Art is Smart!

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Art can be defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. It consists of diverse range of human activities like auditory, visual or performing art. Today let’s focus on visual art and its benefits. Visual arts are art forms such as painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, crafts etc.

Let’s start by thinking of how can art help a child. There are simple ways in which parents can assist children to develop various cognitive and motor skills. So, what are various skills parents can help children foster?

We all know art is a great method to work on the gross and fine motor skills of the child as they use the small muscles in their hands. This bilateral coordination of both hands makes them develop other skills like eating by themselves or tying their shoelaces. How else is it beneficial? After working with several kids of different age groups, I observed various benefits. Most importantly it facilitates communication skills. I often ask kids why they chose this particular color or what are they trying to express? The answers to these give us an insight about the child’s inner state of being. In addition to creating messy art and getting their hands dirty, children have the opportunity to develop and expand vocabulary skills by learning words for shapes, actions and colors.

According to various research articles, art strengthens problem-solving and logical-thinking skills. The experience of making decisions and choices in the course of creating art carries over into other arenas of life. The exploring, choosing, thinking, experimenting and trying new ideas is more beneficial than one can think. For example, when a child is asked what do you want to make today? Which materials you would want to use today? Which medium would you want to use? Are you sure? These questions may pose as simple questions, but they do assist the child in taking decisions at a young age and enabling them to be confident and reliant with their own art work rather than indulging in comparative or copycat syndrome.

A number of studies have been done which has shown art strengthens both problem solving skills and critical thinking. The entire process of creating art encourages the child to explore new ideas in different areas of life.

Art is also recognized in molding visuo-spatial intelligence, i.e. imagining or visualizing in one’s mind the position of objects, their shapes, their spatial relations to one another and their movements. For example, making three dimensional objects. If your child is a visuo-spatial learner, then he/she has a head start in spatial learning. Careers like engineering, architects, mathematicians etc. use this. Early learning of such skills plays a large role in preparing a child for later success.

An art activity, such as coloring a mandala (a circle design with geometric patterns), helps increase an individual’s attention span – focused and sustained attention and decrease impulsive behavior, promoting better decision-making and focus during tasks.

Art can also facilitate narrative fluency; lot of parents seem to be struggling with descriptive language where the child prefers to answer in one sentence rather than describing. Have a child talk about her/his artwork. If they don’t volunteer, ask questions: What’s going on in your picture? or What title would you give to your picture? This allows a child to express his point of view. Keep the questions simple and give the child time to think before answering. If a child expresses disappointment about his artwork, ask what he would have done differently, instead of automatically reassuring him that you think his painting is beautiful. This plants the idea that he can problem-solve and try again.

Art uses the processes of drawing, painting, and sculpting to improve well-being and confidence in kids. It is based on the premise that self-expression can be used to address emotional problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness. One does not have to be a da Vinci or Picasso to benefit from art.

The key for parents is not to set the bar too high or to direct their child. Some children enjoy the sensory experience of using art materials, and their “artwork” may be scribbles or simply lumps of clay. Other children with learning differences produce visually appealing pieces. The whole process of art helps with cognitive development at a young age. And each child’s abilities and expression vary from one another. Parents must focus on the process of creating art and not the final product.

Shailee Mehta
With a master's in clinical psychology and an interest in mental health, creative and visual arts; Shailee has collaborated both her skills to help with psychological health, creative expression, cognition, and motor skills. Her background and experience in psychology have helped her to use art as a therapeutic approach especially with kids who express in various nonverbal forms and she has successfully used art as a creative medium to explore emotions of adults and children, relieve stress, and stimulate one's imagination.

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