Lauren Hodson | October 2016

What Not to Say About Art In Front of Kids

We understand that children and students are like sponges and what we say in their presence can have an impact on how they view the world.  We also know that we, as adults, should set a good example.  There is so much research out there about how to talk to kids and students about acceptance, kindness, body image, cultural awareness etc. But what about art creativity?

What adults say about creativity and their own artistic abilities or inabilities can shape how children start thinking about their own.

Sir Ken Robinson states in his TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” that “We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.”

In my experience, I have rarely seen a preschooler or early elementary student gasp in frustration and say, “I’m just not artistic.” They usually jump right into any art activity and at least give it a try.  As the student gets older, however, some of their confidence might waiver and it is up to us to help in all the ways we can. Read “Are You Wounding Artists or Fostering Them?” by Deirdre Moore.

For example, in the Stages of Drawing Development, between the ages of 8-12, students are obsessed with realism. They become easily frustrated when what they see does not naturally translate into what they create. This is a critical stage and can tip the confidence scale if we are unaware. It is important that we provide them with the added confidence they need in order for them to continue. Instead of saying, “Oh, that’s cool” try providing positive feedback with specific examples of successes.

Though these developmental stages occur no matter what, even in the most creative kids, there are things that adults can model that will lift them up instead of cementing these discouraging feelings.

Often adults do not realize how their own self-deprecating statements affect the young ears around them.

Here are some statements that I hear adults say in front of children that can unintentionally affect how they view their own creativity.

“I don’t know where he/she gets it from. His dad and I are not artistic at all. I can’t even draw a stick figure.”

Though some fascinating research has been done on artistic families and the question of heredity, usually children of artistic people are taught to speak about their abilities in a different way. Often, supplies and materials are available in their houses growing up and creative adventures are encouraged and modeled by adults. Instead of making this statement, focus on your child’s abilities and celebrate their hard work and effort.

“It’s easy for you, you’re creative.”

Being creative is not always easy. It takes hard work and effort, but it is worth it. I would also argue that many people do not realize how broad creativity can be.  Baking/Cooking, building, knitting/sewing, scrapbooking, computer programming, writing, tiling, basically anything that adults do that requires problem-solving is creative. Embrace what you love and enjoy.

“That’s about art? I could do that.”

Exactly. When talking about Art, it is everywhere and can be anything. And yes, you can do it and you should.

“Sorry, class, I can’t draw. Look at how awful that is. Can you even tell what it is?”

Teachers who draw on the board often make self-deprecating comments about their own abilities. Talking negatively about your own artwork gives license for students to freely talk negatively about their own. Model positivity.

Resisting the temptation to say these things can be tricky at first. It is so ingrained in us. But, I do believe that our students and children would feel better about their own creative journeys, missteps, and struggles if they knew they were surrounded by positive and supportive adults who modeled creative confidence.

I will leave you with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson…

Creativity is very much like literacy. We take it for granted that nearly everybody can learn to read and write. If a person can’t read or write, you don’t assume that this person is incapable of it, just that he or she hasn’t learned how to do it.”

How do you discuss things about Art with your students in order to foster creativity?

About the Author

Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.