Art - What Is "Right" and Not "Right"? I Am at a Loss!!

Updated on May 29, 2013
N.M. asks from Beverly Hills, CA
21 answers

I have been trying to find literature online on what is the "optimal" age to put a child into art class, but I can't find any, so turning to wisdom of Moms out there :)

I've heard that art is good for fostering creativity and problem solving, expression of oneself, but at the same time, i do not want to start her too young... i've also heard from different people that if they start too young and learn "bad habits", like splashing paint all around as opposed to being able to take instructions and drawing within lines/boundaries, it's not good for them... others say art is all about expression and there should be no boundaries. I am at a LOSS!

My objectives are for her to really be able to find her artistic bone (if it really does exist!) without being turned off it.

FYI, my daughter is 33 months and she attends a parent-accompanied art class; she can hold a pencil/paintbrush but can't /write yet.

Thank you!!

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answers from Baton Rouge on

A toddler doesn't need art classes - she needs crayons, paper, scissors, glue, and paints, and time and space to play with them. .

16 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

When I saw this question the first time, my tough was, it's art, there is no right or wrong, especially in these postmodern times.

If you want her to find her talent, I suggest you stay away from classes until she expresses an actual interest in an art class. Otherwise, invest in supplies for the home, set up a crafting table, and let her explore. The first step is exploration of materials, and then you can be taught how to properly use them. She can do this exploring at home.

11 moms found this helpful

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answers from Austin on

Hi N. I'm A.. I have two incredibly artistic daughters who are 13 and 18. If my 18 yr. olds grades had been better she could've won an art scholarship. My 13 yr. old draws and paints just as well as my 18 yr. old. My older daughter has been drawing and painting since she could hold a crayon (about 15-16 months I believe) and she can draw just about anything she or her art teacher want. My younger daughter was the same way and then she went to daycare at about 31/2. She had some guided art work but mostly did her own thing. My daughters are planning to start a magazine when the younger graduates. The 18 yr. old developed a fabulous ability through her art to see what will make a great photo. So she will be doing the photography and the younger will do the artwork. What I am getting at with this information is that my older girl has had two years of art in school and my younger girl one year, yet they are able to accomplish a magazine and such? The point is art is about what u feel inside. Not what you are MADE to do. If you make a child do something specific with strict boundaries in art, 9 times out of 10 you will not receive their best effort.
So I would definitely say, aside from learning not to throw paint or eat crayons lol; let your daughter express herself with only gentle guidance so she learns to enjoy art. Otherwise, she will see it as a chore not as fun and relaxing as it should be. Then later if she needs help or more structured art advice enroll her with a private art teacher or art in school. However, the most important thing is encouragement even if she draws a blob praise it highly, display it prominently and let her hear you brag about her picture. This is the best encouragement a child can receive!
I hope this helps. 😄

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Hey N.,

Methinks you are overthinking this. In regard to technique, etc.
I offered my son arts materials at home (I'm a former preschool teacher) and just let him go to it. A lot of child art IS what's typically known as "messy art" (fingerpainting, large easel/large brushes/tempera paints, gobs of glue and torn paper collages, etc.).

Regarding actual art classes: don't sweat this. My son showed a pleasure and enjoyment of art when he was still little. I bought some decent watercolor paints for him (the kind you mix yourself from little bottles of color) and he had a blast-- but remember that they are still so young. His favorite thing to do was mix the colors in the rinse water and we'd end up having multiple jars of 'colored' rinse waters on the table. Kids are hands-on... giving them too much direct instruction at a young age takes the fun out of it. To me, the experience of the mixing is far more important than the result on the paper. If you are unsure what's going to be 'fun' for her, important experientially, Mary Ann Kohl has a book called "Preschool Art" with loads of great, open-ended ideas.

My son is 6 now and takes an after-school art enrichment class. Here he's learning about linoleum prints, using brayers and paints, doing prints with 'stamps' the kids made of leaves and other bits of nature they glued onto cardboard.

I think the less refined experiences are what help children determine whether or not they are actually interested and wanting to work toward a certain goal/level of ability/sense of perfectionism. Unless a child has some sensory issues (and some do-- some of my preschoolers HATED using glue for this reason), an art class will be fun no matter what. The sensory component of this is so stimulating for them, so fascinating... don't worry about developing bad habits too, too much. Paint with her and show her how paint stays on the paper, show her how you use the brush. I'd offer some of the larger-sized brushes for that age instead of those skinny watercolor brushes. (Google "waldorf wet-on-wet watercolor" if you want tips for a great way to teach your child how to hold/manipulate a brush. This works on the pincer grip and discusses brush control. You may want to wait until 3.5 or 4 to introduce this practice.)

As for 'correct technique'--nothing will turn her off faster than putting hard limits on her and teaching her a hard-and-fast "This is the right way"... Let her imagination soar. You can give feedback (instead of blanket 'that's pretty' praise) by noticing the colors she used, asking her "wow, there's a lot of red right there. Tell me about that!" sort of open-ended observations. As she develops a love for art and a desire to be more refined and specific in her creations, she will ask for help and ask "how do I?" or begin to correct herself. In our house, when the perfectionist streak began at around five for my son, we bought erasable colored pencils.:) When it began to MATTER to him was when I knew we were ready to take the next step of classes. Now he makes little comic books and is learning so much through this art form (spelling, writing, parts of stories, developing the plot, creating characters, etc.).

10 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

My question is, does she really enjoy art or is it something you always wanted to do? Just let her enjoy the activity. You are worrying too much about the proper way to do things. She is not even three!!!'

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My husband is an artist, professionally and privately. He said art classes nearly ruined him. Most artists I know, feel the same way. I never took an art class, and my husband is envious at my lack of insecurity in just simply creating. Art classes often do the opposite of what they are designed for. I am not against them, but realize they don't foster creativity. They teach technique, and you have to create within guidelines.

Get art supplies and let her go at it. Crayons, pencils, pens, markers, papers, glue, sticklers, beads, pipe cleaners, paints. Anything you can think of. That's how you foster creativity. She is a child. By nature, she IS an artist!!

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You've gotten some great responses. I'm yet another self-taught artist. I couldn't afford art classes growing up, and very little was offered in my schooling.

I used to worry that I was being left out. Not at all – I think I have a more distinctive style because I wasn't taught somebody else's version of what a good picture is. And I've been supporting myself as a fine artist and illustrator for the past 35 years, have had a few solo art shows that sold well. I really wonder if that would have happened if I had been taught "how" to draw or paint.

I agree that the purpose of art is more about self-expression and creativity, which can be encouraged but not actually taught. Especially if a child has a natural urge to draw or create, there's little you need to do besides give them the space, time, materials, and let 'em go. In younger years, your participating alongside your daughter will probably make it even more fun for her.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

I would not recommend putting her in art class. Art is good for all of the things that you listed, however all you need to do is provide different supplies and mediums and make it fun for your daughter. Play with her and encourage the fun that art has to offer, but not have expectations that she will create anything that anyone but you considers amazing... or maybe she will~

My daughter is a pretty amazing little artist and has loved drawing since she was 2. She has instinctive artistic abilities... once I asked my friend who is a wonderful graphic artist if I should put her in classes (at about age 6) and he said definitely not... they will teach her to draw on a grid and she will lose the instinctive eye and perspective that she has.

Picasso said " Every child is an artist." Give her the tools and let her explore... don't put pressure on her or she will surely lose her love for it and her creativity.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

She's not even 3.
I cannot imagine...being a kid like this, of having to feel so pressured.
What about when she is 4 or 5 or or 7 or 12 or 16?

I have a Fine Arts Degree. I grew up with parents who were artists. We had paint and a kiln and clay and all sorts of art stuff around all the time.
I never took lessons.
My siblings never did either.
And ya know, just because someone grows up with art and artistic parents and art in the home... it does not mean, that a child will be creative. Or be a super artist.
And, if someone grew up with parents that never had art in their home, and who were only very staid parents, it can also mean that their child might be a complete opposite and be, very creative artistically.
I have an uncle like that. His parents knew NOTHING about art, nor did he take art lessons. But HE had, an inherent creative talent. And he LIKES art. AND is very well known. Now. But his parents knew nothing about art and he had NO lessons in it. Until he was already an adult and enrolled himself in it.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think you're over-thinking it. I wouldn't enroll a 33-month-old in an expensive, intensive program. It's a huge commitment, both in terms of finances, time investment, and the focus expected of a young child. But there are plenty of exploratory programs in all areas that you can look into.

Why is it your goal that she find her artistic talent, even if she doesn't have it? I think it's less frustrating for children and parents if the parents have no goals other than exploration and exposure. Goodness, even in college, freshman take exploratory programs to learn about different areas of study - so they didn't have it all figured out at age 3!

I can't imagine that she would take a little class and learn to splash paint all over the place. That's an unsupervised program. But expecting her to color or paint inside the lines is a bit unrealistic at age 3. In fact, it's not particularly creative. So there's value in letting a child experience textures and colors (sensory), and to hold a paint brush (fine motor skills), and so on. But 33 months is too young to expect her to see an object or have a thought or image in mind, and then translate that to paper. She should be having fun, and you should be delighted at whatever she creates. Don't ask her what it is. It doesn't have to "be" anything! You can say, "Oh pretty! Tell me about it!" If she says "It's a tree", just say "Wow! Great!" Don't say, "Aren't trees supposed to be green? You could make this better by doing XYZ." That's how kids get turned off to activities - parents (or teachers) who expect much more and actually don't value the creativity.

I'd let her go to something like a weekly program at the library that maybe has a story followed by an arts & crafts time. She should have a chance to try different things - maybe crayons or markers, maybe some finger paint (easier than using a brush), something using other materials (sticking cotton balls or colored pompoms or googly eyes or whatever onto something with paint or even glue). She'll learn to wear a smock, put her creation on a rack to dry, and clean up her hands and materials. Those are ALL valuable and necessary skills.

The same opportunities should be offered for hearing stories, drama or puppet play, creative movement/dance, some sort of physical activity and so on. But that doesn't mean to over-schedule a child with a ton of programs at an early age - they get resentful, and it stifles creativity. Kids also need time to sit in a room with a pile of blocks, to hear music, to play outside, to collect items from nature, and so on. Collecting rocks, washing them, and painting them is just as creative as a structured class that you pay top dollar for and which results in items worthy of framing!

And your public library is a good place to start - they not only have story time and art time, but they often have children's musicians come in to perform or have puppet shows, and they generally have tons of free or discount passes to children's museums and so on. Take advantage of them. And don't feel you need to get it all done before she turns 4!!!

So consider ways to let her have a variety of experiences without feeling that you need to get her assigned to an involved series of structured programs.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

You are WAAAYYYY over thinking this. She's not even three. There are no bad habits or "wrong" techniques for a toddler/pre-schooler. Let her do what she wants, and let it be fun.

I was a serious art student through high school. Artistic kids will really show their interest and/or aptitude by elementary school, when they have enough hand to eye coordination to be able to make their hands render what their eyes or imagination sees. These are the kids who draw all day and prefer it to everything else. I took my first formal art classes when I was 8 or 9 and it was great - it introduced me to things like everything receding to a horizon line, blending colors, shading, proportions, etc. After that I didn't have any more formal training until high school. My older sister, who went to an art school for college and is a designer, didn't take any formal art classes until high school, where she boosted our high school's classes (which were excellent) with classes at our local art museum.

In any case...the kinds of lessons you're talking about are appropriate for an older child who shows her own interest in art. For a pre-schooler? What she's already doing with you sounds right. FWIW pre-school and Kindergarten are mostly art because the kids can't write yet, so most of their learning comes from drawing, coloring, etc. I didn't send any of my kids to art classes and have enough pre-school, daycare and early elementary school artworks to fill a museum.

Keep it fun!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I never really thought about it. I gave them paint and play doh and markers when they were old enough to understand it would stay on the paper/table, not on the walls, etc. but I never directed them how to use it, other than that. They just created.
They went to a few preschool,and early elementary art classes (outside of school) which were also both respectful and fun.
Being creative and destructive are not the same things at all. If a child doesn't understand that paint shouldn't go on the walls and furniture then she is not ready. If she does, then what's the problem?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

You want to turn her off to art then keep over thinking things. Let her finger paint like every other child.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Even the artistic community debates about the product itself, and whether or not a piece should be considered art. Monet, Pollack and Duchamp and more have all been accused by their era's peers of "not doing it the right way." I'm sure you will find multiple reactions to this question.

Buy your daughter a box of computer paper, other kinds of paper in different sizes, blank index cards, pencils, crayons, watercolor paints, finger paints, colored pencils, markers, stamps and an ink pad, yarn, string, pipe cleaners, and whatever else tickles your fancy at the office supply shop or craft store. Gather items from nature, like leaves, stones, pine cones, feathers, and more, and see what one can do with those items. Then, find a big table and take a piece of paper and create a picture yourself. Your daughter will mimic you. Don't criticize her work. Feel free to say, "Look at this area here. What color will you use to in this area?" This will give her ownership of what she creates.

I leave out art supplies so that whenever the mood strikes my child, which is often, she picks up some supplies and creates something. Sometimes this approach is in conflict with your expectations for tidiness in the house, so people end up deciding what is a priority in one's life.

I am surprised the art class you take with her hasn't given you guidance in this area. It seems that the class should be about this very question. My daughter's preschool focused on art as a means of expression above everything else. Perhaps find a school near you that specializes in art and ask them for advice and see if they have a weekly class.

But otherwise, just have fun.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

You're the mom, you know if she is ready to sit and patiently work on a project while in a class without being a disruption. If she's ready, then go for it.

Now I can totally tell by your post that this is your first and only child. It's not common to broadcast age in months (i.e. 33 months old) after the age of 2.

What precisely is 33 months? I had to stop and do the math. Umm...either round up to three or round to 2 1/2 years old, or maybe say 2.9....just an observation.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I think art is a very personal thing. At that age, it's really more about creativity rather than "learning" how to draw, etc.
I know our children's museum had a big art area, but it was free form.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

the 'optimal' age is set for big numbers. if you were going to open an art school you would need to know that.
but our kids are individuals and no mass data will encapsulate them.
only you know when your kid is ready.
and if you misjudge, and she doesn't yet have the focus?
try later.
see the question right before yours.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


When my kids were in day care at Kindercare - they had the Abrakadoodle art program - I enrolled my kids - they were 3 at the time - I love what they did - it was simple and they learned about an artist every week.

Please do NOT push your daughter into this. If she likes - it great - if she doesn't - ce la vie!

In the end, you are the parent. You know your child better than anyone else. She is 2 years old - almost 3 - so let her explore with a paint brush. Are you looking for her to be a Picasso or Rembrandt? If you want her to explore - GREAT! If you want her to be something she's not? not good.

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I agree with Nervy Girl.

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answers from Rochester on

I think if she has an interest sign her up for classes that are available for her age. Heck, I've seen people spend thousands of dollars on art that looks like a 3 year old made it. Yes, there is technique that is used in art, but I don't think you need to keep her from taking art classes or doing art until she can "do it right". You wouldn't stop a 3 year old child from pretending to read because he/she isn't reading the words exactly right. Or from kicking a ball because he/she isn't kicking it with perfect soccer form. Let her do art. She can learn technique when it is developmentally appropriate for her.

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answers from Los Angeles on

What makes your girl happy is what is right.
In our household they have exposure and then we ask, do you want to continue? If THEY say yes, we continue. If not, then no more lessons.
" fostering creativity and problem solving, expression of oneself" - it comes in so many different ways!!!
Relax - she's not even 3 yet!!!!

1 mom found this helpful
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