Teaching Art to Children and Pre-Teens is a Rewarding Experience that plants a seed of life-long Appreciation for Visual Art, Art History, Art Making, Skill Building, and Creative Thinking. Here are my Top 5 Tips for Teaching Visual Art to Children and Pre-Teens to bring your Better Engagement and Success in your Classroom.
Top 5 Tips for Teaching Visual Art to Children
I know that sometimes it is a little overwhelming thinking about how to teach Visual Art to kids and pre-teens. Where do you start? What do you teach? How should you engage them? How will you get them excited? What should you focus on?
I get this question all the time (you’re not alone), so let’s dive on into my Top 5 Tips for Teaching Visual Art to Children and Pre-Teens: Teach Art Lessons that Incorporate Student Interests, Encourage Creativity and Experimentation, Embrace Making Mistakes, Explore Multiple Art Mediums in an Art Project, and Connect to the Elements of Art and Principles of Design.
Teach Art Lessons that Incorporate Student Interests.
Before you sigh, hear me out. We know that right now, in this current time, visual media is being created and consumed faster than ever. There are content creators out there (such as myself, but I focus on Art Education Resources and Art Lessons for Kids) making new content every day and new apps arriving all the time that are designed to encourage people to create and consume content. And now, more than ever, whether we’re ready to admit it or not, kids are consuming it just as much as us. All kinds of media are rolling with trends to have their viewers stay excited and coming back to view more. They want to keep their audience hooked on their material.
And don’t you want the same for your Art Lessons?
As much as we dislike the idea that we’re competing with Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Video Games for some of our student’s attention, it is the reality and I am not sure that it is going to change. This is no longer 2010 when our phones we’re smart. Or that it was a thing just to own one. So, love it or hate it, we each have to evolve with the times to meet the needs of our patrons: the students.
So my first piece of advice is to pay attention to what your students are interested in. These change as fast as TikTok trends. It is bottle flipping one year, fidget spinners the next, flossing dance moves, Unicorns, Fortnite, then Among Us, then onto the next thing. And right now if you’re thinking “wow, those trends were so long ago”, well, YES. That is the point. It’s a quick pace. But if you can work your students interests and some trends into SOME of the lessons through the year, or allow for more student-led or choice-based learning opportunities that naturally allow for student’s to incorporate their interests, your level of engagement will sky rocket and your students will buy in and want to listen to you.
Does this mean it is a little bit more work? Absolutely. You have to take the time to be patient and listen to them. You have to pay attention to what they’re talking about and CARE.
Will you love this? Probably not. But is this about YOU? Or are your Art Lessons and Art Classroom about your STUDENTS?
The bottle flipping crazy was traumatic for me and years later I am NOT over it. It almost broke me. Seriously, that was one of the hardest years teaching for a range of different reasons, and the bottle flipping is the thing that just happens to stick out in my mind of things when I think back to that year. But did I teach a Project-Based Learning Unit that incorporated statistics/probability/math/science/LA in my classroom?
Yes. Because it spoke to the kids and reached my most difficult learners (and there were a lot of challenging personalities in that particular year that I had to quickly learn how to earn trust from) and had them LOVING to LEARN. So I taught it and made the learning relevant to their interests.
And I am pretty sure, that despite everything and the unexpected words that were said to me that year, I was those kids favorite teacher because they came back and visited me every single year, all the way through Middle School and High School. They knew that I cared. I knew that the unexpected things that were happening were not directed at me, but they were happening because they were hurting and I was the person they saw consistently. And that says everything about this.
Encourage Creativity and Experimentation.
Teaching art to kids means that you have the beautiful responsibility of making kids love art. I have always found that, up until grade 3, kids LOVED to make art despite their ability. Then in grade 4, things change. They go through physical and emotional changes, there might be puberty, they are definitely more self aware and are navigating this pre-teen world and no longer see themselves as “children” (even though we know they are). They are trying to navigate this thing we call life just like you and me now.
And often this is the time when I notice kids comparing their art making skills to those of others or are starting to say things like “I am not an artist” or “I can’t draw”., which I then have to combat with lessons on Growth Mindset, life-long learning, and some people practice one particular thing more than others, but we can all learn to build ANY skill as long as we try, etc. Having taught all grades, this is what I have noticed and where that shift is in thinking.
My advice is to always focus your classroom on encouraging creativity and experimentation. Let your students have the option to add their own artist flavor to an artwork or investigate ideas through choice-based learning (task cards and open-ended art projects or sketchbook prompts are perfect for this as they’re not comparing their art to an example every time). There is nothing more soul crushing than a teacher killing creative freedom or freedom to express.
Why should their art look exactly like a Van Gogh or Monet? How is it remotely relevant in this era that someone creates an Impressionist artwork (by force- without any room for self-expression or individualism). The Impressionist art movement is OVER. Unless you’re an Impressionist painter (then I am sure you’re creating your OWN works, not replicating a Monet, which is my point). Think of ways to TEACH art history, styles, and techniques (such as those found in Impressionism) but make it relevant for today.
Let them add artist flavor or something that reflects each individual’s identity. Maybe do a mash-up with the Impressionist style and something from today or a modern cityscape or take kids outdoors so they can do their OWN observational artwork with oil pastels in the Impressionist style (after you teach what it is), and then let them create their own art. That is encouraging Creativity and Experimentation and teaching Impressionism without making it dry and lifeless and turning your students into colored photocopiers.
Don’t kill creativity. It will do no one any favor, including you. For many reasons.
Embrace Making Mistakes in Art
I have to tell you, I make a lot of mistakes. I always mess something up and I think it is because it is really hard for me to focus so I seem to overlook important details. During lessons, no matter if I had taught it many times before, I would most likely make a mistake during the lesson demonstration.
And that is okay.
I use this as an opportunity to revisit the Growth Mindset affirmations that I instilled in my classroom at the start of the year (and by that, I mean the first 2 months of Back to School. BTS is a process of routine building that, if done correctly, sets the tone for the year).
So I would stop and say “Well, I made a mistake. But mistakes are okay, they help me learn.”, and they I would proceed to demonstrate how to fix the mistake. If I was drawing in black oil pastel, I obviously can’t erase that, so I would turn it into something or work the lines into the subject.
I would demonstrate that I wouldn’t need a new piece of paper and have to restart, I wouldn’t meltdown or shut down and refuse to work, I wouldn’t swear or scream or break my pencil. I would acknowledge the mistake and say “Mistakes are okay, they help me learn” and move on. And then eventually, my students would say that too.
The reality is, that as an artist, I make mistakes. One time I didn’t secure a ceramic sculpture to a wall well enough and in the night, it fell off the wall onto concrete flooring, Obviously it didn’t survive and months of hard work was gone in an instance. But you know what? I will NEVER under-secure my art to walls. There will be a lot of planning going into that in future artworks and I won’t do “Hope this wall anchor works” thinking anymore. Hoping is not definite. Mistakes are opportunities to learn.
Want to teach your kids about How Artists Fix Mistakes? Click here to grab my free printable that you can glue into sketchbooks or use as a poster.
Explore Multiple Art Mediums in Art Projects
One of my favorite ways to keep kids interested and engaged while also covering a range of Art Making Processes and Techniques is through using at least 2 art mediums in every art project. They start off with one, maybe oil pastels, and they’re excited about that.
Then just as they start getting bored (because attention span is limited for kids), you change it up and bring out a different art medium (like watercolor paints) to finish it off. Suddenly, they’re as excited about the project as though they were at the beginning again. They want to watch you demo the next steps. They want to dive in and continue. Easy engagement strategy AND it meets a lot of the curricular content and art standards in a simple way. To find over 800 art lessons that use multiple art mediums in art lessons, click here.
Connect to the Elements of Art and Principles of Design in your Lessons.
Sometimes I taught art lessons that were directly focusing on and Element of Art or Principle of Design. Other times, I would focus on an Artist, Art History, Holiday or Season, or Theme.
In those other instances, I would still bring up and talk about one or two Elements of Art or Principles of Design WHILE I was using it as I was demonstrating. I tried to do this as much as possible and still do this in my video art lessons on Artastic Collective, Artastic Kids, and my YoutTube Channel. Why?
Because I am showing it in action so those VISUAL learners can see how it is used in REAL-WORLD experiences and applications. They will see it is always being used, not JUST in instances of creating “Line Art” or “Perspective Drawings”. Yes, make like art, but if you’re using like to shade in an artwork, talk about it while you’re doing it and make the thinking visible to your students so they can learn to see it and you can reinforce the learning all the time. If I am making a butterfly, I will talk about the Principle of Design Balance and types of symmetry. If I am using pattern in my background, I will acknowledge it and explain how it brings the focus of the viewer to the focal point or helps their eyes MOVE around the page.
Make thinking visible and identify the foundations of Art Making and how we arrange it VISIBLE in artworks. It will make it easier for kids to see them and then apply it to their own works. It is like test-prep (which is not my thing but you might have to do it) all the time in an effortless way.
Make sure you follow these tips to hone in and refine your ability to teach art to kids. This is my best piece of advice to give you and I think they’re so important to plant the seed of art making in kids and to avoid killing their creative thinking. We want them to flourish and LOVE art and we want them to experiment, be creative, and enjoy the creative process. And engage with the lesson! My Top 5 Tips for Teaching Art to Children and Pre-Teens: Teach Art Lessons that Incorporate Student Interests, Encourage Creativity and Experimentation, Embrace Making Mistakes, Explore Multiple Art Mediums in an Art Project, and Connect to the Elements of Art and Principles of Design. Your action item is this: write these down in your planner and follow them. Use them as your affirmations.
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