Tag: teaching art

Coloring outside the lines is not all it is cracked up to be.

Child Drawing - Coloring outside the lines“Coloring Outside the Lines” has become a rallying call phrase to all of those who break the standard and do not follow established norms. The suggestion is that coloring outside the lines, as in children’s coloring books, is an admirable thing, and that trying to get children to color inside the lines is a bad thing.

Not so fast.

Although I admire the spirit behind the “Coloring Outside the Lines” concept, I also recognize that children developing skills around coloring is more complicated than that.

I have been a Teaching Artist for preschoolers for the better part of a year now, and seeing different children attempting to master fine motor skills and reasoning skills, it compels me to take pause with the rallying call.

We need to teach children these skills, because the mastery of holding a crayon and learning to use it to represent things in our daily lives is important foundational learning.

We need not admonish teachers or the “establishment” for educating children in this endeavor. They are required to teach these skills for a reason. Children who do not develop good fine motor skills struggle in many other areas of education. Following directions and learning to cooperate with expectations are also important skills. Children need to be able to color within the lines in order to move forward in their education.

I am not sure where the rallying call came from. My guess is that it originated with famous people who were creative prodigies that demonstrated creative pursuits beyond their childhood teachers’ understanding, and thus felt shamed for their unwillingness to settle for simple fine motor skills. John Lennon was known to be a creative prodigy who demonstrated a range of behavioral difficulties in school because his teachers did not know how to support his creativity.

I think the key here is that we need to support each child as we teach them skills. Shame is not a good teaching tool for any skill. Children need to learn to master skills that may not be natural for them without feeling bad about themselves. Support and positive guidance can help them try things that are hard without shaming.

It is not an all or nothing thing, however. Although children need to learn things that are tough for them, they also need to explore their natural proclivities. There is a balance between creative exploration and skill development. The two need to go hand in hand.

As we mature and become adults, we often lose that creative exploration side of the balance, and feel like we are missing something. We have focused so much on skill mastery and “following the rules”, we lose sight of personal growth and individuality. It is this phase of life where the “coloring outside the lines” call has resonance.

If you have spent your life trying to be obedient, following all the rules, and “coloring inside the lines”, you can reach a point where you feel that you have lost a sense of self. It is here where you need to try different things and break out of confining activities that no longer have purpose. Coloring outside the lines can be liberating at this point.

The important thing to remember is that, despite certain activities being important to our development as human beings, they may lose their purpose as we grow into new phases of our lives. Freeing ourselves from them can be as important as mastering them were in our youth.

Regardless of whether we color in the lines or not, we are important and of worth.

When I was a child, I loved to color in coloring books. I enjoyed coloring inside the lines, and I enjoyed the process of finding ways to make my pictures unique, despite their uniformity. My classmates may have had the same picture to color, but mine always had to be more vibrant and more colorful. I also enjoyed drawing my own pictures and coloring them.

I was identified early on as a creative child. I learned to do as I was expected, but I was also encouraged to do more than just that. My family and my teachers encouraged me artistically and helped me find ways to explore life through creative activities. it is that kind of support, I believe, that all children need, whether they are artistic or not.

American Eskimo Spitz dog pet portraitI rely on that early learning each time I paint the portrait of someone’s pet. Although I follow certain tried and true paths in my process, I also explore each painting as a new adventure. I both follow and break rules as I go. I defy standards, using a painting technique that diverges from what most artists do, but I only do that because I explored and found different ways to do things to meet my goals.

I couldn’t do that without having a basic understanding of the rules in the first place.

Each time I go into a classroom to teach, I always challenge myself to be supportive as I encourage children to try new skills and attempt new strategies. I feel the balance as I engage with each child, guiding them in following directions to do the task at hand, yet also giving them a sense of value and self worth regardless of accomplishment. I find that they appreciate their accomplishments more this way than if I were to shame them for not following a direction.

I think I do the same thing with myself as I paint a painting.

Striking that balance is what the adventure of art, and life, is all about.

Life is an Adventure!




“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”― Benjamin Franklin

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”― Benjamin Franklin

arts integration community projectWhen I was a mental health therapist, I used this phrase a lot. Helping individuals overcome emotional distress required learning, and it required the sort of learning that involved individuals in experiences that brought about life change. Telling and showing people the steps to change just wasn’t enough.

I left my 20-year career as a mental health therapist a few years ago, choosing a career of creating art full time instead. Lately, however, the teacher in me has re-emerged. Through the ArtsinStark SmArts program and the Massillon Museum Artful Living program, I have been visiting a variety of classrooms across Stark County Ohio, bringing Arts Integration programming to local schools.

Arts Integration is not traditional arts education. Instead of teaching Art as a discipline of its own, Arts Integration uses creative activities to enhance learning in other academic disciplines such as math, science, social studies, language arts, and other subjects. By involving students in creative activities around other learning concepts, they develop a deeper understanding of the traditional academic curricula, and their interest is piqued so that they have a desire to explore further learning.

It is not just another clever approach to teaching. As concerns rise about academic decline among American youth, we need to find ways to educate students in more effective and meaningful ways. Also, creative exploration is becoming essential to future career success for today’s students. Jobs that once required linear thinking and rote activity have either gone overseas or have been replaced by machines, leaving non-creative thinkers with few career options.

We need to be teaching youth to think creatively as they learn academics, or they will be unprepared for their role in the future workforce.

Research has shown that students whose educational experiences include arts integration tend to perform better on many levels, and they demonstrate more confidence and pride in their education.  It makes sense when you think about it.

Arts Integration - Maya mural drawingShowing 5th grade social studies students photos of a Mayan mural in a book or on a classroom smart board might intrigue a student or two, but the interest is likely to be passing. Involve the entire class in drawing Mayan images to create their own mural, however, compels them to: explore the purposes behind the stylistic designs used by the Mayans; discuss the development of early civilizations depicted through their enduring creative arts; and ponder the importance of  ancient history to present day culture.

Which sounds more educational to you?

Arts-integration-preschool-paper-treesEarly learning, too, is enhanced through artistic experience. Many preschool students have yet to develop language and fine motor skills that are needed as they advance into more challenging educational concepts, and the arts can be an important learning tool for them.

Very simple arts projects built around preschool objectives can help them learn essential concepts that help them build a foundation for future learning.

Art and creativity in academic programming is very important. Integrating the arts into daily school programming teaches children to think in creative ways beyond the simple remembering of facts and figures. We want children to be able to think, and not just be able to recite information on tests, yet our school curriculums seem to have taken to doing just the opposite in recent years.

The politicized atmosphere around public education has led to the most creative and effective programming in schools being pushed out. Arts programming often is the first to be cut when school funding is scrutinized.

You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them. – Dr. Ken Robinson

I am of the opinion that arts education as a separate discipline is an important element of all public and private schools. All children need to learn about the arts to make their education complete and well rounded. I also am of the opinion that the arts should extend beyond the art room and enter into the math, science, social studies, etc. classrooms to enhance learning in all disciplines.

Most schools do not have either. We need to change that.

I am glad that I live in a community that recognizes the need for supplementing the public school system with auxiliary services in the arts. I wish that auxiliary services were not needed and that regular curricula included arts integration. But that is not the world I live in presently.

Because of donations and grant funding, the ArtsinStark SmArts program and the Massillon Museum Artful Living program have been able to hire Teaching Artists to bring Arts Integration to classrooms of all levels across Stark County. I consider it to be a privilege, honor, and huge responsibility to be a part of both programs.

I have learned much, myself, through working with some fabulous teachers, administrators and arts professionals. We all learn through the process of teaching tomorrow’s leaders, and that brings hope for a brighter future for all.

As I have worked with the aforementioned 5th grade social studies class, I have learned about the development of civilization in general from both a youthful and adult perspective. Looking at the rise of ancient civilizations through the eyes of youngsters learning history for the first time, and looking back as a middle aged woman, pondering the cultural shifts occurring in our modern world, has been very intriguing for me.

It is time that we very boldly recognize that art is not just for artists. Arts programming is not simply for preparing artists for careers in the arts. The arts are for preparing ALL students to think in ways that can better the world in which they live.

The arts have been the mark of history for centuries, and they are the light of our future. How can we ensure that creative programming is a part of all schools that educate our most precious resource – our children? How can we take that extra step to involve children in their education so that they can learn?

How can we NOT?

Life is an Adventure!