Posted by: angiefm | January 4, 2009

Teaching Art … It's Not Rocket Science

This is an article I wrote for Family Tone, an eNewsletter of the Family Enrichment Society. Check them out at 

Two and a half years ago, we had it all figured out. After all, with one social science, one science and two business degrees between us, surely there wasn’t anything my husband and I couldn’t teach our children as we took the decision to homeschool them. But it was the seemingly easiest thing that stumped us. Art & Craft. In this article, I will share how we got over our initial mental block and started enjoying art and helping our children to love it too! Here’s what we discovered …

1. You can learn to appreciate art without having to create it

We expose our children to great art work in a variety of ways. For starters, we use a Montessori programme titled Child-Sized Masterpieces which starts children as young as 2 to 3 years of age matching paintings (if you can match fine art, why match apples and bears, right?) and keeps going till they can group paintings by the major art schools!

We also use books by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET). They have a series for pre-primary aged children titled Museum ABC, Museum Shapes and Museum 123. The page for the letter ‘H is for Hair’ in Museum ABC is my ultimate favourite. It features 4 different hairstyles, one Asian, two European and one Ancient Egyptian. Do you notice how children tend to draw things in the same way? Houses, trees, apples, stick-figures? Well, our oldest was no different. But after we started using this series, she began to draw very differently, realizing that there was a variety of styles you could use to depict any one thing.

For this age too, they have a great series titled Can You Find It? These feature the works in the care of The MET and ask children to look for things in the picture thereby enticing them to study the pictures in detail.

There is another very good book titled The Art Book for Children which features 30 well-known artists and with famous artworks by each, and which teaches children to understand, imitate and study art. You could study just one artist per week and in a year your child would have been exposed to so many great paintings!

If your child is older (say 9 and above) and thinks that art appreciation is a waste of time, try giving him or her Art Fraud Detective. It is written like a whodunit, featuring a catalogue of famous artwork and asking you to figure out which paintings have been switched by four gangs of art thieves. Even adults have bought this for themselves! Or try the Thomas Brezina titles, Who Can Crack the Da Vinci Code?, Who Can Open Michelangelo’s Seven Seals? and Who Can Save Vincent’s Hidden Treasure? These are written as mysteries and are guaranteed to interest the older child, and is a hit especially with boys.

2. If you learn about the artist and their schools you will have a greater appreciation for their art

In our homeschool, we study 4 artists a year. The plan is simple. Pick an artist, print out 6 to 10 of his/her artworks ( is a very good source of material), and do a picture study on one each week. A picture study is just that. Study the picture. Silently. Then turn it around and see how much you can remember. Look at it a second and third time, adding to your mental picture each time. I have done this with my children from the time they were 4 and they have remembered every picture they studied in this way.

Before you do a picture study, read a biography of that artist. Our favourite series of biographies is by Mike Venezia, in a series titled Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists. It has lovely reproductions of the artwork in it too, and will give you an idea of which prints to search for for your picture study. You can also look up the picture books by Laurence Anholt (Degas and the Little Dancer is our favourite), and for the upper-primary aged child, Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (And What the Neighbors Thought) is a nice collection of well-written biographies, but without examples of their work.

You can also choose to study artists by their schools. A lovely series of picture books by James Mayhew featuring a little girl named Katie as the main character is what we used to introduce our children to the artists and styles of the Italian Renaissance, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Pointillists. Or look up the series of Charlotte books by Joan MacPhail Knight. Part diary, part scrapbook, it is a fun way for the 9 to 12 year old to learn art history.

3. If you start to appreciate art, you may be inspired to create art!

Have you ever bought one of those colourful art and craft books printed on glossy paper with vibrant pictures which always seem to be sold at irresistibly low prices? Well, we started with those and were quickly disappointed. The materials were sometimes difficult to get, the instructions were often complex but the most frustrating thing was our end result NEVER resembled anything that was pictured in the book! My kids would give up the moment it was apparent that our papier mache giraffe was just not going to turn out like it did in the book! Hey, the neck wouldn’t even stay on!

Well, good thing for us we discovered books by MaryAnn Kohl! The tagline for her book Preschool Art is “It’s the process, not the product”, which just about sums up her philosophy towards art experiences. She has a series of award-winning books of which we have tried Global Art (projects from around the world), Scribble Art, Preschool Art and Discovering Great Artists (which shows you how to create in the style of the great masters). We have never been disappointed! She uses easy to get materials and describes the process clearly and the results are always different and always creative! Check out the website for a complete list of her books and some free activities 

Yes, it’s true we may need some “instruction” when it comes to drawing. And the authors of Drawing with Children believe that in the same way that there is an alphabet for reading, there is an alphabet for drawing. Learn the elements that make up any drawing and you can be off and drawing realistically! I have to say that this book really changed the way I looked at things … curved line here, angled line there, filled oval over there … viola! This is one book you’ll need time to do on your own first before you start teaching your child the method. 

If that doesn’t appeal to you, try How to Teach Art to Children by the creators of the Evan-Moor series. This one covers the main elements of art – line, colour, shape, etc, in the easiest and most systematic way I have come across. 

But if you don’t want a parent-intensive programme there are two popular series of books for step-by-step instruction to drawing which your children can read and learn from on their own – the Draw 50 books by Lee J Ames and the Draw Write Now series by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer. The latter incorporates handwriting instruction with drawing and colouring.

4. And how about HANDICRAFTS?

Okay, I admit it. I’ve taken the easy way out of this one. We use the fabulous book and supplies kits from Klutz Books. They have titles like Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered by Quentin Blake (the guy who illustrated most of the Roahl Dahl books) and kits that teach everything from pressing flowers and quilting to playing string games and making pompom animal, and from weaving potholders and making friendship bracelets to tying knots and juggling!

I used to cringe at the cost of such books, but when I realised that art schools were charging upwards of S$25 per lesson and that that was about the price of a Klutz book which would last forever, well, let’s just say that quickly changed my perspective! And we’ve been having a ball! In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Klutz will be supplying our homeschool with our entire handicraft curriculum this year and in the years to come.  Visit them at and go crazy!

I hope you discover too that you don’t have to send your children out to classes for them to learn art and craft. In fact, I have to say that learning together with them is double the fun!

Angie Maniam homeschools her three children and owns The Home Library, a book consultancy service for families. All the books and resources mentioned in this article can be obtained through



  1. art can’t be defined verbally, because it’s a sense matter, a kind of spiritual awareness. you can learn it by sharpening your sense and reason to realize what is art actually and you will know how art being devoted in our life

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