Teaching relatively young children can be a daunting prospect. As artists, we have an advantage because it’s easy to work in audio-visual aids and to make the lesson engaging and exciting, but there are still a number of challenges to be faced. Some are the same as those we’ve discussed before on this blog when talking about mentoring in general, but others are specific to the age of those you’re teaching. Like any other task, it comes with its own unique set of problems. But none are insurmountable – you just need to have the right attitude and want to be working with the children.
I’ve heard a number of artists say how much they would like to be involved with helping youngsters express themselves and explore the world through art, but that they are worried about whether they could really do it or not. If you’re in that position, don’t be put off – go for it! There’s so much to be gained from diving in – both for the children concerned and for yourself. You can really make an enormous difference to a child’s life by introducing them to art in the right way, and they in turn can help to inspire and invigorate you. To help you get started, here are 7 top tips to bear in mind.
1) Don’t talk down; just make it simple. Children are less knowledgeable than adults, but they’re not stupid. They will often surprise you with their intelligence and observational abilities. If you talk to them as if they were very slow or simple-minded, they will pick up on it and resent it. You don’t need to dumb it down – just use simple words, colorful examples, and ask questions to see if they’re following you. If not, you can always explain it another way.
2) Show you’re excited. This is something we’re not always willing to do with an adult audience, because it can seem naive or feel embarrassing. Don’t take that approach with kids – they’ll feel your energy and enthusiasm and respond to it, but only if you show it. Letting them know that what they’re learning and doing is fun and exciting will help them concentrate, and probably make whatever they learn more likely to stay with them afterwards. Plus, you and they will both have more fun that way!
3) Different (brush)strokes for different folks. Not every child works in the same way, just as not every adult or every artist works alike. Make allowance for the fact that they will work at different paces, and need different things explained more clearly. Similarly, one child may respond better to one medium while another may prefer an alternative one. Make sure that wherever possible you have a range available, whether it be of colors, mediums or subjects. Don’t expect them each to produce the same result – let them express their individuality and celebrate that fact with them.
4) If possible, give personal attention. This isn’t always practical, so you have to judge according to the situation, but where you can do it, giving each child personal attention can make a big difference. They get to know that you’re listening, and problems that may not be raised in front of a group can be mentioned in face-to-face time. However, where you can’t do this, do try to be attentive to each one during group time – try to keep an eye on their faces and see if one person is clearly not understanding an instruction, or if another would like you to discuss something in more detail. You can deal with it briefly as part of the group – after all, often a question one person has, several others will want answered too.
5) Don’t stress. Sometimes people put too much thought into this kind of class beforehand, and it can make them worried about how it will be. Don’t over-think and over-analyze – while you do need a lesson plan and a rough outline, on paper or in your head, about what you might do if there’s extra time or if they show interest in one aspect or another, don’t go beyond that. Don’t obsessively list things that might go wrong or go through horror stories you’ve heard and are probably wildly exaggerated. Just be yourself, relax, and have fun with it.
6) If you can, leave the kids with a message, one that you’ve tied in from the beginning. This will help you to give the class structure, and it will make more of an impact than if you go off in several different directions and never really lead anywhere in particular. Whether it’s a question of technique, a thought for the day, or a social or moral idea, try to have one overarching concept that links the lesson together from the start.
7) If possible, have a word with the other people in their lives who are educating them, such as parents or teachers, and find out what else they’re learning at the moment. Then, if you can, make a connection between what you’re teaching and what they’ve already learned or are learning. Because art is a fun activity, it can help make things clear and memorable, helping their learning in other areas, and on the other side, the fact that what you’re teaching fits into the structure already in their heads will make your job easier too.
Do you have experience in teaching children? Share your stories and top tips with us in the comments!
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