Mom Wants Art—Good Parenting


Dear Dr. Debbie,  My first-born just started at a day camp where he will be attending preschool in the fall. He likes it well enough, however, I notice when I pick him up at the end of the day that the other three-year-olds seem to have lots of artwork to give their parents.

Is this something I should bring up with his camp counselors or the director? My hunch is my son is kind of quiet, and if I don’t speak up for him he will miss out.

Bare Refrigerator Doors

Dear BRD,

If he is enjoying his camp experience, that should be enough. This is his opportunity to view his soon-to-be school as a place he has fun, friends, and adults that care about him. As defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an early childhood program that follows developmentally appropriate practice makes sure that ”children have fun so that they will learn.” While art activities are indeed wonderful for three-year-olds to participate in, the same benefits can be achieved through other activities also suited for this age.

Making Something Happen
Visual art enables a young child to put color on a plain piece of paper. He can use the movement of a crayon, marker, or paintbrush to create something that didn’t exist before. Perhaps with a little help from an adult, he can use tools such as scissors, a hole punch, tape, and or a stapler to combine and transform materials to make something never seen before.
But he can also make something out of blocks. Or wet sand. Or play dough. He can create a role for himself playing “house” with dolls and dishes. He can cause effects playing with tracks and trains or tracks and racecars. If there is water play available – and there certainly should be! he can explore the many ways he can make water move. Likely there are countless other materials and experiences that can give him a chance to make something happen.

Fine Motor Skills
One of the reasons that camp counselors and other teachers of three-year-olds provide time and materials for art is so that young children can develop coordination and strength in their hands and fingers. During the twelve months between a child’s third and fourth birthdays, he will progress from barely knowing how to hold a pair of scissors to being able to snip all the way across a piece of paper. He will progress from random scribbling with a clenched fist to meticulously representing an important person in his life with a crude circle, dots for eyes, and a crooked smile.

But he will also develop fine motor skills with daily routines such as dressing and eating, with digging in the sandbox, or with putting a wooden puzzle together. Any toy that entices him to pick it up and manipulate it in some way will help to develop the nerve pathways required to some day print words with a pencil. Or to thread a needle. Or to perform surgery. Or to perform a piano concerto.

Sensory Input
Various sensations occur with art experiences. There are textural differences to experience. Cardboard may be smooth or corrugated. Clay is sticky. Finger paint is slippery. Yarn is tickly. Smells (and let’s be honest, tastes) are taken in with play dough, crayons, chalk, and markers. Colors and lines, and shapes and sizes give a young artist a multitude of visual experiences. He also gains different perceptual skills between 2-dimensional media and 3-dimensional media.
Again, there are plenty of options for using his senses to perceive the world other than through art. He can see and touch picture books, blocks, and puzzles. He can hear and move with music and dance. Outside he will feel summer weather and see and hear wildlife. He will take in food experiences with all his senses.

Shapes and Colors = Literacy, Math and Science
Art lets children put things into categories, such as by colors or shapes. These conceptual distinctions help with literacy skills since letters are formed by the arrangement of shapes – lines, arcs, and circles. Words, including color names, are how we distinguish things that may be similar, such as purple, lavender, burgundy, magenta, violet, or periwinkle. Math and science skills also benefit from practice with classifying items by their shapes or colors. Geometry works with basic shapes – a rectangle can be bisected into equal triangles, etc. Classification is basic to all science fields for studying plants, animals, rocks, microbes, cloud formations, etc.
Once more, a child can benefit from any stimulating environment to discover how things are the same and different. Shapes and colors are in the architecture of buildings, the patterns in the flooring, the flowers in the garden, and the clothes on the people. Shapes and colors are in the blocks and puzzles, and the lunch boxes and the food.

New Ideas and Materials
There are plenty of new words for a three-year-old to learn through art activities, from describing the thickness of the paint to naming the materials in his collage – ribbon, yarn, denim, cotton ball, feather, lace, etc. His vocabulary can be extended with new tools and techniques as well – scrape, drag, drip, fold, press, trace, squish, snip, and on and on.
Alternatively, other kinds of activities at camp and preschool add to his vocabulary, too. Songs and stories expose him to new words and ideas. His mind is broadened in conversations with staff and peers. If, as you say, he is a quiet type, he is gaining new understandings every day from just listening and observing.

Achieving Satisfaction
While engaged in an art activity, a child challenges himself to solve problems. He asks himself: “How can I get this to stick on?” “Which color should I use next?” “What would make this look more like my cat?” During the process he decides when he has been successful. True, some triumphs are a surprise to him – “Look, the red paint dripped to the yellow and made orange!” But as he then swirls the primary colors to purposely mix them, he grins with satisfaction.
Yet again, opportunities to be proud of his skills, creations, and discoveries abound in a developmentally appropriate program. These include self-help skills such as slipping his own shoes back on after playing in the sandbox; social skills such as greeting a campmate by name; innovations such as mixing wood blocks with a sheet of cardboard to create a ramp for the garage he’s built; and enjoying a discovery such as the praying mantis he notices climbing up the tree trunk.

If you would like to display your son’s summer camp experience on the refrigerator door, why not take a picture of him doing something that he enjoys there!

Dr. Debbie

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