When you walk into our house, one of the first things you see is the art room. Tables covered in paint, artwork hanging on the walls, pencils and pastels and clay and glue and many other things covering the shelves. We make a lot of art. We always have.
And a lot of different types of art! From watercolour paintings, to sculptures, to macrame wall hangings, to charcoal drawings. Art art art everywhere. You get the picture. All four of our girls are very creative and I’m always amazed at what they come up with. They spend a lot of their days creating in one way or another. I share their work on Instagram often, and am frequently asked how we encourage and support this creativity. How did they get to be this way? I’ve been pondering this topic and taking note of all the things we did (and still do) to get here, and it’s time to share!
What Is Creativity?
First up, let me say, creativity is MUCH more than making art! You can be creative in many many ways, even if you’ve never picked up a paintbrush. I’m not going to talk about all the different types of creativity in one post though, or you’d be reading all day. So for the purposes of this post, I’m just talking about creativity in relation to art. Though some of the principles no doubt apply to other areas too.
Everyone Is Creative!
Every person is creative in their own way. I cannot take credit for my children’s creativity of course. It comes from inside them. But I can either support it or shut it down. Our job is not to make them creative, they already are! Instead, we are there to support their growth, encourage them, make time for their creativity, and provide the environment and tools they need. If you’ve been through school where you’ve had your creativity stifled, this can feel like a daunting task! Maybe you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, it’s not incredibly complicated and you CAN do it!
How We Encourage Our Children’s Creativity
Protect Their Freedom
You guessed it, number one on my list is ditching school (and a schooled mindset). Creativity needs freedom. Being in an environment where you are told what to do, when to do it, and judged on the results is pretty much the opposite of nurturing creativity. Who can create under those conditions? Not many people.
In our homes, we can be much more free. We can do away with time limits, testing, judgement, standards, and all the stuff that sucks the fun out of art. To create, children need the ability to get started whenever inspiration strikes, to be able to keep going for as long as they like, and to have the resources they need readily available. They need a parent who doesn’t diminish the importance of art, value academics over artistic pursuits, or limit art to after the ‘real learning’ has been done. This takes a commitment to deschooling.
These things are not too hard to provide! Everyone can make their home a place that welcomes creative expression and exploration.
An Intentional Environment
We’ve lived in different houses over the years with different setups and one of the main things I’ve noticed about what supports the most creativity and art is where the art table and materials are kept. In some houses we have lived we have had the art room in it’s own separate room, in others it is out in the living area. When it was in a separate room all that happened was that they dragged what they needed up to the dining table to be nearer to where the action was. Having it in a separate space meant it got used less.
Now, our art room is right near the kitchen, in what is supposed to be the dining area. We use the house how it works best for us, not how it’s ‘meant’ to be, and it makes such a difference! This is the room that people spend most of their time in because it’s in the middle of the house. Therefore, most of their time is spent creating.
Being able to access materials independently is very important too. We have open shelves where all the art things are kept. This makes it easy to see what you need, and to put things back in their place when you’ve finished using them too. I don’t want the kids to have to wait for me to get something for them if they feel like making something. Let’s be honest, with four children it could take a while for me to get around to everyone and by then maybe the inspiration has passed. I also don’t want to have to clean everything up by myself!
Attitude to Mess
What is your attitude to mess? Because creativity is messy! Get comfortable with it! Remember, creativity needs freedom. Feeling like you will get in trouble for making too much mess, or for leaving something out that you are still working on, limits creativity.
Now I’m not saying you can’t tell your kids not to have a paint fight in the house and spread acrylic on the walls. Obviously, there are some limits around respecting our belongings. But don’t expect things to be perfectly clean all the time either. Allow for necessary mess! And teach them how to clean it up too. Dedicate an area to art that is allowed to get messy. As you can see from our art table above, people can paint freely and not worry. It’s become an artwork of it’s own, ha!
The Right Materials
I think a variety of quality materials make all the difference. If you have a vision of some great vibrant picture in your mind it’s really uninspiring trying to get it out onto flimsy copy paper with poor quality coloured pencils. You’re just not going to be able to make your idea come to life.
At the same time, we don’t have endless funds for art supplies and if we want to allow the freedom to explore and use them without restraint, then obviously we can’t spend a fortune on artist quality supplies. If I’ve bought a super expensive bottle of paint I’m going to constantly be concerned about wastage and wanting to restrict it’s usage. That’s counterproductive to what I’m trying to do here!
We have to find a happy medium. Personally, I always buy Mont Marte brand art materials. They are really great quality, have a massive variety, and are fairly inexpensive. I don’t think there has been a product that I’ve been disappointed with yet. They are often stocked in discount stores in Australia. You can find some of our favourite art supplies here.
Some of the things we have on our art shelves include:
Drawing: pencils, markers, pens, soft pastels, brush pens, calligraphy pens, oil pastels, paint pens, charcoal, watercolour pencils.
Paint: Poster paint, acrylic paint, watercolour paint, liquid watercolours, gesso, gouache, acrylic pouring paint, fabric paint, ink, paint brushes, sponges, pallette knives, palettes, jars for washing brushes.
Sculpture: air dry clay, polymer clay, soft modelling clay, recycled materials, plaster, clay tools, wood carving tools.
Paper: plain paper, watercolour paper, coloured paper, card, canvas paper.
Craft: paddle pop sticks, pipe cleaners, matchsticks, googly eyes, glue, hot glue, mod podge, tissue paper, scissors, and other bits and pieces.
Handcraft: embroidery supplies, macrame supplies, wool and knitting needles, jewellery making supplies, beads, basket weaving supplies, wool for felting.
I’m not saying you should go out and buy ALL of these things! We have built up this supply over 12 years here, very gradually. Now and then I buy something new to add, and replace things as they run out. You don’t need to overwhelm kids with a sudden influx of everything. But adding new things every once and a while gives so many more possibilities and encourages them to try new things.
Don’t be afraid to suggest new ideas! You can give children art supplies and paper and leave them to it and maybe that will be enough. More likely though your input will make things even better. Especially once they have explored a certain medium thoroughly already. It’s time to show them new ways to use it! Supporting our kids means being involved. You do not have to be an artist or have used the materials yourself to do this. Explore and learn with them. After all, that’s what unschooling is all about.
My girls really love it when I set up a little ‘activity’ for them on the art table. They love it so much actually that they requested this year for it to be a permanent part of our daily rhythm in the mornings. This is a great opportunity to use well-known art materials in different ways. Often I will just grab two things off the shelf that I haven’t seen them use together, and some paper. For example: charcoal and acrylics, pastels and water, clay and craft materials, oil pastels and watercolours. Grab any two things and let them explore using them together. They’ve come up with some great things they may have not thought of before this way. They also like the activities from the art lab books and I use these a lot for ideas. I recommend these if you need some help in this area. I definitely don’t have endless ideas and I find these really useful and mostly pretty open-ended. There are also some great blogs out there, one of my favourites is The Artful Parent.
A little bit of planning is all it takes. I pick out some ideas for the week on a Sunday so I don’t have to think on the spot. I find this is a really great start to the day, everyone feeling free and creative! I really encourage you to give this a try! See if the kids are into it. For me, I feel like it shows my children that I’m interested in the things they like, I’m here and invested in helping them, and that their ideas and art are important to me. It’s fantastic for learning new techniques, making use of all the different mediums, and expanding their ideas about what they can create.
I am a huge believer in process art. There is no one way to do art and I wanted my children to express themselves rather than copying what they thought they should be doing. I learnt early on that they would spend much more time exploring open-ended art activities, whereas activities with a set purpose would leave them frustrated or uninterested. Even now when I set out art activities for them I am offering an idea and they take it in many different ways. It is never a step by step process where they produce identical artworks.
As they got older though, they did begin to ask for some classes. At first, I was hesitant, not wanting them to get the idea that there was a ‘right’ way to draw or paint. But, when they kept asking, I found some classes for them to try. I needn’t have worried. With a solid base of many years exploring art in their own way, they were super confident in their own abilities and ideas. I could see that they were using the classes to practice techniques they wanted to learn, and then transferring that to their own art. They use the classes as a resource to help them create the art they want. They have been really valuable for us. The girls now really enjoy art classes from Masterpiece Society. They are able to learn new things from artists with lots of experience, in their own time. My older girls (12 and 10 years old) get the most use out of this, but, the younger ones (7 and 5) also like to do some classes. I absolutely love seeing how confident they are in taking the advice of the teacher but then also going their own way because they have their own ideas too.
So, although I was wary at first, I definitely think there is a place for art classes. I am happy we focussed on process art first, but classes have become a great addition as they have gotten older too.
Talking About Art
How we talk about our children’s art is really important. It used to be thought that praise was synonymous with encouragement, but now many of us know that’s not the case. Praise can often be detrimental. It can come across as judgement. We don’t want our children coming to us for judgement, or performing to make us happy, but rather to feel within themselves when they are happy with what they have done (or even unhappy, that’s ok too!).
This is a great post about how to talk to children about their art. Basically, instead of offering empty praise like ‘good job’, ask questions and acknowledge their effort. This shows you’re really paying attention and interested, and doesn’t communicate judgement.
I also refrain from offering direction when they are creating. They don’t need to be told what to do. It’s their art, not mine! Of course I will answer questions or give thoughts if they are asking for them, but I’m not offering up my opinion about what they should do without invitation. I will however encourage them to keep going and work through mistakes by problem solving and thinking creatively, encouraging that growth mindset.
I have also talked with the girls about how they talk to each other about their art. How we don’t judge, or compare ability, or criticise. We chat about how art is subjective, how everyone does things in their own unique way, how it takes time and practice to hone skills, and how this is a safe space to create without judgement.
Display Their Art
Display your children’s art around your home! It shows them that you value it. And it’s so lovely to look at!
Make Time for Art Daily
If you want more art in your home, prioritise it! Make time to be creative every day. Show that it’s important. Write it into your schedule, ask your kids when the best time for it is.
The Power of Presence
I feel like our presence is the best encouragement there is. Children want to be seen. Really seen. Your attention shows you care. My kids will spend twice as long on anything if I am sitting next to them watching, asking questions, involved. They crave that connection and my presence helps them do the things they want to do because they don’t have to go looking for it. It’s really powerful.
Would they be as creative, or have developed their artistic skills as much if I had just bought the resources and left them to it? It’s possible. In my biased view they are pretty amazing, ha! But learning is enriched with my non-judgemental, non-controlling support. I think that’s what they deserve and to me is what unschooling is about.
This is our unschooling approach to art! We have creative, artistic, inventive children and this is how we support them. And how I love watching them create! How does it look in your home?