A son’s fascination with diggers has led to many other farm-related and animal designs. (photo by Shula Klinger)
When our son, Joel, started to talk, most of what he said was, digger, referring to the large machines that dig earth, so I started drawing them for him. Soon, he became passionate about tractors, so I started drawing those, too – because, like you, I would bend over backwards to meet my child’s needs.
Our Joel has always known his mind. And he has always known that his mother will turn herself into a pretzel when it comes to his education. I also learned how to draw forklifts, dump trucks and specialized mining equipment: road headers, skid steers and face shovels. Essential knowledge for every pretzel-shaped mother.
After several months and hundreds of diggers later, I had a box full of cut-out vehicles. I bought colored card stock and cut out what I hoped were the last 12 diggers. I framed them in an old IKEA frame and put it in Joel’s room, intending to hang it later.
Joel had his own plans, of course. It turns out that 2-year-olds aren’t particularly worried about hanging pictures at the proper height. Instead, his picture sat on the floor where he could poke the glass, name the vehicles and chatter at length to his pictures.
Having thought of his picture as something colorful to fill a spot on his wall, I soon learned that it was a bunch of other things: a teaching aid, a prompt for language development and a favorite companion. It was a comfort, a reflection of his passions and his developing identity. And, sure, it was in his bedroom sometimes, but mainly it traveled to whichever room he was playing in. I never did hang it up.
The diggers were followed by new designs for other families, and countless hours of conversation with them about art. I learned that very young children have strong opinions about shape, color and which medium is best for their project. I learned how art appreciation plays a role in family relationships that is just as significant as the time we spend on outings or reading together. It’s spiritual time, like meditating together, or contemplating abstract ideas, from the biggest ideas to why spiders are able to climb on ceilings without falling off.
The photos I received of toddlers teaching infant siblings about their art showed me that images can be a catalyst for extraordinary reactions in even the youngest kids. I also had my mind changed about what kinds of art children wanted. When a mother asked me if I offered custom versions of my posters, I hesitated. When I realized that she wanted a copy of diggers, “but in girl colors,” I got to work.
When choosing art for our children, there is much more to the decision than meets the eye. Of course, we want the content and color scheme to appeal to our young connoisseurs. We hope that it will complement the design of the room that surrounds it. But, as we see and hear how children respond to this art, it reminds us, as parents, that our own eyes need to open as wide as theirs.
Art appreciation is a kind of literacy and it can lead to explorations of identity, of self-expression, of relationship to and with others. It can elicit feelings of pride in ownership, feelings of attachment and a sense of agency. As she looks at an image, a child’s gaze can be curious, critical, contented, peaceful, excited, inspired. A child may be solving problems, learning about the world or checking his understanding of an issue. Indeed, they have the same types of reactions as adults. Art can engage, stimulate and challenge young minds, which is why we need to take care when choosing pieces for children’s spaces.
Megan Zeni and Kelly Johnson are dedicated to creating fun, educational spaces for children. Both former teachers, their company, Room to Play, helps families make the most of their homes, to create spaces that are stimulating without being cluttered or overwhelming. “Art sets the tone in room; colors, patterns and textures can have a calming or energizing impact,” explained Zeni.
These are all elements to consider, especially as we remember that the art we’re choosing may be the last thing a child looks at as his eyes close at night. Here are some things to think about when choosing or making art for young children:
- Children have favorite colors from a very early age.
- What do they care about?
- Does the art fill a wall and strike a chord?
- Does it inspire the child to touch it, talk to it?
- Does it spark a conversation between your child and you or a sibling?
Questions to think about and ask your child, to encourage a sense of attachment and ownership of the art, include:
- What do you see? What do I see?
- Which colors do you see?
- How many…?
- Which element is the biggest? Which is the smallest?
- Should we frame it?
- Where should we hang it? Should we bother?
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver.