify with the fact that they are all amazing artists, and that they should draw, paint, create in any way.  That their art is important, and valuable, and unique, and excellent.

The great majority of preschoolers consider themselves to be artists.  This number dwindles as children get older.  This is because schools, society, and parents teach children that art is NOT as important as math, as reading, as writing, as “real” school.  Art class is a distant memory in many schools, replaced by a perception that classroom teachers can implement art by integrating it into other, more important subjects.  I don’t think art plays a big part of the MCAS.  If we decide as parents and caregivers, as adults, that art is an integral part of life and an integralp part of real school, and make that our priority, our children will hear these messages.  They will know that they are artists - for all of us are artists, there is truly no bad art - and they will know that art is important, art is necessary, and art is something to care about.  

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”
Pablo Picasso

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