When I plan for the infant toddler art group, I try to keep the mediums intentionally simple. I lay out simple experiences for several reasons, but most relevant to art group is the idea that it is as important as a community as it is for the art experience itself.
Art experiences are valuable for developing creativity and self-expression, but the impact these times can have on social and emotional development are often tossed by the wayside. Playing side-by-side, whether it’s experiencing art or building with blocks, has the potential for being the context for children learning about themselves and others.
Art at Home is Different Than Art in a Group
We have art experiences just about every day in our home. There are a few materials that are always available: crayons, paper, and of course – face paint. All others are only an ask away. Despite all these materials at her disposal at home, I think that Greysen, and now Moon, have some of their richest experiences with friends. This, in and of itself, is what spurred me to develop this playgroup.
During our most recent art group, Greysen watched, approached children familiar and new, negotiated for the possession of a bowl of watercolor, and tried to consider the personal space of a friend who prefers ample personal space. I don’t know for certain what she learned about color or the properties of water that day, but I do know that I can give her lots more time at home to learn about these things as they interest her. What I can not recreate at home are the unique experiences, skills, and ideas that other children generate when they are around art materials.
4 Things Children Can Get and Give to Friends Through Art:
1. Learning How to Use Tools- Watch any group of children paint and you are likely to see as many ways to hold a paintbrush as there are children. Seeing her peers use spray bottles gave Greysen ideas on how to handle them in ways that I never thought to show her. I don’t, for example, need two hands to carry the spray bottle.
2. Witness Other Children’s Inventiveness – Greysen makes cakes: birthday cakes, cakes with candles, chocolate cakes…. Cakes from sand, from clay, from dough, and from paper. Last week, her friend W came over and he made balls. How his ideas inspired her! At art group, she watched how her friend G used the pipettes before trying it herself.
3. Play Collaboratively – At an age when tussles over “mine,” “yours,” and “mine next” can take up the bulk of playtime, experiences that allow for toddlers to maintain ownership over a brush, or a spray bottle, while still working collaboratively can be rare. Since these art activities are process-oriented, one child may paint something, while another may paint right over it. Process art is unique in that it allows for children to simultaneously be possessive (as is age-appropriate) and work on the same thing.
4. Enthusiasm – Not every child is comfortable raking her fingers through puddles of paint. Seeing other children’s glee or inquisitiveness as their hands disappear under blue paint, as this child’s did at our group last month, may allow for more cautious children to gain a sense of cause and effect without firsthand experience.
The infant/toddler art group is one way I can create the context by which Greysen and Moon may (or may not) see other children’s ideas and hear questions around creative endeavors. How do you build community for your children? Are your communities centered around your interest? Theirs? Both?
[For this group, the sunny California weather inspired me to choose water as the unifying theme. For an estimated group of 15 children, I set up four art activities. As always, I set up something specifically for the infants – this time it was water and sponges with paper. I also set up spray bottles filled with watercolors and also offered watercolor tubes, pipettes, tissue paper, and wet chalk.]