Artistic Parenting: my journey

My first child, Allison, is very smart.  At 18 months I could show her any letter of the alphabet and she could tell me the name of the letter and the sound it made.  By three she was writing out letters and trying to spell out words.  She started reading at 4 1/2 and has been going this way ever since.  She was so bright I think I often didn't realize how little she really was.  I remember teaching her how to draw people, dinosaurs, trees, and other things.  I rarely just gave her art materials and let her explore herself.  Unfortunately, at that time, I didn't know the value of letting her explore and learn on her own in artistic and even educational ways.  Even with toys, I would sit down and play with her somewhat showing her the proper way to play and what to do with her things.  I never just gave her a toy and let her try to figure out what it could be used for.  Everything had a purpose and I gave her the formula for how to play and she was great at it.  I once read an article that said that they took a new toy and had one teacher show children how to use the toy.  Then all the children tried to use the toy in the same way as the teacher explained and they weren't very interested for very long.  In another class they told the teacher to just give the toy to the children and see what they do.  They found with the second class that the kids tried many different things with this toy and they all came up with unique and different ways to play with it.  In the end the second class was much more interested and intrigued by the toy. The moral is to let your children discover for themselves how to use and play instead of showing them what  you think is the proper way to play with toys.  Now Allison is 7 years old.  She is my least willing child to experiment with art materials.  She gets frustrated when things don't look like she intended them to.  She isn't a lost cause.  She does experiment sometimes, but I can see her hesitation often that she may get the wrong answer.  I think the way I raised her made her into a bit of a perfectionist.  She is still brilliant, but she fears not being the best or smartest.  I wish she could relax and not worry about being 100% all the time.
Here she is drawing on a turkey I made for her when she was 2 years old. I remember telling her where to put each color so that in the end the turkey looked perfect.  
It turned out to be a really cute turkey by a two year old and I remember my parents thinking it was so smart to color this way, but now I can't help but look at this and see all my directions and how well Ally did those directions.
This is Ally today.  She only draws dogs, suns, flowers, and houses.  I rarely see her try much more than that.  She is very timid to think outside the box.
My second child, James, was born artistic in so many ways.  From the youngest of age I remember him putting his trains, cars, and other toys into lines and circles.  Once at the beach he spent the entire time gathering rocks, lining them up into circle shapes, counting them, and then stacking them into sculptures.  Everything he did was in a peculiar way.  He drew with both hands.  Sometimes at the same time, sometimes at different times during the same coloring session.  He has never been good at listening to instructions so for me to tell him to draw like this or that would never have worked for him anyhow.  I soon gave up my power over him and let him just be him.  I still didn't know at that time much about letting children learn and discover on their own, but lucky for James that was the only way to let him be.  He soon developed into a Picasso-esque type artist.  Drawing people with wheels and two heads and all sort of interesting things.  I have loved his art and I call him our artist of the family.  He still doesn't draw as well as many 5 year olds in terms of drawing what he sees, but to me the emotions and lines he puts into his drawings are far more artistic than the 5 year old that draw real things.

This is James today.  After finishing this masterpiece he told me it was a series of lights that go "pchew pchew" and help the flowers to grow.  They are very important he told me.  This is how he draws.  He uses much imagination, sound effects, and he tends to make lots of patterns.  I love it.

Since having my last child I started reading and learning more about art and teaching children art.  I learned the saying, "it is about the process not the product."  This is always easier said than done.  Especially when you see so many blogs out there where children are producing such awesome things and you think, "my child draws so childlike compared to that child."  I have to remind myself as I throw out putting an activity into a post because nothing turned out very beautiful or artsy in the end that the purpose isn't to have masterpieces of art at the end, but just to let our children explore and use their imagination.  
My two very different artists raised differently but by the same mother. 
My youngest, Grace, is now a two year old.  Two year olds are unique artists.  One day they love an activity and one day they hate it.  They can also do the same activity every day and not grow board of it.  Two year old love doing the same activity with a slightly different twist to it.  They will experiment and do things in their own way.  They learn best when they are allowed to explore and discover on their own.  I have learned that each time you give them something new to explore to start small and add more later.  For example; the first time you give them a crayon, give them one piece of white paper and one black crayon.  Take all the wrapping off the crayon so they can explore all the ways to use that crayon.  Then sit back and let them go.  The first time I did this with Grace she drew two lines on the paper and then was off doing something else.   The next day I gave her the same thing and she drew a bit more.  She pressed harder on the paper.  Then she was done again.  I felt like it wasn't much or as great as it should be.  But I kept at it.  Soon she was scribbling all over the paper.  As time went on I added more colors.  She explored and explored everyday.  Then we moved on to markers, paints, chalk and so forth.  The key is not to show or explain to them what to do.  We as parents need to let them develop and learn on their own.  This will teach them independence, and joy in learning and exploring.
She still basically does lines and scribbles, but I am not going to push this baby to other things.
Grace is still very young in her art work.  She seems to be developing a bit slower than some, but it is still important to just let her do it in her own time.  I have seen other two year olds who are drawing circles.  Grace drew her first circle about a month ago and I was thrilled.  I haven't seen it one time since.  It would be easy for me to show her a circle and how to draw a sun or a stick figure, but it is really exciting to wonder when she will discover these things on her own.  I am glad to not take that adventure away from her as I did unknowingly with Allison.  It will be interesting to see how she develops as an artist.  They are all so different and we parent them all so different too.  I wonder what plays the bigger role?

Top Mommy Blogs - Mom Blog Directory


  1. I loved reading this post! I kind of did similar things with my oldest, but Maisy did it on her own early. And Mina is discovering probably with more help than she needs from her sisters. It's so hard to take a step back and just watch them. It's also difficult to not compare your child's artwork or progress to that of another child. Every child develops differently and at different ages, it's especially hard to not compare siblings though since they come from the same seed.

  2. I enjoyed this post too! I also did similar things with my oldest. I've noticed whenever I don't give so much direction and just let them create, we end up having so much more of an enjoyable experience and I love their creations so much more too! Thanks for sharing this today!

  3. Very well written and explained. Quite the same process that I've gone through myself.

  4. Loved reading this post! Have been there and done that too, and am in the process of correcting myself. I wrote about our art journey recently on the blog. Thanks for sharing:)

  5. I loved reading this post. I am really trying to let my daughter, who is 2 next month, to develop her artistic abilities as independently as possible. As a result, her projects are often so far "behind" those done by her peers, who are of course guided by their parents. She also simply won't do somethings like use glue. I try to be as relaxed about it as possible and posts like this help.

  6. Hi Laura, Thanks so much for sharing so openly about your journey and what you would have done differently with your oldest. We seem to make all our mistakes on our oldest children, but that's how we learn. I know this post will help a lot of people.

  7. Dear Laura,
    I really admire how openly and sincerely you have expressed. Not many would have the courage to admit what wrongs they did in the name of artistic parenting.

    I, too, was not as informed as I am today about letting them be, stepping back and giving creative freedom. But, then, some time into that kind of journey, I realized internally that this was not the right way. That, I am forcing myself on my child and I have no right to do that.
    I have to admit that I haven't read any books on parenting, let alone artful parenting! Only recently have I purchased a couple of books that I came to know of on other blogs. One of those is - How children Learn - by John Holt. It's a really eye opening book.
    Otherwise, I am so glad, early on in my journey of parenting, my inner critique led me in this very direction.

    I have seen from your other posts, what a talented child Allison is. She will cast away her fear (of being best each time) when she knows that she is not up against any expectations.

    Also, praising her when she dares to do something different - unlike what she usually does - will help her see that. She will be able to see that she gets praised not for what she does typically but when she dares to try something new.

  8. Sounds like you've read Young at Art, too! I swear, that book changed the way that I parent. I'm much more relaxed at it now, but for a long time I was NOT happy if someone gave my little kids a coloring page or led them through a step-by-step craft project.


I love comments. Thanks so much. Feel free to leave your blog or email info so I can get back to you.