Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Young at Art

Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art by Susan Striker

I have had this book on my shelf for years; I think I received it as a gift just after First Daughter was born. I've started to read it many times, but have always set it aside after a few chapters. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I found the tone of the book pretentious and grating.

It seems clear Ms. Striker has only one child and is most familiar teaching a group of students of similar abilities. For example, she condemns those who would give a toddler a box of 64 crayons, claiming such a child should be limited to one color each session (even suggesting such an act could scar the child emotionally). I wonder how she would react to Second Daughter when she's at the table with the older two. While I don't always give Second Daughter what she wants, it seems prudent to choose my battles and the 64 box of crayons is simply not on the list.

She also insists parents should save every single creation for each child, that we should have a corner of the house devoted to art where a child can choose any material at any time, and other such things that are simply impossible for most families. She gives time with art materials a higher place than just about anything else in a child's development, emotionally, intellectually and physically. I would tend to agree, if she didn't take her theories so far. (If by any chance you do not feel the opportunity to create art is important for your child's development, then you should read this book and take it very seriously. She's not wrong, just extreme.)

The tone aside, this is a fabulous book for anyone living or working with young children who wants to guide toddlers and preschoolers, even young elementary students, as they create art. Ms. Striker provides nearly step-by-step instructions for the types of materials, the method and their introduction beginning with a single crayon and a large piece of paper. Her suggestions are fabulous and offer plenty of guidance on when to splurge on materials.

If you are home alone with an 18 month old, I suggest you find a copy of this book and start right at the beginning. Skim the overwhelming bits and give your child a huge sheet of paper and a black crayon. You'll find ample ways to fill hours of time and give "baby" wonderful experiences. It's not clear to me you can go wrong following Ms. Striker's suggestions, as long as you don't take her too seriously.

It is much more complicated if you add children of other ages or if you have a less-forgiving space for art in your home. I have successfully used some of her suggestions, though, including a recent afternoon on a red collage with First Son and First Daughter. They would have gone on for hours if we hadn't needed to stop for dinner and we will certainly enjoy similar times in the future. Not every day, though. Despite their help cleaning up, we were sweeping and mopping bits of red fluff (thanks to First Son whose scissors became a Tyranosaurus rex that ate the pom poms) and red glitter (that would be First Daughter) for a week! (Special thanks to Grammy who provided a great majority of the red materials we had on hand.)

A significant portion of the book is devoted to lists of books for every topic of art you can imagine, with categories for Art Concepts, Art History and Cultural Arts, Artists, The Environment and Weather, Imaginary Creatures, Imaginative Thinking, Media (Collage, Crafts, etc.), Music Inspires Art, People (faces, feet, hands, portraits in art, etc.), Signs and Symbols (alphabet books, numbers, reading, etc.). A great many books are out of print. I believe it is a record of her personal library, built up over her many years teaching and sharing art with children, as opposed to a list of books you could carry to the bookstore. Because the book was published a number of years ago (2001), there are a great many recent books that could not be included. I suspect after reading a few of her suggestions (perhaps from the library), we would be able to discover more recent books, still in print, that would meet the same needs. She also includes songs (and scores), some of them written specifically for her art programs.

Her suggestions for parties are wonderful. I am most certainly going to let the children decorate their own cake (or cupcakes) at our next big birthday party. I even imagine one day we'll be able to set up musical paints in our outbuilding some day. (You'll have to read the book for more detailed instructions.)

For those with older children, I highly recommend the Anti-Coloring Books, created by Ms. Striker. I think they're wonderful. First Son isn't quite ready for them, but we will certainly include them in our art arsenal in the future. (I probably will not use them as part of our formal homeschooling, just have them around for the children to pick up on their own.)

You can learn more about these books and Ms. Striker at her website.


  1. To balance this one out, I'd recommend The Creative Family by Amanda Soule. (I can't remember whether you've read/reviewed that one before or not-probably so.) Since she actually has multiple children, and at least somewhat limited space, her ideas are quite realistic to accomplish, and encompass not just visual arts. Being more of a fiber arts person myself, I can appreciate that variety, and I have more tolerance for a mess of yarn bits than a mess of paint spots!

  2. That's funny about saving every single creation for each child. We would have to add on to our house! I let them have free rein (within reason) of the crayons, markers, colored pencils, scissors, construction paper, glue sticks, hole punch, tape and staples. Catherine especially has come up with some pretty inventive creations all on her own. We went through a cutting-out-hearts phase and they were taped up all over the house for a while. I got some watercolor books and in a couple hours I had about 50 drying pages lying around. I guess I'm a bad Mommy for not saving them all!:)

  3. I'll second The Creative Family suggestion, if you haven't read it. It was a quick, enjoyable read and it had a lot of great ideas. Amanda Soule's website has some good things on it, too.

  4. Thanks, Hilary and Tiffany, for the suggestion. I haven't read The Creative Family, but it is now on my list! Hilary, I've been meaning to stop by Goodwill where I heard you can find tons of excess yarn. We don't have much occasion for it around here, though one day I'm going to start knitting. Just as soon as I finish the forty or so cross-stitch projects I've already selected.

    H of B, I've been meaning to share the hole punch with the kids. I think they'll really like it.

    It is fun to see what kids will do when materials are just put in front of them. This week we did torn tissue paper collages (tissue paper and glue, no scissors allowed). Second Daughter made one collage and then her second was all glue. Both First Son and First Daughter then proceeded to paint glue all over the old cans I gave them (to hold the glue) and surrounded them with the tissue paper.


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