How can children be self-taught in art?

by | Art, Homeschooling | 1 comment

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Question: How can children be self-taught in art?

Answer: It’s in the area of art that homeschooling can show itself to be especially valuable. Here are some of the things we have learned.

Provide children, especially those below age ten, with the space, the tools, and the time for their art work. Don’t load up their schedule with too much academic work and outside activities. They need plenty of time to develop their creativity by experimenting with art and crafts. In the main room of your home where you read to your children and spend the most time, reserve a space where your children can work on their projects. Dedicate a low shelf for your children where they can easily reach their art materials. Keep the shelf well stocked with whatever materials interest your children — good quality colored pencils, crayons, markers, paints, paper, scissors, glue, clay, wallpaper sample books, fabric sample books, matting board scraps, or sewing, knitting, and crocheting supplies. Next to this shelf, maintain a small table with chairs where your children can quietly work on their projects while you read to them. While you’re helping older children with math or science, your younger children can be working on their crafts. Some children could spend one or two hours a day on arts and crafts, while other children won’t be able to give it more than a few minutes of attention, but if you sit down and work beside them, they’ll spend more time.

Provide them with plenty of good examples. Our children primarily learned to draw by copying. They copied famous drawings and paintings, pictures out of old art-literature readers, or the McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, books from Dover Publications, or just anything we had around the house.

One of the most useful things we ever purchased for our girls was a bag of fabric scraps from a lady who did sewing and alterations. The bag cost only five dollars and was filled with scraps of silks, satins, velvets, and wools. The girls were very young at the time, and they had only elementary skills at sewing, but those first few efforts at turning the scraps into doll clothes fed their desire to learn more. They quickly passed Mother’s abilities, and eventually taught themselves tailoring and pattern making, such that now they make vintage clothing reproductions, give sewing lessons, and sew for others. This all came out of a bag of scraps. We made sure they had all of the time and the materials which they needed for their projects, and we provided the place for them to work.

The sewing machine, the art shelf, and tables were always handy and accessible for all of our children. Their projects could be left setting out until finished. Creativity can be easily discouraged by the prospect of having to put away a half finished project, then pulling everything back out and arranging it all over again. Which do you want: your house featured in Better Homes and Gardens, or your children developing skills in arts and crafts? Sure, they should tidy things up now and then — you determine how frequently — but don’t burden them with putting their projects away every day.

Homeschooling allows us the freedom to use our resources to best accommodate the natural development of our children. When we provide them with the right tools, space, time, and structure, they will develop artistic skill and creativity. They may not be another Thomas Cole or Rembrandt — but then again, they might!

Here’s a video our family made long, long ago — it shows daughter Johannah painting.

Don’t scrimp on art supplies

Once a child is ten-years-old and is showing an interest in art, provide him with good quality art supplies. Nothing is more irksome than trying to use cheap colored pencils and paint.

Don’t buy those oval cakes of watercolors made for children, unless it is something like Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Color Studio Set or Sakura 24 Assorted Watercolors Field Sketch Set. Even better are the tubes of watercolor paint like Colore Watercolor Painting Kit or Acrylic Paint Set by Crafts.

Good quality colored pencils make drawing fun and frustration-free for the young artist. In the past, we have used Prismacolor Quality Art Set and Faber-Castel 24-Piece Polychromous Colored Pencil Set. Although they weren’t commonly available when my children were young, many today use markers such as Pentel Color Pens for drawing.

Here’s an example of a copy of a classic painting — drawn with colored pencils by our daughter Johannah long, long ago.


1 Comment

  1. Megan Volmer

    I first read this ten years ago when my oldest was five. I have kept art supplies accessible and welcomed the free popsicle sticks and odds and ends that people have given me. I don’t do art projects with them, but always have plenty of glue and let them make their own projects. Oldest daughter draws occasionally, but the 13 yo draws almost daily while I read. She is getting very good. 11 yo boy uses cardboard and duct tape to make nearly anything. Swords with hilts ands yarn wrapped handles are a requested birthday gift when we go to birthday parties. He recently built the Merrimac and Monitor out of legos just looking at a picture book about the battle. My 9yo is trying to perfect her faces. She is not really good yet, but her eyes are getting better. The six year old and four year old are still int he mess making stage. Sometimes we get glue even on the floor (as that is where the little ones most often work). Four year old glued old scrap paper together and made and Bible. Of course it looked terrible, but the point is not beauty. Thank you Laurie and Harvey for giving me these great ideas to develop art in my family. And just of the record we do way more art in the winter. Spring and summer bring baby goats, more goats to milk, and other farm chores on our little acreage. I used to wish they had more time for crafts in the summer, but have learned to live more seasonally, but summer wildflowers make beautiful bouquets that 9 yo likes to deliver to neighbors. She has a real eye for beauty and arranges weeds to look beautiful. Thank you again for all your suggestions.


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