Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The lesson question

At my 5-year-old's annual check-up the other day, the doctor asked if he was taking any art or music classes. I mentioned that he quite likes to draw (my office paper and pens walk off with regular frequency; I later discover when hunting for them that he's written and illustrated a book). She suggested that I enroll him in an art class at a local arts center.

I have to say, I am torn. I've been reading and writing about talent development for years. Many readers of this blog have children with prodigious math or music talents. Part of developing those talents has been exposing the children to adults who can help them learn how to get better, early on.

But I also suspect that most kid art classes for 5-year-olds will be about encouraging creativity, or telling him to draw certain things. And he doesn't need grown-ups encouraging him to be creative or draw certain things. He draws whatever he wants right now and comes up with rather interesting ideas. He's in the process of discovering the concept of perspective ("You can't see my legs in this picture, mommy, because I'm behind the elephant") and setting ("You can see I'm in Arizona because of the cactus.") Right now he's drawing because he loves it. I'm worried that turning it into something you do on Mondays at 4 will undermine this intrinsic motivation.

Yet, like I said, I'm torn. And classes might introduce him to other types of art (sculpture, painting) that we don't do a lot of at home.

How have you decided to enroll your children in classes or lessons? Do you think it was a good idea?

(Cross posted at


Jude said...

My rule of thumb for classes for my kids was whether I'd be able to introduce them to something that otherwise they wouldn't be able to learn. Music lessons? Nope, I play 4 instruments, so I just made sure they practiced when they joined band in grade 5. I wouldn't have had my kid take a straight art class at age 5, but I put all three of them in pottery. They took archery and tennis, and my daughter took dance. But it was more along the lines of an exploratory venture. My daughter still likes to dance, and is taking a couple of classes now as an adult. One son is majoring in music. He never drew when he was little, but the one who drew everything constantly dropped it completely one day, and that was that. So no, I don't think you need to stick your kid in a class for art, but my opinion is no more valid than that of your doctor.

Kristi Lea said...

I understand. I've got a 5-year old who is creating art projects at home daily. He comes up with crazy/complicated stuff, like the day he made a "bag" out of construction paper, complete with a pocket and a plastic handle he rescued from a box in the recycle bin. I have to hide the staplers and keep a private reserve of tape because he tends to blow through office supplies.

Like you, I would hesitate to put him in an art class because what he needs is an art studio, not a directed class.

Our plan since we moved last year has been to set up a designated area of the basement with the kids art supplies where they can paint or do playdough or color or whatever without harming the rest of the house (playdough on "hand-scraped" hardwood floors is not a fun combination). We sort of have a corner set aside, but the lighting isn't great (and there aren't outlets because its unfinished space), and there's no sink for cleanup. And the space needs video surveillance so if I walk away, I don't return to find a marker mural that extends across the entire concrete floor and up the walls (ahem).

Nother Barb said...

Both my kids loved Legos, and we have every Lego set ever made (it seems), so you might wonder why I signed them up for a park district Lego class. Well, the teacher took them in new directions: making mosaics, different ways to build sturdy towers and using them to build other objects, incorporating designs in walls, etc. (in addition to free play). Adam Reed Tucker, who designs much of the Architecture series, came once and they did architectural stuff. Now my younger, the math-lover, likes making vignettes.

What is the art class like in your son's kindergarten? Observe it sometime. Maybe it's enough for him. Visit a class at the local art center, with or without him, see what they do. If it looks fun and fits your schedules (you, kindergartner, and baby), why not? Bonus: you don't have to clean up after him once a week! The art class would only go into December, right? It might be fun. If he doesn't enjoy it, don't sign up again. Or even, drop out.

Laura Vanderkam said...

@Nother Barb - it is true that none of these things have to be forever. We can try something, and if we don't like it, quit. That was kind of our approach with soccer!

Calee said...

We do ballet for the physical discipline and I wanted my daughter to do something she doesn't always love and see the results after a year. She added choir this year because my sister wanted to give it as a gift and I like that even Kindergarteners can learn to stand up straight and sing clearly. She begs for more art classes but I chose her private school partially based on their art program. Here's the true cost of lessons: the energy spent wrangling the little one during the class !

Anonymous said...

To me, art classes sound like they could be a lot of fun for a kid, and a great learning opportunity. Some people seem to have this idea that enrolling a child in a directed class will somehow squash their creativity or enjoyment of the activity, but I don't think so. A class may be able to teach him things he would have never learned on his own. And if you're not sure whether he would like it, you could always ask him.

zamaokaasan said...

I am not convinced it is important to enroll a 5 year old in anything. But I don't think people would say, " i don't want to enroll my child in science class because she is already doing experiments at home.' there are techniques to every medium.

Plus There is such a wide array of art. Your 5 year old can't possibly have been exposed to it all. i saw a pre-school class do an AMAZING study of Matisse. I have seen seven year olds experiment with wet versus dry watercolor techniques...

Plus art is a great way to teach follow through and to teach a kid the importance of finishing something. It also provides a great opportunity to learn how to take a critigue. (probably not in a five year old lass.)

Lisa Van Gemert said...

I think we all understand why you'd be torn - do we want to turn everything into a task or pursuit? Can children just play? Especially five-year-old children? The one thing I would recommend is Mona Brooks' book "Drawing with Children." I used this book for art "curriculum" when I was homeschooling, and it never crossed the line from fun to work, which is what I wanted to avoid.