How to Talk to Kids About Their Art

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How to Talk to Kids About Their Art

What do you suppose this is?

I almost commented on Maia’s “rainbow” when she started her drawing yesterday. Luckily I caught myself.

Because guess what it is?

A cave!

And I got to say things like, “Wow, look at all the black you used!” “You really worked hard on this!” “I love how you filled in each section by drawing up and down.” and “Can you tell me about your drawing?”

This is the same kid who almost had a fit when she couldn’t find her crayons the other day. She said, “But mom, I’m an ARTIST! I NEED my crayons!”

Yes, she needs her crayons. And her markers. And her easel. Which (embarrassing moment), I just noticed is still on the same low setting it was on when we first bought it three years ago. Note to self: when your kid is sitting on the floor to draw on her easel, it is time to raise it!

How to Talk About Your Kids Art

Here are some tips for talking with kids about their art.

DO:

  • ASK them to tell you about their artwork
  • COMMENT on the lines or colors, etc. that they are using (I see that you are making lots of purple dots. I like how the red paint is mixing with the yellow paint here.)
  • ACKNOWLEDGE how hard (carefully, enthusiastically, long) they worked on their artwork

DON’T:

  • Ask “What is that?”
  • Say an automatic “That’s pretty” (cool, beautiful)

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Comments

  1. says

    We are just taking it back to the library today — that is why it is on my mind! The one we are returning is by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

  2. Lauren says

    Good point about commenting on art! My son is very sensitive about that, and I guess I am too, so there you go.
    Also, does anyone have a particular child sized easel to recommend? What do you like/not like about yours?

  3. says

    Very sweet reminder of regarding the sacred personality of our children. (a Charlotte Mason thought). Thanks. I always feel inadequate about that very thing!

  4. says

    I think ours (Melissa & Doug) is great. It’s relatively inexpensive, sturdy, adjustable, etc. The adjustable part is what I have always said I liked the best about it, though, and obviously I haven’t adjusted it yet! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Deluxe-Standing-Easel/dp/B0002AUWKG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=toys-and-games&qid=1266342552&sr=8-1
    The one thing I don’t like about it is the chalkboard surface which doesn’t work too well. I keep meaning to paint it over with chalkboard paint, which other people have done, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  5. says

    That’s one fantastic cave. I find myself asking my girls to “tell me about your picture” a lot. I try to remind myself not to make assumptions and I’m often amazed by how differently they think and create.

  6. says

    Ooo, thanks for this one. I also try to ask what something is before assuming I understand my kiddo’s art.
    I’d love more of your thoughts on how to talk to kids about their art, and also your ideas on how to encourage kids to keep trying. My five year old is in the “I messed this up, so I’m going to crumple up the whole thing and cry” stage. Also the “but it doesn’t look exactly like what I wanted it to look like!” and the “YOU draw me a cat mama!” stages. Any resources on encouraging her creativity and stick-to-it-iveness?

  7. says

    “Oh, very interesting! Tell me about that…” must come out of my mouth 100 times a day. There’s sooooo much art going on around here with sooooo much snow outside, it’s easy to get impatient and slip into bad habits. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. says

    so true… I have an art therapy degree so that is one of the first things we learned. I am still trying to get my husband out of the habit of saying “what is it?” and my daughter is 3 now.

  9. says

    I’m so glad you’ve addressed this issue! I hear myself saying “nice” sometimes and want to scream inside! My mom always thought everything had to be something, and I don’t want to repeat that.
    I have 2 extra kids over on Mondays, and with my 3 they get into the art center and go wild. Ideas fly, and they want to know what I think of their creations. (Last time, I got in there with them, which happens too infrequently :) Thank you so much for your blog.

  10. shenandoah says

    I need to start an art group for my son right away.! this is a fantastic drawing! And that she calls herself an artist…..love it. I just love that way you bring art in to her life. living in Brooklyn NY it is a little hard but this drawing is so inspiring. the way it fills up the whole page……

  11. says

    Haha! Yes – you might want to raise it up a bit! Good idea to wait until an artist has finished the masterpiece before asking any questions!

  12. Lindsay R says

    have you heard of/seen the book “ish” ? it’s awesome, and addresses that “crumple it up” thing, which BOTH my big boys tend to do at times. ;-)

  13. says

    hi, jean! great cave, and i just wanted to say THANKS for the pretzel link…we made them on valentine’s day, and they were a huge hit, both to make and eat. loving your site more and more each day…finally got mine up and running, too!

  14. says

    My daughter…and son have come up with some really creative – I never could have guessed it- creations such as..
    walking goggles & dozens of sad faces BECAUSE she likes making rainbows (the frowns) for mouths – sometimes it takes a mother to love and truly understand these pieces of art.

  15. says

    Carrie, I’ve gotten the “you draw a cat” or baby or heart or whatever. But not the other two (yet) so am not sure what to say. Maybe I’ll ask an expert…

  16. Lauren says

    Thanks!
    Related to this post, this morning my son was drawing a big round squiggly yellow and green thing and when I asked what it was he said, “Well, it might look like Abraham Lincoln, but it’s not.” Glad I asked!

  17. says

    Thanks Jean,
    It’s so curious to watch my little one’s art attitudes start developing. It seems to me that there must be a crucial point at which kids start to abandon the free-spirit of creating art and start judging themselves. I’m super interested in fostering my kiddo’s creativity and the joy she gets from doing art for as long as possible.
    Hmmmm.

  18. Allison says

    I just showed this picture to my 4 year old son and asked him what it was and lo and behold, the boy said “A Cave”!! I just had to share that b/c I thought it was great!!

  19. says

    Many years ago, a first grader complained to me that I hung his ‘cow’ upside-down in a hallway display of paintings. These paintings were a series of black drip lines done in tempera paint going horizontally & vertically with the resulting spaces between the lines then painted in watercolor in what I naively thought was a random order. When I corrected the placement of this student’s painting sure enough there was a clearly defined cow…the things I learn from my students!
    My favorite go-to question to my students is “Tell me about your painting (drawing, sculpture, etc)”. Saves me a lot of confusion and helps the child put into words their creative process. Specific praise concerning line, shape, color (and all the other elements and principles of Art) helps increase their vocabulary as well…

  20. Sarah says

    This is helpful! I always stumble or pause when first shown the masterpiece and my son has a big smile and I have no idea what it is. Now I am prepared!

  21. says

    “So, what’s going on in this amazing drawing?!”
    This is what I say pretty often to my art students. My youngest students are 7, so they have a bit more confidence, and thankfully, most of what they draw is recognizable. Even if I have to guess and guess wrong, I have never let a child leave discouraged. I will praise their use of color, line, shape, composition skills, and imagination. Critiques in my class have always scared me a bit, but the students LOVE having their classmates ask them questions about their artwork, and that takes bravery. Because of this, each student exits the critique with a great self esteem, and ownership of what they made, and the power to answer questions.

  22. says

    I really appreciate your reminders (and those in the comments) about being mindful when talking to kids about their artistic creations. Thanks!

  23. Erin Casci says

    I don’t know what to do when my 4 yr old brings a piece of paper with a few scribbles on it. She probably spent about 15 seconds on it and didn’t seem to have any goal in mind. Do I give it praise when it wasn’t something she really tried or thought about? I want to encourage her to color and draw but it doesn’t seem like I have found and effective technique yet. Thanks,

  24. Tracey says

    As a kindergarten teacher I can tell you I hear “I can’t” a lot and requests for me to draw it. I tell the kids that I learned by practicing in kindergarten! If they are desperate type A’s I sometimes make suggestions for shapes that they could consider putting together… An oval, circle and two triangles could become a cat. Also, kids know false praise when they hear it, so if they didn’t really put any effort in, don’t gush, encourage them to add to their work.

  25. says

    I love your blog and this post is particularly great. I’ve also noticed that it’s important that their drawing doesn’t have to be anything – it can just be experimenting with technique, materials and colour. Just give them time and space to do their magic!

  26. Katgirldu says

    Comment on how her motions affected the scribble, “your pencil went fast, round and round.”
    • “Your pencil moves fast, round and round”
    • “You have pink at the top and blue at the bottom”
    • “You put red squares on top of a green shape”
    • “That’s one of the brownest picture I’ve ever seen.”
    • “Look how you filled the whole page with color – was that fun?”
    • “Look how you put all those small circles around that big shape.”
    • “The blue shape is next to the red shape. None of your pieces touch.”
    • “You have lines and shapes together, here and here.”

  27. says

    On the whole a great post, and as devil’s advocate I propose that instead of saying “I like…” which communicates judgement and approval which might adversely effect the artist (if she/he didn’t plan it or regards it as a mistake), just say what you see; for example, “Wow, the red paint is mixing with the yellow paint!” Then… WAIT… and see if the artist expresses a feeling or comment on the effect.

  28. Kristen says

    What is the theory behind NOT saying this? As an art educator I see that it can be prescriptive and limit the possibilities of what it could be (as it cold also be abstract) but do you have any article you could point me to that I could share with my Parent and tots art class?