Updated: Aug 7
I fell in love with art and art making when I was about five years old. My kindergarten teacher introduced me to the magical and transformative powers of art and from that moment on, art has been in everything I do. My love for art as a child inspired my choice to teach art to children as an adult. I wanted to give children the opportunities I didn’t have growing. My school didn’t have a proper art programme and there were no independent art schools when I was growing up and that’s what I wanted to offer to children through my work. But in order to give my students the best possible art learning experience, I had to first learn about the characteristics and abilities of each age group in terms of art making. I needed to learn what I can expect from my students so that I can provide them with the right programme that suits their ages, needs and abilities as best as I could.
I’ve been working with children, teaching them about art for the past three and half years and while that might not seem like a long time, I’ve learned a lot in that time period from my experience and research. Here, I’m sharing some of my knowledge so that parents and educators can know what to expect from each age group and hopefully, set the right learning standards for their children. I would like to point out one thing though, the information presented here is of a general nature about the abilities and expectations of each age group. We should all keep in mind that no two children are alike and their abilities and skill levels vary from one another. The most important thing to remember is that a child’s interest in making art can greatly impact their ability to progress and create beautiful artworks.
Children can start exploring art from as young age as one. However, for children to learn how to make art, starting age three is when they can learn to hold a brush and make small strokes of paint. At this age, it’s difficult for them to paint a big area of colour. Art for children ages three and four is more exploratory, so we need to be very mindful of that and set our expectations accordingly. At this young age, children enjoy the process of making art and the focus should be on this process and on allowing them to experiment with the materials as much as possible and not worry about the final results or about the children getting messy. Art at this age is like a science experiment, children will really enjoy things like mixing different colours and seeing what they get, using different materials to create prints on the surface of the paper (think sponges, legos, bubble wrap) and seeing the results. Allow them to experiment and reach their own conclusions and don’t worry about the mess, children that age love exploring and getting messy, it’s all part of the learning process.
Kindergarten children, around the age of five, will have slightly better developed motor skills and can do more in the art room. At this age, children can start to learn that drawing is the basis of a lot art, and that drawing is basically a combination of lines and shapes. They can use crayons, markers, watercolours and tempera paint to create an artwork. Kindergartners can also learn about colours and mix secondary colours from primary colours. At this age, children can also learn about, and create collage artworks, although it might be a little bit difficult for them to cut paper properly, so don’t expect a lot of details or precision in their artworks. Kindergartners can also start to learn about artists and discuss artworks, whether it’s their own or that of other artists. They can identify the subject of an artwork, and with proper guidance can learn to talk about and appreciate different forms of art. With children this age, allow them to experiment and expect, don’t expect them to use colours that resemble reality and expect a lot of familiar objects or people to show up in their artworks.
As children get older, their skills and abilities grow with them. Children in the first grade can now recognize things like line, pattern, shape and colour when they see them in an artwork. They can start using difficult materials like chalk pastels if offered to them with fewer colour choices. At this age, we’d still encourage children to draw using markers and crayons because it helps them learn to deal with mistakes and to be more fearless with their artworks and drawings. Children in the first grade can also learn about warm and cool colours and use them in their artworks. Some of the techniques children can learn at this age also include more detailed collage work and mono-printing.
In the second grade, children start to become more self confident and they can start to think ahead about their compositions and plan out their artwork before hand. They also learn to add more details to their artworks, and can start to use texture in their paintings. They can understand and demonstrate atmospheric perspective by using different colours to show far and near places (the sky would be the lightest colour, the land would be the darkest) as they can now create tints and shades of colour. Because children at that age love nature, animals and fantasies, a great way to engage them with art is to introduce them to artworks that have these themes as the subject and start a discussion; perhaps a compare and contrast on the subject or media used in the artwork. You can also start to encourage them to create original landscapes using the concept of foreground, middle-ground and background and atmospheric perspective. Allow them to use templates so they can slow down the process of art-making and can experiment with different ideas in their artworks.
I love working with young children as they constantly amaze me by their insights and abilities to learn and be creative. I love watching them experiment and be amazed by everything they learn in class and the magical powers of different art making techniques. I love watching them proudly run to their parents after class to show them everything they learned and created and their enthusiasm at the beginning of every new class as they can’t wait to know what they’re going to learn next. Watching them grow as artists, their abilities, skills and minds expand are the reasons why I love my job and why I wouldn’t trade nurturing these young artists into self confident, open minded, creative adults for anything.