Ten Tips for teaching Art to your child-for the non-artist parent

If you are a parent who sees artistic potential in your child or children but are at a loss as to how to help them develop their artistic skills further, then this is the article for you.

Tip 1:Believe that it is a basic part of human nature to be creative and that you and your children have every right to be creative because Art is not exclusive. (If you do not believe this yet, then pretend to for your children’s sake!)


Tip 2:If you have very little formal artistic skills yourself, it’s not a problem. Find one of many great online tutorials that can teach you and your children how to draw. Here are just a few: How to draw a nose, How to draw a Spinosaurus, How to draw a butterfly, How to draw a dragon’s eye

Tip 3: When your child does a piece of art work train yourself not to automatically say ‘Wow, that’s so amazing darling’. Take a look at this fantastic clip called Austin’s butterfly and try giving feedback that actually means something and shows you’ve taken the time to really look at their art.

Tip 4: Keep sketchbooks and date work. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as looking back over art work and seeing how much you’ve improved since the first drawing.

Tip 5: Let children follow their own inspiration! If Jonny loves snakes and you have a snake phobia, you’ll still have to support Jonny when he draws snakes because you don’t want to pass on your fear of snakes. Remember, it’s passion that gets artists through difficult times.

Muhyi snake

Tip 6: Encourage your children to embrace mistakes. So frustrating when they know what they want a drawing to look like and their hands just won’t do it! Learn about Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and the power of using the word ‘yet’. Mistakes are not a catastrophe, they are part of an essential process towards a goal. Your brain develops most when you make a mistake and learn from it, so teach your child to be pleased when they make a marvellous mistake and explain that they are just not quite there yet.

Tip 7: For ways to create fun opportunities for Art linked to story books read this article.

Tip 8: Let your children take photos. Imagine you go to the zoo on a family trip but they’re just too excited to sit and draw any of the animals there. Well that’s where many artists would take several photographs of their favourite animal for later use. On a rainy day you can get the photos up on a computer or ipad and draw from them. Here are some photos my son took when we went to Crocodile world.


Tip 9: If you have an ipad or tablet then download Photoeditor. Let your children experiment with editing a photo they took. Art can be digital as well as drawn with pencil and paper. Here are some digitally edited photos done by 7 year olds I’ve worked with.

Tip 10: Get children out and about and do some Art outdoorsLand Art or at a museum.

Here are some pics of Land Art I’ve done with my children.

I hope this gives you some helpful advice to get started and perhaps once you get going you’ll have some inspiring ideas yourself that you’d like me to put up on this post for others to see.

If you have photos you’d like me to share then please send them to a.henckel@hotmail.com and add any short notes or tips you’d like me to add alongside them.


Ten year old ‘s view of art-Amazing!

At the end of last term I received a hand made card from one of my Yr 5 pupils thanking me for teaching them.

The card said ‘Thank you for giving me a new perspective on art’, I was intrigued and found the young lady who wrote it to enquire as to what this new perspective was. She elaborated in great detail so I asked her to write it down for me, and this is what she wrote.

I used to think of art as just a drawing but now I can see it in a new perspective. It is not just a drawing, there are things and facts behind the painting and the artists, art is both a skill and a way of life. I have learnt to see and experience art in a new way and enjoy looking at it and seeing the story behind it.

 Yasmin, aged 10.

I was blown away by her eloquence and deep thinking. Art is definitely a way of life, a way of seeing the world and a way of capturing that experience in an art form. I could definitely see this in her approach to her own art and in our art history lessons.

It confirmed to me that no one is too young for art history, in fact it is essential for the growth of a young artist to learn to appreciate and critique the art of others. What is important is that it is presented to the young artist just one step ahead of them so that their interest and ability is pushed and stimulated.

When I was in school I was only taught to learn facts about an artist’s life, or copy their painting technique. But it was only at degree level that I was taught to look for symbols, patterns, meaning, trends, habits, and the psychology within an artist’s work. It was such a shame that I had to wait so long to actually be exposed to this critical and searching approach to art. I think if I had been shown this earlier it would have enhanced my own creative process as well as sparked more interest in the art of others.

Here is some of Yasmin’s work.

The orchid below was worked on by Yasmin and Grace. You can see the development of colour and vibrance from day one (below) to day two (below that). These two girls made a great team, Grace had a particular concept which she communicated to Yasmin who then put it into action on the mural. Grace wanted Yasmin to paint the dying, crumpled flower on the left to show how the rain forest is full of life and death. That things dye and new things are born.

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Here you can see the finished orchid within the context of the whole mural.

What I would like to emphasize is that Grace and Yasmin used the dying flower as a symbol for a very grown up concept, the natural cycle of living and dying. Very often children like to show nature in its perfection, and I expected them to omit the dying flower and show the orchid in its full living glory.

I believe that the study of art history, and the analysis of other artist’s work has influenced how Yasmin and Grace approach their own work and whetted their appetite for deeper, thought provoking art.

You might argue that too much analyzing and critical thinking will spoil the natural innocence of a child’s approach. And I agree with that on some levels, however it’s all about the natural disposition of the child and about the way the critical thinking is introduced.

It is natural to see an image and want to know more about it and yet so often we look at a painting and just accept it for its face value.

For example if you present a year five class with The Scream by Edvard Munch it might be quite inappropriate, they would be less able to empathize with the emotion and desperation intertwined with it. However if you presented the class with the painting below by historical artist Graham Turner you could bring in relevant historical, conceptual, compositional and symbolic analysis. Children could compare the bright use of colour here with this older etching. You could ask why it is effective today to use these colours (Turner’s) and his style of depiction rather than those used in the earlier etching. Or ask which one the children feel is most effective, take a vote and ask them why.

The Battle of Bosworth – King Richard III’s Charge Painted by Graham Turner

Questions such as why did Graham Turner portray this particular moment in the battle and not another are interesting. The children could compare other depictions of the Battle of Bosworth and ask why it is that none of the artist  focus on Henry Tudor in the same way that they feature King Richard III?  (Richard is the last plantagenet king, the last King of England to be killed in battle, a king who was never given the burial of a King but was instead stripped naked and paraded over the back of a donkey to the people of Leicester.)

You can ask why is it significant that Turner has depicted Henry Tudor’s Herald and flag bearer (William Brandon) falling so dramatically? What do they think happened to Brandon after he fell? What is the symbol of a flag and therefore the flag bearer? (Just after K. Richard blasts into Brandon and kills him, the flag nearly falls but at the last minute is restored by one of Henry’s body guards).

Ask why Turner has angled the two flags in the way they are? What do they do to Richard? (they create a frame for him, so making him stand out, clever composition). Ask who they think the men are in the distance behind the rearing horse of Henry Tudor. This question can then open up the story telling of The wealthy Stanley brothers, the corruption, hostage taking and deceit that went on during Tudor times.

The Stanley brothers were a very wealthy family that commanded an army of 6000 men. They were loyal to King Richard III but decided not to commit to either side at the Battle of Bosworth. Needless to say both Henry Tudor and King Richard wanted them on their side. Richard went to meet Sir William Stanley and ask for his loyalty, but Stanley (who is married to Henry Tudor’s mother by the way) would not promise his loyalty. To help persuade him Richard kidnaps William’s son but apparently William replies to the news of his son’s kidnap by saying: ‘I have many more sons’. William Stanley and his army spent a large part of the battle of Bosworth waiting to see which side they would join. However they made their important decision just after the moment depicted in Turner’s painting. The Brothers chose Henry Tudor’s side and attack just after William Brandon’s death so sealing King Richard’s Fate and Henry Tudor’s succession to the throne.

Well chosen and fascinating, art history, with relevant analysis and critique is essential to the artistic creative process. It not only whets the appetite of the young artist but is essential for all of us to experience because it informs and assists us in reconsidering our own art. This is what I have discovered through teaching and as an artist myself and Yasmin’s card has reconfirmed this for me.

Rain forest mural: Painted by 9-11 year olds

We spent all morning, all break time and most of lunchtime finishing off our mural so that it would be ready for our Windmill Art Week Exhibition. Lots of proud parents will come and admire it tomorrow, I’m sure!!! Well done to all the Year 5 children, you’ve done a terrific job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I’ve loved working with you!IMG_1386 IMG_1387 IMG_1388 IMG_1389 IMG_1390 IMG_1391 IMG_1393 IMG_1394

Perhaps we can turn the pictures into cards and raise some money for our school and some conservation charities too. What do you all think???

King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in clay

I’ve posted about the Year five (aged 9-11) work I have been leading at Windmill Primary School in Oxford. Here is our end of term final clay project and some information and ideas to assist anyone else planning art for the topic of Tudors.

I spent the term teaching 60 children how to draw horses using different techniques and approaches. As many of the children were pretty unconfident with their skills I encouraged them to feel free and strangely not in control by getting them to do right brain exercises such as drawing an image without looking at their own drawing. Drawing an image upside down, drawing ‘slinky’ and ‘scribble’ drawings. And most importantly, I encouraged them not to cross out a drawing they were not happy with but to observe and notate what needed adjusting in that drawing and then to try again next to it.

Being in a city, it was impossible to arrange a trip out to observe horses so instead we used our mental visualization skills at the beginning of most lessons to imagine a horse and run our hand over it’s muscles, feel it’s hot breath on our hand, and stroke its rough long mane. It was incredible to see 30 children sitting with eyes closed and hands outstretched as they imagined stroking or feeding their horse. The hour and a half sessions began with several 5 and 10 minute warm up/freeing exercises. Then the rest of the time was broken up into approximately three 20 minute sessions which progressively built up skills previously learnt.

I used the interactive white board to show different images of horses which the children all worked on at the same time. We looked at the proportions of the horse and discovered that the size of the head was the best measure to understand the length/width of the body and legs.

Here are some or the drawings they did starting with the earliest drawings. You can definitely see how the maturity of the drawings increase over time.

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IMG_0790 IMG_0791 IMG_0792 IMG_0793 IMG_0798 IMG_0799 IMG_0800 IMG_0801 As the children felt more comfortable using their drawing skills, and as confidence levels grew over the 10 weeks their individual styles of sketching and drawing began to emerge. This was truly heart warming!

We had a life drawing model sit on a bench in the classroom for us one session with a sword in hand so that the children could actually get some life drawing in. This helped  to to draw the rider on the horse. One other session was spent being art critics, we looked at other artists who painted the battle of Boswell and discussed aspects of art such as composition, colour, subject, title of the piece, historical art etc. I also told them some of the fascinating history involving lies, corruption, murder, deceit and kidnaps that surrounds King Richard III, Henry Tudor and the Stanley brothers.

We also looked at negative space, and discussed how our knowledge of angles (Maths) could help us draw difficult areas such as legs, head and neck. We created a negative space picture in black and white which looked very effective when put all together.

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This whole project culminated in a clay relief of King Richard, lance in hand and mounted upon his steed, charging his enemy (Henry Tudor & army) at the Battle of Bosworth.

Just before we embarked upon the clay we bridged the gap between 2D and semi 3D work by creating paper relief drawings. You can read about these here.

I then created a powerpoint tutorial which showed the step by step process of creating the relief. I also created my own relief and photographed my self at each step so that I could show this to the children in the powerpoint. Here are some of the images from that powerpoint.IMG_0850 IMG_0851 IMG_0854 IMG_0855 IMG_0857 IMG_0860 IMG_0862 IMG_0869

The children spent two -three sessions working on the final clay piece with input and advice and demonstrations from myself all the way. Here are some of their pieces in progress.

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This project was a fantastic way of getting regular drawing sessions into the school week. It was so clear that regular practice is the best way to improve confidence, skills, good attitude and right brain approach. There were some children who found it difficult to keep their critical left brain from interfering with the creative process and once I gave them a few activities and techniques to engage their right brain more than their left they began to use these techniques of their own accord. Here is someone enjoying that!


SEN and Art: for anyone working with SEN children.

Today was an exciting one for many of us at school. We had The Animal Man visit with his marvelous selection of rain forest animals including the third oldest honey bear in the world (who incidentally only had one eye), a gorgeous lime green and turquoise chameleon, a fluffy albino skunk, a python and another strange mammal resembling a raccoon whose name has escaped me.

The children absolutely loved the hour long session of petting, cuddling, holding and experiencing these wonderful animals. And a few or our children with SEN came along too and needless to say had a whale of a time. One particular child that responded very enthusiastically to the animals was someone I have the pleasure of working with three afternoons a week. She has Downs Syndrome and therefore needs an adult to facilitate her learning experience throughout all aspects of her school day.

I usually spend afternoons facilitating her inclusion in the first lesson of the afternoon after which we enjoy some music therapy. However this afternoon I and her teacher decided that her experience with The Animal Man was so exciting that we should use it as an opportunity to develop her speech, language, presentation and drawing skills. Although normally almost all lessons are thoroughly inclusive we felt that this particular activity was best done one to one. So the little girl and I found a free table, set up our art materials and began the best half an hour we’d had for the longest while.

I had taken general photos of her, the animals and close up shots of detailed parts of the animals too. I showed her printed out copies of these in colour and asked her to chose her favourite one. Here’s what she chose.

Barn owl

For some reason the owl fascinated her. I explained to her that we would be drawing some of the animals we met in the morning, using the photographs to help us. Then we would show the rest of the class and tell them about the Animal Man and his animals. She understood this and was very excited about the prospect of ‘showing’ it to the class. Her class teacher also explained to her that this was a special project that she was doing and that the teacher expected her to be a ‘good girl’ and do ‘good work’.

I then asked her to hold the fat graphite stick and on the corner of her large A3 paper she explored some mark making. Having done this I explained that she must listen really carefully to everything I said. She agreed that she would and we began. I talked her through every step, every line and every brush stroke. Sometimes I used sounds, words, repetitive phrases to help describe the direction of a line or curve. For example, make this line ‘like a whoosh’, or ‘do a curvy line ROUND like this’ (using my finger to show the shape and direction) She would not only follow my instruction but would also copy the sound I made as she did it.

Sometimes she would make a strange and inaccurate shape, partly due to lack of fine motor skills and other times due to wanting to do it herself. If that happened I would rub it out and ask her to try again. Twice she asked to ‘paint now’ but I enthusiastically reminded her that there was just a LITTLE BIT MORE to do. Having completed the graphite drawing we the picked up our thick paint brush. We talked about the difference between the thick water colour brush and the thin one. She can spot the difference and choose the correct one. She then wet it, wiped off the excess water and gently brushed the point of it on the palm of her hand, copying me as I did. She loves sensory stimulation and really liked feel of the soft wet brush on her hand saying it was ‘tickly’.

I then talked her through how to mix the colours. We used a water colour set with the hard blocks of colour. I would describe in simple words and instructions as I mixed the colours and she loved copying me. We began with a simple colour wash over the wings. She identified several colours such as white, gray and brown which I praised and then checked she knew which part of the owl she was painting. When I pointed to the wings to check she knew what they were called she referred to them as ‘flap’. We talked a little about the main sections of the owl (head, body, wings, tail) and looked at the colours she could identify.

The step by step, stage by stage we washed over the owl, mixed darker/ lighter colours to add detail on top of the base washes for the eye, wing and feathers, feet and fluffy legs. Here’s the finished result. She is 8 years old.

Barn Owl SEN

You may ask what she actually learnt from this exercise. Well, firstly extending concentrations levels, we spent 35 minutes on this without a break. Following instructions carefully and with focussed attention, understanding parts of the owl’s body, learning new vocabulary, beginning to identify two types of yellow (lemon yellow and yellow ochre), executing a piece of work from its beginning to the finished product, trying again when its not right, internalizing the basic processes of painting (washing out the brush, wiping off excess water, mixing different colours to produce a third colour, looking at an object and matching colours with it).

To extend the linguistic side of this activity we then used the excitement she had about showing it to the class to focus her speaking and presentation skills. We talked about what she would say to the class. She practiced for 5 minutes the following sentence. ‘I painted a barn owl’. She couldn’t remember the word ‘barn’, so I explained what a barn was and made a few jokes when she got it wrong which quickly encouraged her to get it right. She then presented it to the Year 3 class and teacher whilst saying the sentence word for word without any sign prompts from me.

The next step is to use the sentence we created today to extend her reading skills. I will print out the sentence twice and get her to match the words to each other first. Then once she is familiar with the words she can then read them on their own, pointing to each one as she reads it.

I have written about my afternoon with this little girl because I felt I learnt a lot about the positive way art can be used to enhance the SEN curriculum as well as personal targets. This technique could be simplified and adapted for different learning needs and abilities. For example a child with interests in music could use percussion instruments to learn a simple musical rhythm or rhyme which could then be performed, spoken about, written about or read about. Children with restricted movement can be guided by the adult, physically take their hand gently in your own and describe the movement you make with the graphite and repeat this movement for a while. Then ask them to try it for them selves. See what happens, perhaps there will be a little step of improvement. Everything is about the little tiny steps that lead to something big over time. Often touching an interesting object, feeling it, engaging with it really helps to stimulate interest which can then be channelled towards further learning activities.

Here are some more pictures of smiles and engaged teachers/kids with The Animal Man

IMG_1127 IMG_1146 IMG_1157 IMG_1167 IMG_1205Rosie corn snake Rosie python Rosie spider

Mindful Creativity – an exploration

True creativity does not merely take the form of art, drawing, dance and all the other general creative activities that we associate with the word. In fact I have discovered that true creativity and creative thinking can happen daily to every person at any time regardless of their activity. Most activities in life can be a creative act provided that we are living at that moment in the present and not in the past or the future.

I should have been absolutely relaxed and at my full creative potential during this two week Christmas break, but instead I spent it in quiet turmoil worrying about my first day back at work, my up coming interview, what I would cook for the family tomorrow, what uniforms I should buy for the children, how short my holiday was, how I would definitely do absolutely nothing tomorrow so I’d feel like I was on holiday, and so much more. I spent much time in the future and actually missed most of the present. As a result the holiday flashed by, I hardly enjoyed it, and I feel no more prepared for my first day at work or my interview than if I had actually really done nothing but at least enjoyed it.

On top of this I have realized that this holiday was an opportunity to give my two boys some  special attention, some mindful attention, and yet that rarely happened at all. Mindful parenting, I have discovered is where a parent practices living in the present moment whilst dealing with the child in front of them. Being present at that moment with the child (without the previous ideas and criticisms held), and sustaining that attention in the present will then allow the necessary creativity to come through and the parent to deal with the situation in the best way possible.

Creativity and parenting definitely go hand in hand, I know this through experience as I think back to the few times when I was actually present in the moment. Times when I  suggested a tantalizing distraction to engage my fighting sons, or when I’ve been aware enough to sense that their excitable energies were leading to destruction and mayhem and found a creative outlet for that energy through music/percussion/art.  But the big challenge is to uphold this creative parenting and therefore this living in the present through the more stressful and tired days of my life.  I’ve come across an amazing piece of writing about mindful parenting and it suggests twelve top tips. These are taken from an interview where ‘Sarah van Gelder talks with Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn about how the Buddhist concept of mindfulness can help us to see the wholeness and beauty of our children in each moment.’

Twelve Exercises for Mindful Parenting

  1. Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.

  2. Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view; imagine having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?

  3. Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. Work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.

  4. Be mindful of your expectations of your children, and consider whether they are truly in your children’s best interests. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.

  5. Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground where your needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.

  6. When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still. Meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what really needs to be done.

  7. Try embodying silent presence. Listen carefully.

  8. Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. See what is “workable” if you are willing to trust your intuition and best instincts.

  9. Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing, and they demonstrate that you see a situation more clearly, or more from your child’s point of view. But “I’m sorry” loses its meaning if we are always saying it, or if we make regret a habit.

  10. Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.

  11. There are very important times when we need to practice being clear and strong and unequivocal with our children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness and generosity and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid and controlling.

  12. The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves.

The above twelve steps are taken from here, they were written by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn and are part of their book called Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.

Well I’ve spent the last day of my holiday practicing mindfulness, really listening to my children instead of hearing their words but with my mind on other things. It was not always easy to break the habit but it was made easier by the energy of the strong intention I made to practice it. And despite an ill child with a roaring temperature, preparation of school uniforms, making packed lunches, the prospect of the school run and an early morning start I did actually enjoy the day and am not suffering from Sunday blues.

Living in the moment allowed me the space to see certain negative things that I do with the children which I was previously unaware of, I also saw how I treat them differently and how in this particular case it put a lot of pressure upon one of their little shoulders.  To see this and create a new behavior pattern within myself is an important aspect of True creativity. I have come to understand that the urge to create has many more positive uses than simply to make a piece of art work. The creative force can be used throughout every day life whether it be making and presenting beautiful food, redecorating the house, creative parenting, creativity with one’s partner, creativity at work, or creating new and better behaviors.

So why do I avoid living in the now, the present moment. Fear of boredom, the idea that if I don’t think about all the things I need to do then I will forget them, resentment at having to do something constantly for others-where’s time for ME? The idea that I’ll do this thing for you physically but at least I’ve still got my mind to think about whatever I want. Weather all these ideas are foolish I have yet to explore but I’m determined to find out over the next few months. Exactly how I will improve my terrible memory I do not know but perhaps being mindful will help, a big challenge will be to combat boredom.  As for ‘Me’ time, well Exercise no 5 ( above) has put me in my place!

The re discovery of mindfulness is quite exciting for me as it puts creativity at the centre of everything I do resulting in less resentfulness at all the other daily chores and activities that take me away from my art work. How easy will it be to be mindful when the exhaustion of the school term is at its hight I cannot say but I can only try to me mindful even if it is of my own tiredness.

A painting, dance, sculpture, music are all evidence of a creative act but they are only part of the process of creativity. True Creativity has infinite expressions and can be used and expressed at any moment in a person’s life and is accessible when they are living in the moment. Therefore Mindful Creativity is a way of life, a way of being and doing that is far beyond the small remit of a visual or performing artist. I wish to conclude with my favorite  quote, the words of the wise old tortoise in Kung Fu Panda who says

‘You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” Share this quote