Make Learning Fun

Susan Striker’s 10 Cardinal Rules for Teaching Creative Art

Reprinted with permission from her book, Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art.

1. Let go of your own expectations of how an art project should be completed, and let the child's imagination decide how the art materials will be used. (Instructions can prevent exploration, which is the essence of creative thinking.)

2. Never draw, paint, or write on a child's artwork. (The child's own art is more important than any contribution you can make and it may discourage age-appropriate work.)

3. Never point out accidental similarities to realistic objects. (This can distract from the value of the kinesthetic activity of the project.)

4. Never show a child "how" to draw, or entertain a child by making realistic pictures. (These lessons can quickly become substitutes for creative exploration.)

5. Don't ask "What is it?" or "What are you making?" ("What" it is in not as important as "how" it is being made.)

6. Never give a child coloring books, dot-to-dot, magic paint with water, molds, drawing machines, drawing computers, or similar anti-art toys. (There is no value for a child in completing something another person created.)

7. Never encourage children to participate in art contests or other forms of competition that pit child against child. (Children benefit most from setting their own goals and competing with themselves.)

8. Encourage a child to come up with many different solutions to problems, rather than only one correct answer. (In life there is rarely only one "correct" solution to problems, and sound art experiences can teach children how to solve problems.)

9. Don't scold for drawing on unacceptable surfaces. Offer paper and say, "Oh good. I see you feel like drawing." (Emphasize the positive–your child wants to draw–and provide an acceptable substitute surface.)

10. Do not rush a child to the next level of development. (Each stage is important and there is no advantage gained by rushing through one stage to reach another.)


  • Reply
    Sylvia C.
    February 1, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    These are really interesting tips. I can’t say I agree 100% with all of them, but they certainly offer some interesting perspectives.
    Sylvia C.

  • Reply
    February 1, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Thank you for the tips. In reference to Tip #2, I was in our local coffee shop several months ago and overheard a conversation at the next table. The woman, an art teacher, was discouraged with how her students colored a project so after class she went back and “fixed” their projects.
    By the loud gasps and “What!” coming from my friend and I, I think the teacher figured out we weren’t happy. I was appalled that she would do that to her students. I would be upset if a teacher made a project “better” for one of my children.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2008 at 11:22 am

    You should be ashamed of yourself for posting half of these suggestions. You clearly have no business being involved with children creatively. Number 6 is preposterous, number 7 is insulting, number 8 paraphrases number 1, number 9 is silly, and number 10? Please define the stages for me, please?
    I grew up with art my whole life. I opted for blank paper, but color books were never denied to me.
    Art contests?! All through grade school, middle school, high school, and even college I was involved in contests. They prepare you for life. You’re protecting children from some big scary monster of defeat that I’m nearly positive you yourself faced and never recovered from. Should you discourage children to not play sports? If you do, will they be forced to learn how to play baseball like everyone else and not their own way? Perhaps you’re using the wrong word. Perhaps instead of “encourage,” you should be saying “push”.
    When I was four years old, I vividly remember carving a design into my mother’s dresser with a pair of tweezers. When she found me, she took the tweezers away and explained to me that was wrong. Not once did she say, “Naughty child! Creating with your hands is a bad thing!” What happened to you in your life that was so devastating?
    You need to stop with this “flower power” tactic and actually go to school for art. It really is true what they say. Those who can’t, teach. Anyone finding all of these rules acceptable has no business working with children in an art class.
    These tips are not constructive and only steer parents in the wrong direction. I’m willing to bet you’ve taken all that you learned from the 70’s about art and printed them into your book. Am I correct on that?
    Shame on you.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I see that these are rules for teaching toddlers, so maybe in that case I’d agree with #4, but as a rule for teaching creative art to children in general, I do disagree. I don’t think that teaching instruction on “How to” draw this or that drives out creativity (altho it can, with the wrong teacher.) See Picasso and how he learned classically before he did his amazing thing. I see teaching “How to” as a springboard for knowing what’s considered standard or right, and then tweaking it. BTW- I have a BFA in art, and trained in New Genres, so definitely not the typical art thing. In my art school at the time I attended, there was a lot of that “let the artist students just be creative and figure out how to express what’s in them.” But I wish I’d been given practical skills with which to carry out my many ideas. It’s OK, though, I figured it out.
    But I do think that it empowers children to be taught “How to” draw an animal, say, and to recognize that in their work. It’s a good feeling to feel accomplished.
    But I never correct them in a way that brings about a shame or failure experience. But it’s OK to nudge in the “right” direction. They like it when it’s done right! :)
    take care, cool blog.

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