Creating a picture-perfect childhood

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 4, 2015

One of the best parts of parenthood, for many, is that for a few precious years the refrigerator will never be lacking in color.

Artwork created by little ones is not only a point of pride for caregivers and educators — it’s also an important part of a child’s early learning and development.

Pam Rush, owner of The Learning Experience daycare and preschool center in Shelby Township, has been integrating art into the curriculum for 25 years.

“There’s an actual arts-and-crafts time every day, and there’s also an art area they can go to during center time (playtime). So there’s always an opportunity to create throughout the day, not just on paper but with different materials, whether it’s sand or clay or whatever you might have,” said Rush.

Using different colors and materials is especially useful for art projects with very young children who are just beginning to learn about their own senses, Rush explained.

“Kids touch all sorts of different things and feel all sorts of different things and find out what you can do with different things,” she said. “Like, you can paint with different things — take a straw and blow paint around or move paint around with your fingers. We’ll even bring snow in and use snow. It’s about process versus product. You can make art out of anything.”

Art projects are one of the most effective ways for teachers to help their young students develop the fine motor skills they’ll need throughout their academic and adult lives.

Amanda Lefkof works with the Child Life Services department at Beaumont Children’s Hospital, which works to reduce the trauma and anxiety involved with hospitalization for young people. She said the hospital’s physical and occupational therapists will often come to CLS looking for fun and artsy ways that their patients can fine-tune their motor skills and fast-track their treatment.

She also explained that artwork can be used to heal not just physical ailments but also emotional ones. Artistic expressions, she said, can often be viewed as a sort of window to the soul for children who aren’t able to express themselves in words, especially in situations where they might be facing a lot of complicated feelings.

“We’re very careful not to use any leading or closed questions regarding their art if we’re trying to use it an as assessment,” said Lefkof. “If, for instance, you ask a little kid to describe what they’re drawing, it gives them the opportunity to describe what they’re trying to create. Then if they paint a blue sun and you ask them, ‘What’s different about the sun today that makes it blue?’ you’ll get some answers that maybe you were looking for.”

At the same time, creating art can help build emotions up, eliciting a sense of completion in a child, Lefkof said.

“(Psychologist) Eric Erikson’s theory says that kids kind of try to build their self-esteem by doing things on their own. Art projects are a great way to do that by experiencing that satisfaction of making art in some way,” she said.