Encouraging Words

by:  Peg VanLoo
art by:  Katya VanLoo – age 4

     The language we use when doing artwork with children can make the difference between their being comfortable expressing themselves or being constrained to produce images that WE find acceptable. Think about the big, colorful paintings of preschoolers and how quickly many children fall into “coloring book” drawings. When we trust children to create work that expresses their unique points of view instead of our preconceived notions, it can lead to wonderful and marvelous surprises. 

Here are some suggestions:

     “Fill the whole space,” is a good way to encourage kids to “think big”.
     Say, “That makes me feel ______ (excited, scared, peaceful, etc),” instead of, “That’s good.” It’s less judgmental and it helps the child think about his picture in a new way. 
When a child shows you her work, NEVER ask, “What is it?” “Tell me about your picture,” will get you a much more interesting reply, plus it doesn’t imply that the picture must BE something.
Help children “stretch” by asking them questions like “”I see this area of your picture is darker (more detailed, has fewer lines, etc), could you tell me about that?”  
Try to lead them into thinking about and planning what they’re doing.
     If a child asks you a question like, “What color is ____?” or “How do you draw _____?” guide them by showing them the object if you can. (I once took a bunch of kids outside and had them put their arms around a tree & pick up the leaves & look waaay up to its top. They made marvelous tree pictures after that!)
If you can’t show them, ask them questions – “Have you ever seen, held one? What was it like? What color would you like it to be?” etc.

Remember, we always want to encourage, never judge. And have fun!