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The Art of Teaching Art to Children: In School and at Home

The Art of Teaching Art to Children: In School and at Home

by Nancy Beal, Gloria Bley Miller

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An inspiring and comprehensive guide to art education.

In this accessibly written guide for classroom and art teachers as well as parents, Nancy Beal shows how to release children's marvelous gifts of expression. Beal believes that children must first of all be comfortable with their materials. She focuses on six basic media: collage, drawing, painting, clay,


An inspiring and comprehensive guide to art education.

In this accessibly written guide for classroom and art teachers as well as parents, Nancy Beal shows how to release children's marvelous gifts of expression. Beal believes that children must first of all be comfortable with their materials. She focuses on six basic media: collage, drawing, painting, clay, printmaking, and construction. She gives practical consideration to all facets of a teacher's responsibility: how each material should be introduced; what supplies are best; how a classroom may be set up to support children's explorations; and how teachers may ask open-ed questions to stimulate personal and meaningful expression. Beal also discusses how to integrate art into social studies and how to make museum visits productive and fun. Each chapter includes a section specifically for parents on helping their children create art at home.

Beal has taught art to children for twenty-five years and is able to draw on a wealth of examples from her classroom. The Art of Teaching Art to Children is extensively illustrated with her students' art, visual proof of her gifts as an educator and art enthusiast.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Art of Teaching Art to Children is exactly right. Nancy Beal unfolds the magic , the practical, and a clear sense of children as she describes materials, motivations, and conservations in her Village Community School art room. This honest and thoughtful book should become a classic for all parents and teachers who cherish art in the lives of children.” —Joy L. Moser, Teachers College, Columbia University

“Beal shows what children can do when they have the support of a caring adult--an adult who respects children's ideas and honors their creativity. Anyone who works with children, anyone who lives with children, should read this lovely and thoughtful book.” —Peggy Kaye, author of Games for Writing

“Here is a book that will carry children from experimental beginnings as artists to full-fledged, deep expressive competency in art. Beal's knowledge of developmental growth is matched by her inspired motivational methods for teaching skills. Above all, she never loses sight of each child's personal view.” —Naomi F. Pile, author of Art Experiences for Young Children

Children's Literature
Nancy Beal has been teaching art to kids ages 5 to 10 for 25 years. Beal, critical of her initial attempts, researched the work of others and was particularly influenced by a workshop at the Bank Street College. She had previously approached the teaching of art from the perspective of an adult artist. However, her research convinced her that the function of art for young children is very different from that of adults. She concluded that she wanted to organize her teaching around materials. She would help kids develop a level of proficiency with the materials that would facilitate the ultimate goal, to express themselves. She describes in detail her classroom use of collage, painting, drawing, clay, printmaking and construction. Beal also discusses how the art room is set up as well as specific directions/questions the kids are given as they begin to work. There are lots of wonderful examples of the children's artwork and additional instructions for parents who are working with their kids at home. 2001, Farrar Strauss Giroux, $15.00. Ages Adult. Reviewer: Kristin Harris
Library Journal
Beal has taught art to children at the Village Community School in New York for 25 years. Her method involves encouraging long-term familiarity with art materials so that children ages five to ten can master the materials and use them to express their own life experiences. In chapters on collage, painting, clay, drawing, printmaking, and 3-D construction, Beal discusses how to set up the art situation and how to speak to children about their artwork to encourage their creative expression. Short sections at the end of the chapters discuss what materials and techniques are best suited for use at home. Although recommendations are given about how to present each kind of art material to children, the level of detail provided is insufficient for readers who are not already familiar with the handling of the materials. Recommended for specialized collections in art education. Kathryn Wekselman, M.Ln., Cincinnati Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An art teacher shares miscellaneous tips and tricks to familiarize elementary-school children with the basic materials and awaken their creativity. Beal is less concerned with philosophical questions about the nature or purpose of art than with the practical side of being an art teacher. Beginning with the injunction, "I think primarily in terms of art materials," she offers sensible hints for arranging the art classroom, protecting clothing from stains, and structuring lessons appropriate for children at various developmental stages. The six chapters that follow each focus on a single medium: collage, drawing, painting, clay, printmaking, and construction. Each chapter consists of short sections on materials, techniques, appropriate adult responses and lesson plans arranged in no particular sequence, concluding with questions and answers for parents hoping to adapt the techniques for home use. The chatty, informal tone is attractive, and parents and art teachers will make good use of the innumerable concrete suggestions for contriving materials and supplies, doubtless accumulated over years of classroom experience (transfer Elmer's glue into baby-food jars, Beal urges, and always recondition used clay by poking a hole in it, filling it with water, and letting it sit in an airtight container before presenting it to a child). Parents and neophyte teachers will also benefit from her many examples of encouraging, thought-provoking responses to children's creations. However, the conversational approach has its pitfalls. Spread over various chapters, the treatment of developmental stages and lesson-planning fizzles out into vague directives to have a sense of purpose. The looseorganization of the chapters and the book as a whole, rambling among practical techniques, philosophical ruminations, and descriptions of children's achievements, is also likely to frustrate any harried teacher or parent looking for substantial information on a particular medium, or an in-depth, focused discussion of educational strategies. A grab-bag of helpful hints for parents and teachers, but far from comprehensive. (65 b&w photos, not seen)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.16(h) x 0.66(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


"Nobody can ever tell you that you are doing something wrong in art." -Josh Correa, age ten

My philosophy of teaching art can be stated simply. I think primarily in terms of art materials. I teach long-term familiarity with these materials so that the children can master them and use them to express their own life experiences. My goal is to have the children feel so comfortable and confident with these materials that they are willing to use them to speak about their innermost thoughts and feelings. I see the materials being as much the teacher as I am.

I work with children from ages five to ten. My art room is on an upper floor of the school building. It features a number of tables and shelves, a drying rack, a sink, and several bulletin boards. I work in a private school setting with about a dozen children at a time. I know this is not like a public school, but certain aspects of my experience are readily transferable to larger groups and to children who do art at home with their parents.

In the art room, I strive to create a working environment, an accepting atmosphere in which the children can feel safe, comfortable, and emotionally secure. I want their art experience to be exploratory, to be unthreatening and fun. Some of the kids are only four years old when they arrive. They have to walk up several flights to reach the art room. It's a whole new space for them. They have to learn to trust it.

I try to set the stage for such trust on the first day. I welcome the children warmly and introduce the room to them. In a sense, I begin by "teaching" the room. I tell them, "Everything in this room belongs to the children in this school." I say, "You can get your glue there." "That's called a sink room, where you can get your water." "Your teacher will come back to get you." The basic idea is to make them feel comfortable about moving about in the space. I want to make sure they are not overwhelmed by their experience, that they will find success and pleasure here. I have observed that, given the opportunity, most children will plunge into art with confidence and joy. I want them to retain that wonderful spontaneity.

My program covers six basic art areas: collage, painting, clay, drawing, printmaking, and construction. For each of these, I order materials that are satisfying to the eye and stimulating to the touch. I start with an open-ended exploration of the materials with all the age groups. I believe that this exploration in the beginning is much more important than seeking any specific results.

Some teachers may feel terribly burdened by thinking about how they want things to look and by trying to march the kids step-by-step toward that end. I try doing just the opposite. I'm more interested in the process itself and in having the child connect with it in a personal way. By the time the children are seven or eight, they are becoming skilled in handling the materials, and this helps them to express themselves powerfully.

For each age group, I touch base with all six art areas. In the beginning of the year, I introduce collage, paint, clay, and pencil drawing. Later, I add printing and construction. Often I will begin with two-dimensional work, such as collage and painting, since the walls of our school building are bare in the fall and this is also an opportunity for the art department to adorn those walls. But some years I work with clay in the beginning. I usually don't do the same thing with every class at the same time. (There are practical reasons for this. If you do clay with every class, there will not be enough room on the shelves for the clay to dry before being fired.)

Note: I'm concerned about protecting the children's clothing while they work. I tell the kids they cannot enter the art room unless they have their sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Although some teachers favor floppy old shirts as a form of protection, I think they get in the way. Instead I prefer the smocks made of plastic with Velcro fasteners. These are easy to put on and take off; the kids can do it themselves.

As a rule, I keep each art material separate, so that it can be clearly understood. I believe that a clarity of presentation frees the children to work creatively. Because the human figure is such an important part of the narrative of life, I give special attention to drawing, painting, and modeling the figure. (I also include a lot of social studies art that relates to the school curriculum.)

I see the children once a week. The school year covers ten months, or forty sessions. Dividing these sessions into the six basic areas for each class means, for example, that each class can do painting six or seven times during the year. I have a general sense of what materials I will offer and in what sequence I will offer them. It depends on my reading of the kids' responses. My antennae go out. When I feel the children have really had it with one material and are ready to move on, I head in a new direction. After four, five, or six weeks of painting or collage, they may be ready for something more three-dimensional. When the kids walk into the art room and see certain materials set out and say, "Oh, no. Not this again," it's a clear clue to me that we've got to move on. A certain flexibility in planning is always necessary. I keep a record of which child does what as a way of monitoring his or her growth. I also keep a record of the activities of each class, so that later in the year the children can be directed toward the materials they haven't yet used.

I try to extend each material as long as possible, however, to give the kids a chance to truly explore it in depth. Their investigations may require many weeks, months, and even years. This approach produces a rich, personal art, an expression of something the children have explored deeply and to which they have applied their newly acquired skills.

I encourage and respect each child's way of working and let each one work at his or her own pace. (Children are always comfortable at their own level.) I want to make sure that the things they do in art don't overwhelm them, that the children, with their differing abilities, can find success in whatever they do.

I intervene as little as possible, while setting clearly defined limits as to what use of materials is possible in a given class. I try to keep myself out of the work so that it can come totally from the heart and mind of the child who produces it.

I never feel that something a kid has done is really awful, although I might feet it's slapdash because he hasn't been paying enough attention to his work, but has been yakking to his neighbor about baseball for ten minutes instead. I would intervene then because I'd expect him to be more involved in what he's doing.

If a child is happy with his work, then I'm usually happy with it too. If a kid is discouraged, if his work isn't going very well, I will tell him, "This sometimes happens. You've worked hard on this. Put it over there and try another one." Children don't tend to get off track too often. But they sometimes do, and we can all learn something from our failures.

Observing the Work

How an adult responds to the child's artwork is extremely significant. It's important that a grown-up not project his or her own ideas onto the work. Asking a five- or six-year-old what his painting or drawing represents can be confusing. The painting or drawing may have one image along with many additional shapes and lines, added for the purposes of design. The teacher must strive to understand the child's aims and can accomplish this by paying close attention to what is happening. Many teachers ask the kids to explain what they're doing. I try not to do this because the work itself will tell me loud and clear if I look at it carefully. Active and close observation helps one get in touch with the child.

Copyright © 2001 Nancy Beal and Gloria Bley Miller

Meet the Author

Nancy Beal has taught art to children for twenty-five years at the Village Community School in New York City in addition to working on her own paintings. She lives with her family in Manhattan.

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