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Giving Your Kid an Art Smart Edge in Southeast Michigan

Drawing and trips to the DIA in Detroit are just part of the puzzle. Learn cool ways parents can help children blossom creatively with cameras, paint and tons more

You're probably keeping an eye on your child's IQ, but what about her CQ? Although no definitive test exists to measure the "Creativity Quotient," there's no denying its value.

For older children with an artsy bent, the focus should be on helping them understand that creativity can lead to a clear-cut – and lucrative – career path, and to begin to get portfolios in order for the college application process.

For youngsters it's all about exploration, and it's never too early to start. Traditional media like painting and music are fundamental, but there are many other ways to foster a child's CQ. Here are some ideas.

Photography

Amazing things happen when you give a child a camera, says Birmingham-based photojournalist Linda Solomon. Photography is a great medium, she explains, because cameras are inexpensive and readily available – and kids as young as 4 can manage not just to point-and-shoot, but to convey their ideas.

Through photography, they learn to see the world differently. "It's very important to give them a theme; just don't let them go wandering around," Solomon says.

Solomon says it can be anything from asking children to photograph their heroes, document their bedrooms or snap photos of siblings in the family car. Ask children to write down their ideas or discuss them with adults first.

"I always ask children to capture their hopes and dreams. Each time they capture a dream with their camera, they've got that treasure forever. It's life-changing."

Sculpture

Yes, there's Play-Doh and clay, but sculpture can also be explored in other ways.

A new class in development for Schoolcraft College's Kids on Campus program in Livonia encourages fifth- and sixth-graders to create sculpture using found objects.

Michele Bialo, program manager for continuing education and professional development at the southeast Michigan college, says the class asks students to bring in materials from home or the great outdoors to use in their work.

"The focus is on taking everyday items and turning them into a masterpiece," she says. "I think there's beauty in everyday items, and I think oftentimes kids can see things that adults might not be able to."

The annual Plymouth Ice Festival, held the third weekend of January every year, also gives children a chance to experience sculpture in an unexpected way as ice sculptors create cool, glistening works of art out of big blocks of ice. The event, which is held in Kellogg Park, includes interactive displays for families – not to mention a dueling chainsaws speed carving show.

Architecture

According R. Rocco Romano, students with a solid grasp of both art and mathematics have a strong foundation for architecture – and there are ways to expose even the youngest of children to the principles behind the profession.

Romano, a principal at TMP Architecture in Bloomfield Hills and chair of the elementary education committee for the American Institute of Architects, says parents can encourage children to study their surroundings and think about how humans interact with the world around them.

Romano helped author Architecture: It's Elementary, a free, web-based guidebook for educators and parents with specific lesson plans for grades K-5 – which was updated in 2012 to include "green" design principles.

Activities in the book encourage children to do such things as draw their rooms from memory, measure their classrooms, explore their neighborhoods and plan entire cities.

 

Product design

Whether the product is a video game, vehicle or tennis shoe, a human being created it. Mikel Bresee, director of community partnerships at College for Creative Studies, says today's employers are hungry to hire creative thinkers.

"Kids these days spend way too much time interacting with prefabricated products. They're being put in the position as consumers of creativity instead of producers," Bresee says. "We need to flip that."

CCS invites students to explore its campus through Middle School Art and Design Career Discovery Tours – and offers one-day workshops for ages 6-12 and precollege programs for ages 13-19. Classes include digital design, comic book art, animation, video production and more.

At home, Bresee suggests parents foster their children's bent toward product design by asking them to sketch out new video game characters and environments, or design sneakers of their own.

"Then they'll realize that creating those things is something they could do if they wanted to, and make a very good living at it," he says.

Glass

Glassblowing obviously isn't safe for little ones to try, but it is awfully exciting to watch artists at work at their fiery ovens. Glass objects – from paperweights and ornaments to vases and drinking glasses – blend form and function in a medium many kids might not think of as art without your prompting. The Glass Academy at Furnace Design Studio in Dearborn hosts educational tours for scout groups and classrooms, as well as open events throughout the year.

The studio also offers an annual Holiday Celebration in Glass in early December. See live glassblowing demonstrations and shop handcrafted glass ornaments, candy canes, snowmen, Christmas trees and decorative bowls.

Carpentry

Do your children love building with LEGOs and blocks? Perhaps they have a penchant for construction. One way to help them explore working with their hands is through Kids Workshops at The Home Depot. All locations hold the free, hands-on sessions the first Saturday of each month, 9 a.m.-noon.

Designed for children ages 5-12, participants receive a free Kids Workshop apron, commemorative pin and certificate of achievement.

"Our Kids Workshops program teaches kids basic home improvement skills while helping to build confidence and instill a sense of pride and accomplishment," says Dorthanal Leonard, district manager for The Home Depot stores in metro Detroit. "It also provides a fun opportunity for kids and parents to spend time together – and the kids get to go home with their own craft project."

You also can create your own workshop at home by ordering The Home Depot's ready-to-assemble kits for bat houses, birdhouses, dollhouses and more ($8 and up).

Sewing

Working with needle, thread and fabric helps develop an appreciation of color, texture and three-dimensional design, says Toby Haberman of Haberman Fabrics in Royal Oak. Children are generally ready to begin sewing at age 8, and can do simple projects like stuffed animals or fleece mittens and hats.

"What's important when you're working with a child is that nothing is 'right' and nothing is 'wrong,'" she says. "There are honest ways of describing what a child has created to help them appreciate the elements they have used in their design."

Haberman Fabrics offers frequent weekend classes for kids, including hand-sewing sessions for ages 8 to 11.

Sewing builds coordination and can lead to careers in fashion design, interior design and even engineering, Haberman says.

"Anything you do creatively develops your mind and opens your mind and builds your self-confidence," Haberman says, "and with confidence you can do anything."

Music

If your student has a talent for playing music, or just loves to listen, there is more to music than meets the ear.

Axis Music Academy, with locations in Canton, Birmingham, Southfield and six other southeast Michigan spots, offers music exploration classes for youngsters and rock band opportunities for the older set. The school also teaches songwriting, production and music business management. As the only Apple-authorized training center in Michigan, Axis offers recording classes in software like Pro Tools and GarageBand for teens who aspire to be DJs or work behind-the-scenes in the business.

Axis founder John E. Antone says music helps build self-esteem, making kids less susceptible to bullying, peer pressure and other negative influences.

"We've seen students who have been suffering in school in different areas. Our instructors mentor the students, and they end up doing well," Antone says. "When kids are having a hard time talking to their parents or other students, we try to bring it out of them with music."

Painting

When most people think of art, they immediately picture painting – and, according to Art Road's Carol Hofgartner, this traditional medium is always a hit with kids. As founder and chair of Livonia-based Art Road, Hofgartner brings weekly art classes to 800 Detroit elementary students at schools where art has been cut from the curriculum. Through painting, children hone motor skills, learn to conceptualize and cultivate pride in their work.

She urges parents to provide opportunities for kids to paint at home, despite the mess.

"Children just love to paint. They love to mix the colors, and who cares in the end if it turns out to be brown? If they're using their hands, they're happy. To us it's all about the process of making art," she says.

Hofgartner believes art is essential to development, and offers valuable skills that can last a lifetime. "So many of our great companies are driven by artists and thinkers," she says. "Art is all around us."

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