Category Archives: Parent Education

Art Education Information for Parents

Favorite Vocabulary Words

Amateur—French origin meaning “lover of” reflects a voluntary motivation to work as a result of personal passion for a particular activity

Our studio is a place for amateurs of all ages and skill levels.

Atelier—an artists’ studio or workroom

Our work is inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  In Reggio-inspired schools, the atelier is a resource and a center for expressing learning through the languages of materials.

Culture—“The word culture has  long been used in arts education, largely as a justification for bringing kids into art.  In the 21st century the word has connotations of elitism and privilege…the original etymological meaning of the word culture is closer to agriculture….the ancient meaning of culture is the medium in which we grow…” (Booth, E., 2008 quoted from AIMprint: New Relationships in the Arts and Learning)

We want to see students immersed in culture in a way that is relevant to their lives.  Having the opportunity to be creators themselves and to express ideas through artistic materials provides a way to deepen understanding and connections to others.

Documentation—the verb, “to document,” comes from the latin root, docere, meaning “to teach” 

We use documentation in the studio in the form of photos and notes to reflect on the children’s process and their learning.  Viewing the photos of their work allows us to deepen the dialogue with children and families; children teach us while sharing their discoveries and stories through the use of art materials.




The Home Studio – Begin with Drawing

The Home Studio – Begin with Drawing

by Kathryn Horn Coneway

Art at the Center is inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  Reggio schools have an atelier, a studio that is a resource and center of learning for the teachers, students and families in that school.  The classrooms each have a mini-atelier, a space in the classroom where materials from the studio are brought into the everyday life of the classroom and are available to the children to continue their explorations and work individually and in small groups.  It is our goal to be a center for art and learning for the community and our hope that this will extend into the homes of our students, inspiring mini-ateliers that might take the form of a family art night or a desk in the family room dedicated to storage of art materials and display of projects. 
The idea of doing art with young kids, particularly at home can seem intimidating.  It is often nice to get started with the benefit of instructors, other parents and kids and the dedicated space of the studio.  I like to point out to people that when they visit the studio there is not a lot of paint splattered on the walls or floors and after the first few sessions, children understand that paint is for paper, clay needs to be on the table or in the hand and materials each have certain uses and care required. 

In a teaching and learning model that focuses on the process, procedures for setting up, caring for materials and cleaning up are an important part of that process.  Professional artists go through these procedures each day working in their studios and we try to model that in our work.  Letting kids be a part of the set up, clean up and care of their materials gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility and helps to set up a space for them to be successful. 

In thinking about making art at home, places to store and use materials and if necessary covers for furniture and floors are part of the process.  When buying materials, think ahead about how you will set up and clean up a work space for that material.  If the material is too messy for your comfort level or you feel a need to hover over your child’s work to prevent spills, the process will not be fun for either of you.  The goal is to develop procedures for using materials that will minimize mess and create a setting in which your child can work with increasing independence. 

Open-ended materials are best; the simpler the better. For this entry, we will focus on drawing at home.  I prefer to say drawing instead of coloring because it connects a child’s activity to an artist’s process and implies a more intentional activity.  Even very young children will make meaning with their drawings; write down the stories they share about their work to help both of you remember.

Start by drawing with crayons, offering different sizes, colors and textures of paper.  The quality of the crayons is important because better crayons will have more pigment and make a stronger, more satisfying line, especially for little hands.  Once kids are beyond putting things in their mouths, oil pastels are also a nice choice for a crayon; they make a strong line and colors can be layered and blended.  When introducing a material try it out with your kids, notice the variety of marks made depending on the angle and pressure of the crayon.  Markers are very satisfying for young children because they make a bright mark.  Sit with young children to remind them to keep markers on the paper; start with the washable kind but use real markers.  This teaches young children about an artists tool and its appropriate use.  For young children, large paper can be placed on the floor or taped to the wall. 

If children begin to have a routine of art time in their day or week, their interaction with materials will deepen and grow over time.  Repeatedly using the same materials is more likely to allow children to gain a sense of mastery over that material and what it can do, leading to the joys of expressing themselves with that material.  The child who draws with markers twice a week at the kitchen table is going to build confidence and begin to express ideas through his or her drawing.  With the abundance of products marketed for young children’s arts and crafts, it can be tempting to try glitter glue one week, puffy paint the next, experimenting with different products at each sitting.  This approach becomes more about the product and less about the child.  Simpler materials encourage greater creativity from children.    

In families with children of different ages, drawing together at the table can be a good way to model use of materials for younger siblings.  Taking time to work alongside your children encourages them to engage in their work for longer periods of time.  You can see their process and be available for technical assistance. 

Creating with Kids: Talking about Art

Creating with Kids: Talking about Art


by Kathryn Horn Coneway


As an art teacher, I am thrilled when parents linger at drop off and pick up and want to see their children’s art work and learn about the studio where we work.  The children enjoy sharing and my co-teacher and I enjoy talking with parents about what they have heard at home about the work we do in the studio.  This discussion helps us all to reflect on the process and the learning taking place through working with art materials.  In our studio, the work the children do is displayed at the studio so there is not a product going home each day; at home discussions tend to focus on the children’s stories and photos we send of their process working in the studio.  Often when parents visit they are curious to see the products; I listen carefully as their child points out his or her creations and the parent remarks, “good job” and “isn’t that beautiful,” all positive and interested but very general compliments on the child’s products.  Somehow, once they are together in front of the products displayed on the wall the discussion becomes more difficult.  I think of how few of us have had opportunities to really talk about visual art.  Many people feel they are not artists or not educated about art and therefore not really “qualified” to talk about it.  Parents want to be encouraging and supportive but may be missing an opportunity for deeper connection and understanding when they simply compliment their child. 

In his article, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!””

Alfie Kohn argues against the over use of generalized positive praise.  He argues that this sort of praise can be manipulating of children and can cause them to become too dependent on praise and to lose the sense of doing things for the intrinsic joy of the act itself.  Additionally, rather than increasing their interest and achievement, this sort of praise can actually cause children to lose interest and achieve less in a given area because they feel they have already done a “good job.” 

In observing parents interacting with children in an art studio, it seems to me that parents find joy in their children’s creations and want to be a part of that and share with their child.  However many have not had practice talking about art so they rely on generalized positive comments which may come to frustrate children who feel that the deeper process they engaged in is missed by “isn’t that beautiful.”  The challenge is finding the right words to foster and encourage that creativity and to find a new language to talk about art with our kids.  A good starting point is “tell me about your picture” or simply saying nothing at all, pause a little longer than is comfortable while just looking and see what your child tells you.   

Similarly when working as a family around the kitchen table listen and observe and see what your kids say and do to fill that silence.  Even an open-ended question like “what are you going to make?” can be disruptive to a child engaged in the process of making.  It puts the focus on what the result will be rather than on the process.  Instead, notice qualities of the materials and comment on what you see the children doing with them.  When children are working there is a fine balance to finding the right amount of adult attention.  As soon as mom gets on the phone and her attention is distracted, someone gets inspired to paint the carpet.  On the other hand, hovering over your child and commenting too much while they work can stifle creativity too.  A good approach is to work with your children, either in the same media or maybe just taking notes on their process with pencil and paper; sit at the table with them but have your own task.  Thus you are engaged enough in your own activity to give them their space but attentive enough to be a part of their process.

Whether working with your children or looking at the results, practice your skills as an observer and say what you saw.  Instead of “what a pretty picture” tell your child how much you like all the blue they used.  Notice the kinds of lines (straight, curvy, squiggly) in a drawing or the colors used in a painting.  If you were present while they were creating, say something you noticed about the process, “It was interesting to me how you started with this mouse in the middle and then thought of all these details to add to give him an environment.”  Practice asking open ended questions: what do you like best in this picture?  What was the hardest part to do?  What did you do first, second?  What else could you add?  This opens up for your child to tell you more about their ideas and process in creating. 

Ask open-ended questions but encourage kids to be specific in their responses.  So if you ask them what they like best and they say the flower because it is beautiful, ask what is beautiful about it, the color? the shape?  This can also be a good tactic as children become more sensitive to the opinions of their peers or if children begin comparing their work to that of others.  When a child reports that another child is the “best artist” or always has “the most beautiful work” in the class, press them to find out specifically what they think makes that work the best and most beautiful.  In this way they can develop critical thinking skills and shift the focus from competition for the best to noticing specific attributes that are appealing and work unique. 

Talking about art takes time.  The processing seems to be slower because we are shifting back and forth from the visual mode of looking (right brain) to the language mode of speaking (left brain).  Take time to look and listen with your children when they are working with materials and when they bring their creations to share with you.  One of the wonderful things about children and art is the desire to share the product; “look what I made!” invites interaction, discussion and connection.  Also share your creative interests with your kids and let them know what it is you enjoy about your process whether it is cooking, gardening, sewing or writing; you may find family members express their creativity in different ways but can talk about the similarities in their process.  How do you get started?  What do you do when you get frustrated?  Do you prefer to work alone or with others around?  Sharing your process with your children can help them reflect on their own process.  The problem solving and creative thinking you talk about can then be transferred to other areas of work and learning.