I remember the ages from 9-12 years so well because I was involved in a lot of activities, I had more responsibilities, and at some point I stopped playing pretend. I chose most of the activities I wanted to be involved in out of internal desire, like when I chose to spend my lunch breaks making pottery because I loved it! It was during this time that I began to truly love art.
This is the age when some kids will be more interested in art than others. However, parents can foster a child's love for art by understanding the different stages of art development. This understanding helps us teach our children in ways that develop their art skills, and more importantly, encourages them to love art and creativity.
The Explorer Stage
Although every child is different, there are certain "art" stages that children go through.
I call the stage from ages 9-12 the Explorer Stage. During this stage kids explore different art mediums, learn new techniques and develop a personal interest in art. They explore the lives of famous artists and how art fits into our world. And most importantly, they are exploring who they are, what they like and don't like, and how they fit into this world.
This is the stage when kids begin to understand the purpose of art and the real life application of it. If they are not taught how art is important, then it looses value and importance in their lives. When kids learn how art fits into the world, it opens up their understanding and appreciation of art, even if they don't continue to have an interest in actually creating art.
Developmentally, kids have advanced in their fine motor skills and creating art is mostly training their mind, eyes and hands to work together to get what they want in an art piece. They go from drawing stick figures, to wanting to draw more realistic drawings. This takes practice, but anyone who has the will can learn to draw.
The Explorer stage often begins the dawn of realism. Realism and reality become important in art and many aspects of Explorer's lives. Playing pretend is abandoned at some point during this stage, while reality becomes the central focus.
The Dawn of Realism Learning to create what looks real becomes important during this stage.
What art projects are appropriate for Explorers?
If an art project looks fun check if it is appropriate for your explorer by asking these questions:
1. Does it interest them? If they love karate, then it will be fun for them to draw a ninja. If they love riding horses, then an art lesson on drawing horses would be fun for them. If you pick lessons that incorporate what they love and are interested in, then the lesson will be successful. But, if it isn't something they like, they won't want to create it.
2. Does it take less than 2 hours to finish the project? Explorers can handle harder and longer lessons, but they like to see results and they can get discouraged if a project takes a very long time to complete. They need guidance to understand that it takes time and practice to see improvement and they can focus for longer than an hour, but they do need breaks.
3. Is it step-by-step and are the steps easy to understand? Kids at this stage do well with steps to tackle projects and help them understand the process of creating something great has steps in between.
4. Does it look real, cool, or have a purpose? I teach a lot of realism during ages 9-12, because the interest is there. I always ask my students what their favorite lessons are. And, it is usually something that looks realistic (like self portraits), is trending (like R2-D2 when the new Star Wars movie came out), or has a purpose (like a pottery bowl they can put stuff in).
The focus of art at the Explorer Stage should be:
Some things to be aware of during this stage..
If your child continues to be interested in art through this stage, you may just have an artist on your hands. This is the stage where kids interests start to go in many different directions and some kids will still think art is fun, while some will go off and enjoy other hobbies and activities.
During the Explorer Stage art and identity can be at odds with each other. Children are learning about who they are and sometimes children like art as part of it, and others don't for various reasons. If they do like art to be a part of who they are, it is usually because their talents stand out above their peers, they just love it, or they feel it is a safe way to express themselves.
If they don't like art as part of their identity, it may because they simple lost interest, associate it with their younger self and they want to "grow up," they are ashamed (their art isn't good enough for them), art makes them feel vulnerable, or someone labeled them artsy and they associated that with negativity. These all make me sad. The good news is that most of these can be reversed and art may become something positive for them again in the future.
Some kids just want to shove art in a dark corner to be sure it is "safe." Putting their work out for anyone to see, is tough. At some point it doesn't matter if an adult encourages them, they are looking for encouragement from the people they around the most, their friends.
Children begin to compare their work with others and copying is common. They realize that their work is an expression and can become self conscious. Criticism is devastating to a kid at this stage, especially when it comes from friends.
If art is pushed on kids at this age, they just might resent it later. The best thing to focus on is giving them the opportunity to create and respecting their choices. You can't force a kid to love art.
It is really important to encourage children to have an appreciation for the arts even if their interest is declining. They may, with instruction, find some form of art that they love and can express their individualism through. It may not be what we think either, like creating fishing flies. Yes, tying flies is considered an art.
Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know that we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs. Rather than being taugh to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others' versions of ourselves." -Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way)
I hope understanding the Explorer Stage will help you and your child choose developmentally appropriate projects that will encourage their appreciation for art. Art has certainly been a big part of my life and gives me so much joy. My hope is that all children can experience the same joy.
Part of this site is dedicated to Explorers, you can find developmentally appropriate projects, supplies, and fun stuff just for them! Come check it out!