Think the arts are frivolous, impractical, and over-priced?

Sometimes a parent’s “the-arts-just-aren’t-necessary” attitude can tragically squelch a young person’s creative aspirations. Whereas, a parent who is too gung-ho about a child’s talents, may not realize that hijacking dreams robs a child of healthy feelings of ownership and independence.

Fortunately, many parents find the balanced middle. They figure out how to quietly stand behind a young person’s aspirations without taking over and find ways to supportively usher their child towards creating a colorful future.

As parents of creative kids, how can we banish black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking about the arts, and tap into our expressive parenting power instead?

Here are ten tips that will help you encourage your kids to create the future that best suits them.

Be creative yourself.

Want creative kids? Start by being creative yourself. Before you can encourage your child to pursue her creative dreams, you have to nurture your own dreams. “My sister has been a local Atlanta actor for many years. Through her, and my own experiences as a child, I’ve been around the theatre world for a long time,” says Kim Priest Beaty. “My wife Julie and I first introduced Emerson to acting when she was just 3 years old at her preschool. After a summer camp experience with Forefront Arts, she was hooked and immediately joined their Junior Ensemble Troupe in Atlanta. She is currently in her fifth year with the troupe and it is truly her ‘happy place.’”

For Colette Olsen of Brookhaven, the inspiration to start her daughter Trinity in dance lessons at 2 also came from her own experience. “I danced when I was little, that was the reason we started. I enjoyed it and thought she would. At first, she just liked it for the costumes.”

Encourage hobbies.

If last year’s hobby was knitting and this year’s hobby is painting, that’s fine. Never force your kids to continue hobbies that no longer interest them. As long as the supplies are affordable and the experience is enriching, variety is good. And when a hobby sticks around, that works, too. Hobbies need to be about the joy of doing.

“If it’s something your child wants to try, look into options that are low threshold,” says mom of two Emily Cowden. “Often places will do one trial lesson for free.” She also suggests trying a day camp as a way to expose children to various art forms or utilizing virtual lessons through Olsen notes that Trinity tried golf, soccer and tennis before realizing that her true passion was for dance.

The last thing a hobby should be about is perfection or competition. If you are overly involved in your child’s hobbies, take a step back. That’s their thing. Why not find your own?

Expose your family to the arts.

Art appreciation can be a family affair without becoming expensive. Surely you are not the only family in the neighborhood interested in exposing your family to culture. Team up with families in your neighborhood to attend shows and events at group discount rates. Check local museums for free days and local theaters for meet-the-actors shows. Atlanta has a rich arts scene of cultural opportunities through public libraries, in local theaters, via local schools and colleges, and by taking advantage of special broadcasts at your local movie theater.

Make room for imagination.

The magic of creativity often happens in private. How often do you all scatter to your own corners of the house to read, create or simply have some space for imagination? Forget the idea that positive results only come from measured formulas and strictly followed recipes. Heights of beauty and transformation in art are often achieved through immersion in an imaginative process. Structured arts and crafts projects are fine, but release your kids to their own creative devices, as well.

“We introduced art lessons because, as parents, we could see how much he enjoys creating and putting his creativity to work,” says Melissa Aery, mom of Milton fourth grader Lucas. “Traditional art classes that he tried when he was younger were not interesting to him, as he found the ‘paint by numbers’ approach usually offered to children too restrictive to his imaginative ideas. The Collab where he attends lessons, has a more flexible approach, and has provided Lucas the freedom to express his thoughts and ideas with less limitations. It was a choice based on fostering his  individuality and nurturing his passion for making things.”

Explore a range of forms.

Art has many types. A partial list includes dancing, singing, fine art (painting, sculpture, architecture, music and poetry), theater arts, photography, collage, film, printmaking, mosaics, crafts and calligraphy. Don’t be shy about asking about scholarship programs if costs exceed your budget.

“Exposing kids to different mediums is good. Lillian loves to draw but discovered she really loves to use the pottery wheel after taking a class over the summer. You never know what they will like or what they may have a talent for if they don’t try it out,” says Sheri Gushta.

Relax about messes.

Your perfectionism may cost your kids in creative growth. Artists often have to try something dozens of times before they get the hang of even a simple brushstroke. Adopt a practice-makes- proud attitude. “I focus on getting a little better each day,” says 10-year-old Trinity Olsen. “I enjoy learning new things and making new friends through dance. I understand learning a new technique like pirouettes is a process. At first, I couldn’t do them at all and now I can. It’s exciting to master a new skill and see your parents and teachers notice your growth.”

If you observe your child craving space to spread out and practice work, try to create some. Make room for projects to be spread out for several days or however long they take. Find nooks and crannies of your home that can support ongoing creative messes. Drop the pressure to immediately clean up after every sitting. Take good care of art tools but allow for a bit of creative chaos.

Test-drive a variety of techniques.

Within so many approaches to one art form, you will constantly face lots of choices. So why not let your little artist explore a variety of methods as deeply as she likes over time? For example, your local dance studio probably offers ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, acrobatics and hip-hop. Within theater you will find plays, musicals, ballet and opera. “I like ballet the most, but my favorite competition piece I’ve ever done was a lyrical dance, The Moment,” shares Trinity.

Within painting, you will find oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, ink and many more. Technique classes for kids can provide a solid foundation for more in-depth study later in life. “I like to try new things like different techniques,” says fifth grader Lillian Gushta of Roswell. “Like when we did a value scale to learn about shading in my art lessons. I had never done that before.”

Bankroll dreams gradually.

Don’t drop a lot of cash up front or you may inadvertently set the stage for, “You’ll like it because I paid for it,” which is always a lot of pressure. “Once you invest in lessons, support them,” says Olsen. “Remind them to practice and make it fun. We do at-home concerts to make practicing exciting and to celebrate accomplishments.”

Go for low-commitment opportunities initially and then streamline along lines of interest as kids mature. For a dancer, you could start with tap dancing; then, add a new style each year according to her tastes and talents. If you expand as your child’s abilities grow, your child will be ready for a more intensive level of participation around middle school, which often benefits kids at this developmental juncture. “Don’t push your kids,” says Olsen. “Keep checking in — ask: Do you still want to be doing this?”

Seek out appropriate mentors.

Parents can’t be everything to every child they raise. As kids get older, they need real-life mentors to help teach them lessons about living happily in the world. Kids benefit from having multiple influences, beyond the usual teachers, coaches and instructors, who can stretch and challenge them in a particular pursuit. Explore apprenticeships, tutoring or private lessons with safe,  knowledgeable professionals who can serve as living, breathing examples of success.

“Environment  is so important,” says Trinity’s dad Aake Olsen. “The kids have to have fun and you want to find teachers and coaches that listen to your kids. Ultimately, this is a hobby.”

Banish pressure.

Creativity and pressure are like oil and water. They don’t mix well in young children, who are more likely to benefit from variety and flexibility in self-expression. As a parent, strive to be that  supportive, guiding presence so you can help your children make choices that are expressive and sensible.

“Don’t force them,” says Priest Beaty. “As with any other activity, if they aren’t up there having fun and wanting to go to rehearsal, don’t make them.”

“It’s essential to find a course or environment that aligns with your child’s unique artistic inclinations. Additionally, persistence is key. If the first attempt at an art class or experience doesn’t resonate with your child, don’t be discouraged. Each child is different, and finding the right fit may require exploration,” says Aery.

Supporting Skills

What else do the arts bring to kids?

“Performing has brought our child confidence in herself and her abilities on and off the stage, speaking publicly in front of large groups. Being able to express herself through song and dance and understanding that a show is more than one person,” says Priest Beaty. “It takes every individual involved on and off stage to make the magic happen.”

“Dance has helped her focus, built her confidence and endurance,” says Olsen. “Most of all, it has taught her perseverance. Kids have to learn that you can’t do something the first time, but after trying over and over again, you can. We say get 1% better every day.”

“Learning piano has helped a lot with my daughter’s fine motor skills,” says Cowden. “She didn’t go to preschool during the pandemic, so she was a touch behind with that. Her teachers now have noticed the improvement.”

“As Lucas has developed his technical skills, he has also deepened his understanding of art. Having the freedom to explore his ideas with a better technical foundation has helped to unlock more creativity and ideas,” says Aery. “The benefits extend beyond the canvas, influencing his overall confidence and approach to creativity.”

-Christina Katz with Tali Benjamin

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