Art is a favorite activity for most children in child care. However, a few children may be little hesitant to join in the fun. Some children don’t like the mess and don’t want to get dirty. Others may watch from the sidelines or avoid art altogether. Observing children closely will help you understand their reluctance to explore and experiment with art. The following ideas may be helpful as you work with children.
Children Who Avoid the Art Area
If given the choice, some children would rather play in the block corner or housekeeping area all day. Although children should be allowed to make some decisions about where they will play, every child should have experience with a variety of different activities.
- Offer an art activity that includes something the child really enjoys. If you have a child who loves cars but doesn’t touch creative art, plan a “Roll A Line Design” art activity. Use small toy cars to dip in paint and roll across paper to make a design. Say, “Jimmy, I have a special surprise in the art center today. I want you to try this new activity. Wait until you see what we get to do!” Starting with something familiar often encourages art avoiders to join in.
- Rotate small groups children through different learning centers or activities. For example, say, “Everyone wearing blue gets to go to the art activity. If you aren’t wearing blue, you get to go outside to play. After 15 minutes, we will switch and everyone wearing blue will go outside while the others have a turn at art.” If Rosa still refuses, say, “Rosa, today I want you to try at least one art activity.” Guide Rosa to the art area and help her explore several options.
Children Who Refuse to Try
Sometimes children will stand close by and watch, but will not try the creative art activity. You may need to find ways to help them take that first step.
- Model and give step-by-step instructions. Gently encourage the child to give it a try. Stay by the child’s side and say, “Anna, I saved a special place for you. If you would like, I’ll stay with you and get you started. I’ll dip the brush in the glue and put a drip of glue on this paper. Now you choose a piece of Styrofoam to drop on top of the glue. Now you take over. I know you can finish on your own.”
- Provide some alone time. Some children just need a chance to try some things on their own. Find a way to allow the child some space and time to quietly explore their own creativity.
- Pair up the child with a buddy. Some children are more comfortable exploring with a friend. Two children can mix paint colors together, draw outlines of each others hands, or make paper bag puppets.
Children Who Do Not Like the Sensation of Messy or Sticky Hands
Some children are extremely sensitive to touch and the way things “feel” against their skin. Some children may throw temper fits if pushed to do something that doesn’t “feel right”.
- Provide a variety of materials for each activity.Children who may not feel comfortable finger painting, may be just fine painting with a brush. Some children find play dough great fun, others would rather draw and cut with scissors.
- Recognize that different senses affect children in different ways. Some children react negatively to strong smells. Other children are sensitive to sounds or touch. Be flexible, provide options and never force a child to do an activity they aren’t comfortable with.
Children Who are Fearful of Getting Messy
Some children may come from homes where they are discouraged from getting dirty. They may have been punished for soiling their clothes, playing with their food, or walking in mud puddles. Ocassionaly children come to school dressed in their best outfits with a warning to stay clean. Families with limited ability to wash, clean or purchase clothes are often greatly dismayed to find their child has accidently soiled clothes with yellow paint.
- Educate parents about the importance of play and trying out new activities. Encourage parents to send their children appropriately dressed for dirty and messy work. Be sure to explain the importance of art, while also expressing your understanding of their viewpoint (i.e. some parents feel that their child’s appearance is a direct reflection on their parenting skills).
- Have a ready supply of smocks or aprons available. Make putting on a smock to protect clothing the first step in any messy art activity. You can also ask parents to bring an old sweatshirt to school. Cut off the sleeves so that they are the right length, and have the child put on this sweatshirt before beginning artwork. Reassure children that they will not get in trouble for getting messy. You might say, “Katie, your parents know that we paint at school and want you to enjoy it.” Help children who spill get cleaned up before pick-up time.
- Try having art activities available outside on swimsuit days. Children can enjoy the art activity and then run through the sprinklers to get clean before putting their clothes back on.
For More Information
To learn more about children’s art, and ways to include art in the early childhood curriculum, check out the section on Art in Child Care, or take a look at following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles.