Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Arts & Crafts at Home

Dear friends,

Art is one of those school subjects that often gets neglected, not only in public schools with budget cuts, but also in home schools where moms don't always feel qualified or creative.   We've been in a home school co-op for the past four years and haven't devoted much time to art education at home, though my kids are always creating their own masterpieces.  This year, now that we're doing it all at home again, I want to actually work on teaching arts & crafts more intentionally, especially as it relates to our American history studies.  It helps me to go back and review some basics on art education, so I thought you might enjoy these ideas, too. 

This article is excerpted from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.  It is part of a larger chapter on the appreciating and applying both visual and performing arts.


“All the skilled men among the workmen made the tabernacle
with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn,
with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman.” Exodus 36:8

I want my children to become proficient in the using elements of form, color and texture in various media. Part of this will come from creative freestyle exploration and “play” but that is not totally sufficient for becoming good at art. That is an acquired skill which takes practice and usually some sort of instruction, whether from a parent, a book, or a professional teacher. Barry Stebbing’s books emphasize this concept, and follow it up with good solid instruction. Nonetheless, most young children can do without intensive formal art instruction for now. While they sometimes need some pointers or a “show me how” demonstration, you don’t always need to hover over your children with a list of instructions. It’s a blast to just get to create something on your own. If they do want to try an organized project without you, there are lots of creative library books that they can check out by themselves.

Acknowledge the Creator as the Master Artist. God can be the creative force behind your art explorations. Ask him to guide your mind and your hands to glorify him! As a home educator, you have the freedom to do art projects on Biblical themes. In the Middle Ages, when most common people were unable to read the Scriptures, artisans used stained glass to communicate the truths of the faith. When I was in 4th grade, my family visited an art museum and bought a Dover stained glass style coloring book with translucent pages. I painstakingly decorated a page with a cathedral window theme, and brought it in to tape up on the classroom window since my teacher had invited each of us to display some work of art. I was informed that I would not be able to do that because it depicted a religious scene! Looking back, this seems so outrageous, even by today’s politically correct standards. A reproduction of a masterpiece of art, banned from the classroom? You, however, can honor God in your artwork anytime you want!

Start with anything that uses creativity or builds visual and motor skills. Puzzles, chunky beads, peg boards and wooden blocks are examples of this. Cuisenaire pattern blocks are simply marvelous for making pictures! Don’t worry if there is not permanent proof of a project.

Plan occasional times for instruction and planned projects. Since this can be frustrating, try to minimize the tears and crumpled up papers through a little prevention. Assure the child that the goal is not a perfect specimen, but enjoyment of the creative process. Try to keep the projects very simple, with easily available materials. You will be more inclined to pick it up and do it than if you had to run out and spend lots of money and then come home and do some elaborate concoction. You also won’t be as disappointed if things don’t work out.

Work one on one whenever possible. Group projects, even with only two children, can easily lead to conflict. Each child wants mom’s undivided attention, and doesn’t want to have to wait for the red pencil that sister is using across the table.

Teach drawing as the first foundation for the visual arts. Drawing seems to be a “fluff” skill, but it is actually quite important because it enables us to make an accurate rendering or diagram of an object or concept for someone who isn’t familiar with what we are trying to communicate to them. “He looked like this...” or “This goes here and that goes there...” Preschoolers are just now learning to control their pencils and make lines where they want them. Make a few basic shapes on paper and see if they can copy them. They may have to trace over several of them at the start, just like they do in handwriting. Talk as you go: “This is a circle. Around we go. This is a square, so let’s make the sides stand up straight.” Put shapes together to make simple objects. A triangle on top of a square makes the start of a house. A circle on a tall rectangle forms a tree. Moving on from there, a simple project for a primary grade student might be to set an item on the table, examine it carefully, and sketch it. Start with a simple contour (outline) of the object, and then try to add details such as shading or patterns. You could also try to copy a drawing that you see, perhaps tracing the outline first. Our shelves are well-stocked with basic drawing books that give step by step instructions for sketching animals and other high interest subjects. Some people might say that “copying stifles creativity” but this is how we learn lots of different subjects! Of course, no child should be confined to that. There should always be freedom to create original artworks.

Imitate art that you see. That’s how the world’s master artists learned -- by copying other great works of art until they could do their own. Try to create something in a similar style, or using the same media. Kelly-Ann Gritner-Gibbons suggests: “Your children may enjoy drawing or painting a picture, inspired by artwork from children's books or art books. If your children don’t seem very excited about the idea, take out some extra paper and get involved drawing with them! When my daughter was five, we read Beatrix Potter stories together. We discussed the illustrations, what we thought was happening based on what we observed. After a couple of days of this, my daughter pulled out paper and began drawing her own pictures of our pets (wearing clothes), engaged in human activities. The drawings are terrific!” 

Set up a regular place to do art projects, and keep your supplies near that place. At our house tidy art projects, such as every day drawing, take place at our dining room table. We keep bins of colored pencils, stencils, safety scissors, and markers nearby. If they want to make a mess with glue, clay or paints, they need to go out in the garage where we have a craft table set up. I expect them to lay down newspapers, wear an old T-shirt, and clean up afterwards. (Sigh... This doesn’t always happen!) I try to keep messy stuff out of the reach of toddlers. I hate to find rubber stamps dumped on the floor, or markers smeared on the wall! [Note in 2010: We no longer have a garage since we converted it to a bedroom.  However, we do have a craft table set up on the back porch! Use what you have!]

Display art projects in a special place. This will serve as a reminder that your child's efforts are important and appreciated. You might want to frame one for Dad’s office, or slide one into a plastic page protector mounted on your refrigerator. Of course you are going to run out of room there! When you need to archive a masterpiece, you can store it in a special Treasure Box, or in a notebook inside a page protector, or in a file folder. You can buy a plastic portfolio envelope or make one of your own with decorated poster board. I still have a whole portfolio of my high school art work in the back of my closet, and my children enjoy looking through it once in a while.

Participate in an art fair. Our support group hosts an art exhibition on our annual Promotion Night. Or, you can hold a private show of your child’s artwork, and invite family and friends. Use small display stands for framed or rigid artwork.

Suggested Art and Craft Projects: 
  • colors (the color wheel, primary and secondary colors, mixing colors to get a desired shade, what colors go well together to create a certain mood)
  • drawing -- straight lines, zig zag lines, curvy lines, dots, basic shapes, contours of items, textures, shading, etc.
  • lettering in different styles
  • painting -- many kinds!
  • collages with cut paper, small objects, or magazine pictures
  • printing with rubber stamps, potato prints, or other methods
  • rubbings to show texture of an object
  • sculpture and mobiles
  • needlework, sewing and weaving
  • paper engineering (pop up cards, slide mechanisms, etc.)
  • computerized art
  • posters and other signs for real life purposes
  • greeting cards or booklets
  • gift wrap and party decorations
  • holiday ornaments and garlands
  • toys, corn husk dolls, puppets, props, masks, and scenery
  • photography and scrap booking

 Materials and supplies to have on hand: 
  • markers, colored pencils and/or crayons
  • lots of paper: blank, colored, graph, card stock, poster board, etc.
  • plastic stencils of alphabet, numbers, shapes, animals and other simple objects
  • computer art software
  • tape, gel glue, white washable glue, glue sticks and glitter glue
  • scissors (with blunt tip for younger children)
  • finger paints, washable tempera paints, water colors, brushes, and plastic plate palette
  • rubber stamps and ink pads
  • play dough or other non-toxic clay
  • Plaster of Paris powder
  • fabric, thread, embroidery floss, buttons, sequins, large needles with blunt points
  • knitting needles, crochet hook and yarn
  • craft sticks, scraps of wood, pre-cut wood shapes, toothpicks
  • felt, stuffing, colorful fabrics
  • scrap book and supplies
  • inexpensive automatic camera and film

Basic Arts and Crafts Method Books:

  • Lamb’s Book of Art and others by Barry Stebbing (
  • How to Draw Wild Animals and other books in series (Watermill Press) -- Simple step-by-step instructions for drawing a wide variety of subjects.
  • Appreciating Art by Debbie and Darrel Trulson (Christian Liberty Press) -- Arts and crafts projects designed for elementary age home schoolers.
  • Art Fun! by Kim Solga (North Light Books) -- Lots of great projects in a colorful book!
  • Get Set... Go! series by Ruth Thompson (Children’s Press) -- Titles include: Painting, Drawing, Printing and Collage. These books are for preschool and early elementary.
  • Draw Write Now series by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer -- themed drawing and handwriting books for early elementary.
  • Start with Art: Understanding Art with Lots of Practical Step-by-Step Projects for the Young Artist series by Sue Lacey (Copper Beech Books) -- Titles include: People, Animals and Landscapes. Each page spread features a famous work of art, and gives ideas for how to use the subject or technique (prints, model, mosaic, collage, etc.) in a simple art project at home.
  • Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes -- A classic for home educators.

Do you want to read about nurturing your own creativity as a mom?  Pop on over to my ComeWeary Moms blog at read all about it!

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