Art teacher, mother and grandmother Annette Gadsby shares tips and links for bringing out the artist in very young children, and explains why ‘visual literacy’ is so important
Our 4-year-old grandson’s favourite artwork is a copy of a Fra Angelico painting. I’m not sure whether it’s the gold leaf or the image and colours that attract him, but when you ask him what his favourite painting in our lounge room is, he carefully looks around and chooses that one.
At John Colet we display roughly 20 reproductions from medieval art to Contemporary and ask the child to choose one. The very young are asked. “What can you see”? and “Why did you choose that picture”? They always take a long time to choose, often carefully examining each artwork before they make their choice. It is interesting to see what they choose as it tells us something about them.
Visual Literacy is important to our understanding of the world around us. In the same way reading increases literacy and vocabulary, looking at images increases our visual literacy. It gives us a rich choice of visual images to use.
Children’s exposure to art can be achieved in many ways. One of the first things to consider are the books you give them to look at.
There are many beautiful alphabet books put out by galleries that illustrate a letter with an artwork from their gallery.
There is a great series of books on art for children by Lucy Micklethwait. She has written many art books for children of all ages. They are wonderful as they have a variety of art reproductions from all cultures and periods of art. They also have age appropriate questions and exercises to do.
There is also a wonderful of series of books “Katie and the starry night” for example, by James Mayhew, who writes stories for children about artists.
When we choose their story books, it’s good to choose a wide range of illustrations, in different styles. Talk about what’s happening in the pictures as well as reading the story.
Children are all naturally very creative beings and they will all express this creativity in different ways; making sandcastles, dancing, singing and making art works.
A very simple way to begin is collage, torn paper and gluing. The artist Matisse at the end of his life, when he could no longer draw and paint, turned to cutting shapes out of paper and making patterns. You don’t need to buy expensive papers to use, just use the paper you have around, they love tearing paper, either put the glue down for them or show them how to use a glue stick, they can gradually add some drawing.
Collect things around you, leaves from the park, packets from food to cut up and draw on.
Buy good quality pencils and crayons and paint, make play dough, and have these available for them to use. Availability is the key, then follow your child’s interests
Create a special book for them of their work. My nearly 40-year-old daughter still has a special golden book (an exercise book wrapped in gold wrapping paper) which has tracings of her hands, pressed flowers, leaf rubbings and still life drawings she did before she went to school.
Some wonderful programmes
- I took my grandson to “Bush School” at Centennial park, a 10-week outdoor programme with the rangers which involved stories, games and craft including dying from plants in the area.
- We also went to a series of Indigenous programs at the Australian Museum for preschool children involving stories, games and craft (The Australian Museum is currently closed for Renovations)
- Presently the Museum of Contemporary Art is offering creative activity adventures for littlies with Pip and Brook. They usually run preschool art activities and holiday programs.
- The Art Gallery of NSW also have online art programs and fabulous holiday and preschool programs.