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Creative Activities to Spark Art in Preschool Age Kids

Early learners are natural Picassos! Three Detroit educators who work with ages 0-5 offer ways to introduce dance, songs, stories, theater and visual arts.

Is your child still an infant or toddler? You're in luck! It's a perfect time to connect them to their inner artist – which is more accessible now than ever. And the best part is, it doesn't require pricey classes or special equipment.

How is that? Education Detroit asked three Detroit education leaders who work with children from ages 0-5 to get their advice on fun ideas and activities. They include:

  • Detroit Waldorf School, in Detroit's Indian Village neighborhood: Maggie Crawford, childhood educator, and Charis Calendar-Suemnick, outreach director, both offered insights. Their pre-K-8 school delivers a Waldorf philosophy focused on kids' curiosity and love of learning.
  • Children of the Rising Sun, in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood: Zina Davis, executive director helms this small, full-time "holistic and cultural educational program" for kids 12 months-4 years – and has a 3-year-old daughter herself.
  • Living Arts, in Southwest Detroit: This nonprofit offers youth and community dance and arts. Roberta "Bobbi" Lucas, director of its El Arte early learning program, shares her ideas.

Read on for their tips tailored for tykes who aren't yet in kindergarten.

Dance

Getting kids galloping, bouncing – even slithering! – is a great start.

Simple motions

"With little children it's so important, as their brain is developing, to have them exposed to as much movement as possible," Calendar-Suemnick says. "Especially movement that requires them to cross the midline of their bodies." Try touching toes, walking up a ramped surface or even (carefully!) hanging upside down. In fact, research is finding it "directly correlates with the eye muscles in the body," she adds – which helps with reading, down the road. It could be a bit early to jump rope, but hopping is a great way to get move, too (and start practicing counting).

Walk this way

At Living Arts, Lucas does an activity where she sticks tape (something gentle, like painter's tape) to the floor: in a straight line, squiggles and zigzag. As pre-K students walk or crawl, on the floor along the patterns, they're honing their balance and coordination skills – and connecting literacy and dance, as their teachers (or, at home, you) point out the shapes of an letters, such as "I," "S" and "Z" – and numbers, too.

Stories and Songs

The rhythms enrich and enliven daily life – and set a good learning tempo.

Read (and sing) out loud

"Children love their parents' voices," Crawford assures. "They love the effort ... as scared as we are," she says, and "even if we read in a boring way." It can be anything from fairytales (just keep your delivery gentle on the scary witches and stuff) to daily headlines. Grappling for subject matter? Think of what happened that day, and spin a short story. Sing a little song for waking up and bedtime to create rituals and comfort. Or make up a wacky ditty about chores, like dishwashing. "Seriously," Crawford says, "It will help mom so much!"

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Pick a story. And tell it. Over. And over. And over. "The adults are like, 'Omigod, I'm so tired of this," Crawford laughs. "The children just soak it up! They thrive on that juicy repetition of the same, same, same."

Instruments

Start with what you have. "Cup your hand and slap on your belly," says Crawford. "Stomp your feet." Use a child's rattle. Bang two sticks on empty plastic containers. String jingle bells onto a pipe cleaner, put it on your wrist and shake.

Visual Arts

Making a "mess" at this stage can be a masterpiece. Try out these ideas.

Simple supplies

At the beginning of this school year, Davis gave her little ones' parents a "home kit" containing poster board, a mini paint set with a paint brush, scissors, glue and packs of construction paper, crafts and markers. It's all bulk from the Dollar Store (better for bulk craft supplies vs. Dollar General, she notes, which stocks more teaching supplies).

Nature's art

A stroll in Belle Isle or a nearby park, especially near water, is "the best stress reliever," says Crawford – and fires the imagination. Ask kids, "What do you hear? Do you hear those birds? I wonder if they're singing to the fairies." Maybe grab some twigs and starting building a fairy house. What does it look like? Davis loves bringing the outdoors in, too.

One little pupil gathered acorns and got inspired to paint them, sparking a class collage. This time of year, making leaf "impressions" (by placing a leaf under paper and lightly shading it with a crayon) is great fun. In winter, bring in a bucket of snow. "Let it sit," Davis says. "It becomes science." How do kids think it evaporated? What does it feel like? Taste like?

Finger painting

It's so simple, Davis says, and kids love it. "Just get paper and just allow them to move their fingers and draw shapes and lines," she says. "It's all about free expression." Set out the materials. See what follows.

Nooks and little secret spots

Having a "creative space" is key, too – or "little secret spots," as Crawford calls them. Whether it's a small art table or area that's fair game for building forts out of extra sheets, blankets and cushions, these safe areas for imagination are so key, especially for older toddlers, that it's worth the effort to make the space – even if it's just a corner of the living room, she says.

'All about me' and art wall

Foods, photos, animals or sayings: Even tykes have favorites! Help your child paste pictures and scribbles into an "all about me" poster collage, Davis says. "They can relate to it and visually see it. It's a work of art." Then, be sure to display it. Davis dedicates a wall of her kitchen to her preschool daughter's work. The "frames" are simply bright pieces of construction paper with the centers snipped out.

Theater

Let's be real: Your kid's got a dramatic side. Harness and develop it!

Puppets

Pull things together with a little show. Simplicity is best: spare felt or even a sock and a few buttons/scraps and glue. At Waldorf, Crawford says, the puppets' expressions are intentionally plain: "You can't tell if it's happy or sad. The child creates" the emotion. And, she adds, "The couch is the ready-made puppet theater" – or adjust a tension rod in a doorway with fabric draped over. Be a supportive, expressive audience for your little thespian.

Big production

At Living Arts, Lucas often asks parents to think about how to make a story 3D. "Imagine that you and your child are the directors, producers, filmmakers, authors," she says. What would your character's voice sound like? How would they walk into the kitchen? You can apply this to their favorite book, too. Kids love experimenting with different identities and feelings.

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