Children's art is about more than just their opportunity to be artists.
Last year I went to see an exhibition of children's art at Gowrie Victoria. Gowrie has the name, the philosophy and the resources. Because of this I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the artworks that were exhibited were refreshingly normal. Paintings, drawings and collages made by the children using normal paints, brushes and pencils. Although it's lovely for the children to be able to immerse themselves into a wonderland of sensory experiences while making art, the thought processes, the messages that are conveyed, and the creativity that emerge are of equal importance.
Art is not just about children's opportunity to be artists. Art is one of the languages with which children communicate with the world. Art doesn't just display their knowledge, understanding and self-expression, it also enables children to work through the concepts that they're not yet completely understanding. Art should be allowed to be a solitary, uninterrupted experience in which children are able to fully engage with whichever tools they choose to use. Art is about thoughts, feelings and physical experiences. It's about technique, textures, colours, shapes, shadows and perspectives.
I found it fascinating that Gowrie had brought in an artist to work with the children. This was the foundation of the Reggio Emilia centres. Atelieristas (visual artists who were not teacher trained) were employed to work with the children in the Reggio ateliers. We bring in trained musicians for music and movement experiences to supplement educators' limited knowledge of music. The artistic knowledge of most early childhood educators is also limited, so think of the rich experiences for learning that would result from bringing in real artists.
I believe art materials should be available for children every day, but I don't think we need to push art on children. Painting and drawing are two of the languages that children use. Remember the 'hundred languages of children'. Children have so many languages that they use and not all children are drawn to visual art. If communication and meaning-making are the objectives then we need to allow children to choose the languages that fit their temperaments and interests. If art is available and children are drawn to it, they will engage in it. Let's also embrace the scientist, the mathematician, the storyteller, the musician and the athlete. Children will surprise us with their enthusiasm if we allow them to use their preferred languages, and how much fun is that to see?