Art + Fun = School Readiness

Want a more active role with your grandchildren?

I’m thinking about some fun, school readiness activities.  Yes, that’s right.  I said FUN school readiness.

It’s your grandchild’s early learning experiences that contribute to overall healthy development…and prepare him or her for success not just in school, but for later life.  There’s so much you can do that’s fun for both of you to help prepare your grandchild for school.

First, I want you to do one thing: Ignore clever marketing of commercial flash cards, activity and work books that proclaim they are ‘school readiness tools’.  There are more effective things you can do!

My varied career included lots of work with early childhood educators and professionals. Years later, I am still learning from my dear friend and former colleague, Marlene Welch (or Mama Welch as she has heard some students refer to her) who has devoted her career of 35+ years to early childhood education, programs and training.  Today, she shares her wealth of knowledge and experience as a community college professor and continues to educate me about what school readiness really is and that grandparents (and parents) don’t need a teaching degree, special materials or a fat wallet to help with school readiness.

My own grandchildren are benefiting and now I want to share what I’ve learned with GRAND readers. Getting ready for school can be great fun for you and your grands!  Best of all, none of these activities sound or feel like ‘education’.

Let’s start with my all-time favorite: The Art Bin. This works for preschoolers through elementary school-age children.   Creating an art bin is simple, does not have to cost a lot and can be just what the doctor ordered when caring for a sick grandchild; waiting out a rainy day; responding to  “I’m bored!”; or making child-designed holiday/birthday cards or decorations.

What They Learn

If you think art is just about painting pretty pictures, gluing together a collage or only ‘coloring within the lines’, think again!  (Marlene tells me: No coloring books or printed pages to color!  That tells a child there is only one, correct way to do things; discourages creativity; and forces the child to stick with one shape or design rather than drawing freely. ) Here’s how art can help your grandchildren develop specific school readiness skills:

Pre-Writing Skills

…fine motor skills for printing and writing (i.e. using scissors; drawing and painting; gluing objects)

…strengthening hands (such as gripping paint brushes and crayons)

…space relationships (needed for writing letters)

Language Development and Pre-Reading

…telling about the picture or art he/she created

…reading is how we learn what words mean, not just the words on a page

…art is about shapes and letters are shapes

Problem Solving and Thinking Skills

… innovative use of different materials

…independent thinking deciding how and what to use

…finding alternative approaches, when something doesn’t work out

…maintaining concentration and developing attention span

Positive Self-Image

…individuality

…willingness to take risks

Miscellaneous Skills

…following directions (e.g. cleaning up)

…hand-eye coordination

…exploration and discovery (e.g. mixing together different colored paints)  

Art Is Everywhere

Just looking differently at any item or material will spark ideas for more supplies to include. Dollar, arts and craft and hardware stores, even your own home are great places for inexpensive supplies that will inspire fun and encourage your grandchild to explore lots of creative possibilities.

Paper and Alternatives to Paper

  • used/new gift tissue paper; uncoated white paper plates; cardboard from boxes or writing tablets; construction and computer paper; brown paper lunch bags; used gift wrap; waxed paper

Decorative and Collage Material

  • used/new ribbon, yarn or string; glitter; seasonal/holiday and other stickers; old greeting cards, magazine pages  and junk mail to cut up; doilies

Washable Everything and Easy Clean Up

  • crayons, colored pencils, paint, chalk, glue – all WASHABLE!
  • dollar store shower curtain liner on floor, newspapers for table
  • old long sleeve shirts for adults or children, child-sized art smocks

Alternative to Paints and Print Materials

  • shaving cream, chocolate pudding (finger painting)
  • colored ink stamp pads (not easy to wash off, but fun for fingerprint art perfect for school-aged children)

Painting Tools

  • fingers; paint brushes; sponge paint brushes; pieces of new sponges; Qtips; old tooth brushes or combs (sterilized in the dishwasher); cotton balls; cooked spaghetti noodles

Printing Instruments (use with thick, washable tempura paint)

  • cookie cutters; plastic letters/numbers/shapes; pieces of old costume jewelry; sponges

Misc. Items

  • pipe cleaners; single hole punch*; child-sized scissors*; stapler*; scotch tape; masking tape

*For young children, store these items separately from the art bin and out of their reach.

Store and Treasure

Store it all in one, large plastic container with a lid.  Add ‘Art Bin’ or your grandchild’s name using magic markers.  For lettering, space out words on a blank piece of paper.  Put that paper inside the clear plastic container and trace the letters onto the plastic container.  Why not do two art bins? One for your house and one as a gift for your grandchildren to keep at their own house.

Just remember to focus on the process, not the end product; allow plenty of time; and let your grandchildren follow their imagination and their own ideas.  When they’re finished, don’t ask them what it is.  Ask them to tell you about their drawing, design or whatever they have created. This nonjudgmental approach encourages individuality, willingness to take risks and using their imagination, while fostering positive self-esteem.

Label with the child’s name and date, then display treasured artwork by hanging with clothespins, on  corkboard or with temporary adhesive on your wall.  Or, insert art into large magnetic photo holders.  Save your grandchild’s masterpieces in large file boxes, storage containers or children’s art portfolios.

Most important, let go of the need to direct your grandchild in any art or craft activity.  It’s the process of the child creating his or her own work of art that is most beneficial to a quality learning experience. Take joy in, and treasure, your grand’s individuality!

More Ideas

Get started with this wonderful art book for preschoolers and these websites for free art and creativity ideas to jump start your school readiness fun.

First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by Mary Ann F. Kohl

http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities - arts and crafts activities for elementary school-aged children

http://www.preschoolexpress.com/art_station.shtml – art activities and lots of other, developmentally-appropriate activities for school readiness, such as pre-reading and pre-math

http://familyfun.go.com/crafts/crafts-by-age/ – art and craft activities for toddlers, preschoolers, elementary school age and tweens

http://www.billybear4kids.com/Learn2Draw/FingerPrints.html - how to turn stamp pad fingerprints into clever characters and animals

http://www.squidoo.com/Ed-Emberley-Thumbprint-Art – more ideas for creating  fingerprint masterpieces


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