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How Children Learn With Art: Fun & Easy Ideas

August 12, 2020

Drawing, scribbling and painting are simple and open-ended ways for children to express themselves creatively! But why should we encourage creative exploration and expression? It turns out that art is a great learning tool! Read on to find our how children learn with art.

Children are focused on the creative process and don’t worry about the final product until they get older—if at all. The early years (0-6 years) is a time to focus on the process; the act of creating, allowing children to fully immerse themselves in art and make the most of their learning experience.

On This Page: 

  1. Play ideas encouraging creative expression through painting and drawing! 
  2. What is my child learning when they paint, scribble or draw?
  3. How is drawing, scribbling or painting benefitting my child’s development? 
  4. Talking to children about their art.
  5. Tips for drawing, scribbling and painting at home. 
  6. What do I do with the art after? 
  7. How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years 

Play ideas encouraging creative expression through painting and drawing!

For more ways to help children learn with art, check out these 3 Messy Art Ideas to Nurture Creative Minds!

What is my child learning?

A toddler learns about mixing colours by finger painting on a large surface

Literacy Skills  

As children squish paint in their hands or hold markers with a fist, they are at the beginning stages of mimicking how to hold a pencil. These actions are strengthening the muscles in their hands and fingers that they need to eventually control a pencil when they are ready to write. 

Problem Solving Skills  

When children draw and paint, they have the opportunity to explore, experiment, and problem solve with different materials. For instance, a crayon can be used by lightly pushing on the paper, by scribbling as hard as you can, on its side to roll and smudge or on the point for thin lines. When children have the freedom to explore drawing materials independently, they start to discover how they can be manipulated to accomplish the goals they have set for themselves.  

Science Concepts  

When creating, children often wonder; they wonder what will happen when these are mixed together, what will happen to the marker if it is used this way, what will happen if they use their hand instead of the paint brush. In carrying out these little experiments, children are hypothesizing and discovering new and interesting concepts. 

How is drawing, scribbling or painting benefitting my child’s development?

A preschool aged child holds up a drawing of a fairy, demonstrating her small muscle skills

Fine Motor Development 

Your child is developing their fine motor (small muscles) skills every time they hold a piece of chalk, scribble randomly, or finger paint! As your child grows, you’ll notice their transitions from broad strokes and random scribbles to finer strokes and more controlled scribbling as their muscle manipulation continues to grow. 

Gross Motor Development 

Your child can also develop their gross motor (large muscles) skills when they draw, paint and scribble. Try standing to paint and draw instead of sitting, or use your feet to stomp around and paint to work different muscles. Gross motor development is also important for refining small muscle manipulation as well! Core strength helps children control the big muscles while they focus on the smaller ones in their fingers and hands. 

Speech and Language Development 

Drawing, scribbling and painting are great conversation starters. Start with discussing the colours and materials they used to create! This is a great opportunity to introduce words and phrases you may not use in everyday conversation. As your child gets older, ask them to tell you about their art. You may start to hear about the shapes and lines they created and how they represent certain people or objects. Eventually children may use their drawings to tell stories they’ve imagined or to reflect on memories and experiences.  

Social/Emotional Development

As children become more comfortable with drawing and painting, they will be able to use these methods as healthy outlets to express themselves and relieve stress.  

Talking to children about their art

A toddler learns how to grip a paintbrush and about cause and effect by mixing different coloured paints on a page

When talking to children about their art, it’s important to focus on what we know is there: such as the colours or materials they used. Since young children aren’t focused on the product and their experience is based on the process of creating, they aren’t concerned about what their drawing is. Try talking to your child about their artwork with statements such as:  

“You used lots of red!”  

“You made some very big strokes.” 

“I like how you used markers and crayons!”

These sorts of comments expose children to new words they may not hear in day-to-day conversation and give them the opportunity to expand on their artwork and the creative process.  

Tips for drawing, scribbling and painting at home

A child finger paints outdoors as an art activity
  1. Use water-based paint – water-based paint will come off most surfaces with soap and warm water. 
  2. Bring the art outside – If you’re worried about a mess, mess is always less stressful outdoors!
  3. Repeat and model instructions about the surfaces that markers/crayons/paint can be used on. 
  4. Diapers only – some art activities are easier to clean without having to worry about clothes! 

What do I do with the art after?

A child's art area with several paintings and drawings displayed on the wall

You may not know what to do with your child’s art, especially if they love to create new artwork often! Since children are more concerned about the process, they don’t often worry about what happens to their work when it’s done. Hold onto your favourites or any of their “firsts” (such as their first painting), and instead of letting the others pile up consider these options: 

  • Use their art for wrapping paper or greeting cards! 
  • Hang it up – there are lots of creative ways to display your child’s art in your home! The easiest is sticking it on the fridge or somewhere they can see and show off their hard work.
  • Make it into a Book – a binder is a great place to store your child’s art! You can even leave it out for them to continue adding to it or to look through when they’d like.  
  • Take a photo – The art piles up, and it can pile up fast! But if you and your child want to remember their art without it lying around any longer, take photos of it (or with your child holding it) and save the photos instead.

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years

An infographic explaining how children learn with art

Source: How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, Ministry of Education, 2014

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