There is such a feeling of joy in the air at our end-of-the-year Arts Celebration—the children are always so excited to paint and create alongside their parents and teachers! With the summer break coming, we have a few suggestions for feeding children’s love of imaginative self-expression and experimentation with materials—ideas to inspire them to hone their skills with both the hand and the eye.
Our first recommendation for summer art making is simply to encourage your child to make drawings about their experiences. Children usually relish creating introspective pictures about their own lives, but a gentle suggestion can get them started: their favorite activity on a trip, or what a day with their friends is like. These drawings give children the freedom to express their “me-ness,” but can also be eye-opening and revelatory for parents, offering a chance to see the world as your child experiences it.
It’s often the small, expressive details in children’s pictures that are the most telling, details whose meaning may only emerge when they talk about their drawings, sharing that Daddy has extra-long arms for hugging, or that the sparks flying from Grandma’s arms represent the noise from her stacks of bracelets. Young children have a great talent, the envy of artists like Picasso, for spontaneously inventing symbolic means for representing feeling and action. At other times, drawing can be an important emotional outlet, allowing children to express features of their inner lives and the challenges they are wrestling with that they may not have words for.
Introspective drawings are also a way for a child to explore an imaginary future self—to think not just about who they are now, but who they might want to become. In this way, art can play a crucial role in the self-defining process. Collecting these images over time is a moving way to watch your child grow up.
A captivating classic picture book that is likely to trigger a torrent of imaginative design is If I Built a House, by Chris Van Dusen. It’s the story of an 8-year-old boy named Jack who designs his own dream house; there’s a Flying Room where you can turn off gravity with a switch, a tower bedroom you exit via a spiral slide, and a living room with a ball pit and spinning chairs. The clever metered verse, like Dr. Seuss, introduces words like form, function, dome and traffic flow, and Van Dusen’s buoyant illustrations, in a retro 1970s futurist Jetsons style, are sure to enthrall children and have them rushing to draw and imagine their own fantasy homes. Even the endpapers are annotated “blueprint” drawings that will intrigue many children. It’s the perfect book to inspire visionary sandcastles, blanket forts and constructions in blocks and Lego, not to mention paintings and writings.
Our final suggestion for the summer is to look at art together. Our art teachers recommend looking closely at a small number of works and asking simply, “What do you see?” The children pored over paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe in their art lessons this year, so you might seek out her works on your next visit to New York City. (The Whitney has four of her iconic paintings on view, and MoMA and the Met also have beautiful examples.) If your child loves Maurice Sendak’s picture books, stop by the Morgan Library, which will be exhibiting Sendak’s drawings and designs for stage performances of Where the Wild Things Are and The Nutcracker starting on June 14. You can see the wild things gnash their terrible teeth and show their terrible claws! And for inspiring works in sculpture, see the giant works woven from fiber by the Indian artist Mrinalini Mukherjee at the Met Breuer. The show, which runs through September 29, is called “Phenomenal Nature,” and on weekends there are free tours just for children from 2–3 p.m.
May this be an expressive and artful summer for your family, with time for drawing, making, creating and conjuring up new worlds!