By Sasmita Sahani
Art and craft have been a regular part of my son’s activities from the time he was a toddler. Be it introducing him to books with illustrations and different styles of art through children’s books or letting him explore the world of colours through finger-paints and crayons, we have always exposed him to the creative world.
Over the years, we have purchased countless drawing books, boxes of crayon and colour pencils. Many books were torn, and crayons broken into pieces. On certain occasions, we have received pleasant surprises. One day, I returned home to find that the walls were filled with several strange sketches. They turned out to be ‘monsters’. My first reaction was shock since we live in a rented house. Soon, I realised he had put much thought into creating them. He even had a name for each of them.
Through these scribbling, he had started expressing himself and exploring the imaginary world he lives in. Most of the time, he recreates what he likes, such as a house with a garden. But sometimes he creates what he observes. At this point, one can’t predict whether he will take up ‘art’ as a lifetime interest. But his engagement with art will always be encouraged by us.
Here are a few reasons why art should be promoted for a child’s emotional and cognitive development.
Art is not an indulgence
It may appear to be an indulgence since we are purchasing a lot of materials for art-related activities. However, through art a child learns faster than mere theory. Many researches claim art helps children to improve motor skills and problem-solving attitude.
A four-year long research conducted from 2006 to 2010 by the Guggenheim Museum, New York, showed that children with the arts background have a considerable advantage over their peers. The study showed that children from their Learning Through Art programme demonstrated stronger problem-solving skills in three out of six areas including “flexibility, resource recognition, and connection of ends and aims”. Problem solving was incorporated into the daily art lessons which encouraged students to make conscious choices and find multiple answers to any given problem through the creative process.
Perfectly imperfect art
Children may feel intimidated by the fact that they have to make their paintings beautiful and perfect. My son used to be upset if he thought his drawing was not as good as mine or others. With regular encouragement, he continued to do what he loved and, eventually, became more spontaneous. We also encourage him to draw lines, circles, patterns as a foundation that would help with his drawings and writing too.
While researching on children’s art, I came across American painter Mark Rothko. He was an advocate of children’s art education and believed they were born with “total creative freedom”. The late abstract expressionist believed adults should nurture children and give them complete freedom to express themselves through colours and different mediums. He published an essay, titled ‘New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers’ in 1934, and wrote about the benefits of approaching art the way children do. Rothko, an art teacher at Brooklyn Jewish Centre, would keep all kinds of art materials and leave the children to create whatever they wanted. Although the painter could not complete his book on his pedagogy, his methods continue to inspire art teachers.
Art as important as math and science
In India, the love for traditional subjects such as mathematics and science will continue. Research shows art-related activities help learners to boost critical thinking which helps in maths and science. A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who regularly engage with arts (three hours a day for weekly three days for one year) are four times more likely to be recognised for academic achievement, participate in a math and science fair, or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than the children who do not dabble with arts.
Art teaches patience
While I personally struggle with focusing on one activity for a long period, I can give a drawing or craft my undivided attention. My son has similar traits. He is agile and energetic. He can keep on jumping for hours at a stretch before passing out. However, art-related activities, such as drawing and craft, have helped us to work on his energy. Once he is coaxed into drawing and painting, he can be engaged for a longer period. He has also started innovating on the drawing sheets without our guidance and prodding.
(Sasmita Sahani works in the social sector. She writes on parenting and gender issues in her blog raising-ray.com)