According to the national advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, an early childhood arts education can help to develop imagination, creative thinking and problem-solving skills. If your little one is a mini-Monet, set up an in-home art center to allow her to explore and experiment with an array of materials. That said, before she gets crafting, make sure you set clear rules and limits for her art center time.
While your pint-sized Picasso may want to choose her own art materials, you need to take rule out anything that might pose a safety issue. Stock your young child's art area with nontoxic, child-safe materials that are age appropriate. The Art and Creative Materials Institute certifies materials as safe and non-toxic for child use. Look for their seal of approval on the label of any crafting product that you choose. Additionally, you should make yourself aware of any items that might cause your child to choke, if accidentally ingested.
Although allowing your child to freely explore the artistic process is ideal, this may not result in the best situation possible. Letting your little one throw her paints around to her heart's content usually creates a messy house. Set rules and limits that direct your child in terms of how much mess -- if any -- is acceptable. For example, tell your preschooler that she has to wear a smock when painting or that she must keep her modeling clay on her art table (and off the floor or wall).
In the Early Childhood News article "Art in Early Childhood: Curriculum Connections", Jill Englebright Fox, Ph.D. and Stacey Berry, M.Ed., note that art often takes time. Instead of simply limiting the time that your child spends in the in-home art center, provide him with less restrictive rules. For example, instead of saying that he can only visit the art center for 30 minutes, tell him that he can play in art until 10 minutes before dinnertime. Add a countdown, either verbally or with a large digital clock, to help him understand how much time before he has before he has to clean up.
At the end of the art-making, you notice your child dropping her materials and walking away. While she may want to move on to another pursuit, make it a rule that she cleans up her craft items before playing with her dolls, going outside or doing any other activity. Give her clear directions on what you expect of her clean up routine. Toddlers and younger preschoolers may not have the ability or attention span to take care of the entire clean up, but can do simple things such as putting crayons back in a bin or placing paintbrushes in a water cup. Older preschoolers can help you rinse paintbrushes, put items back on the shelf or wipe a table with a rag.
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