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What’s the Secret to Creativity? Simple Strategies to Raise Creative Children

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

How Parents Can Raise Creative Thinkers in the Face of Elementary and Middle School Social Pressures

It’s proven through government studies that creativity is a valuable asset best developed through the arts. Creativity is known as the fundamental driver of innovation. Art education develops the critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities necessary to create our future innovators. However, it can be quite difficult for parents to retain the adventurous free spirit of early childhood in the face of elementary and middle school social pressures. How can parents raise the next generation of creative thinkers?

Unstructured artwork is characteristic of pre-school and kindergarten age children. They draw stick figures and love to splatter paint with fingers onto huge sheets of paper. Parents enjoy the self-expressive free nature found in their child’s art. Exploration and risk-taking are encouraged, even if the kitchen floor is a disaster and there are two loads of laundry afterwards.

By third grade it’s clear something has changed. Children become much more cautious with their artwork. Looking at class presentations shows heightened conformity and a great degree of similarity across student artwork. Many seem too perfect to be a typical third-grader’s. Children seem a bit embarrassed by their work, and more concerned with approval than enjoyment of the process. Unless parents and teachers step in, children will continue to lose their inborn creative spark.

So what can parents do to nurture creativity into adulthood? Here are four strategies:

  •     Children’s physical ability to color inside the lines is seen as a developmental milestone, thus teaching at an early age that creativity has strict rules and expectations. Relying on coloring books leads to the same conformity. Instead of using structured materials such as coloring books, parents should try sketchbooks to help children find their own source of inspiration and ways to communicate through art.
  •     Peer pressure can influence a child’s artwork the same way it controls what clothes a child wears to school. Our society places high value on creativity, yet children instinctively feel that artwork has to be pretty to be praised. Parents need to be aware of their child’s need for social acceptance, even in art class. Asking about projects can give insight into the amount of peer pressure involved. Try “How is your work different from others in class? Or the same? What do you like / not like about your artwork? What would you do differently next time?” Let you child know that being an individual is important, and that you value an ability to be thinking independently.
  •     School administrators face pressure to keep art as part of the school day in the face of rising budget cuts. However, a comprehensive standards-based art curriculum isn’t just about making clay dinosaurs or painting with acrylics. A true study of the visual arts is cross-curricular, uniquely connecting the “core” course of math, history, language arts and science. As a parent, don’t let art get pushed aside as being a “special”. If your child has art class in school or as part of an afterschool program, find out just what topics are being explored. It’s not just about what they have made in class, it’s about learning to ask questions and explore the relationship between subjects. If you want children with critical thinking skills and better grades, it’s proven that you should start with art.
  •     Art needs to stay fun. It develops self-expression that is free from “right and wrong” test-driven coursework. Art explores the basis of human knowledge about our world and is the best way for children to discover their unique place in it. So keep it fun by taking trips to museums, talking about movies or picture books – really anything visual that creates an emotional response, good or bad. Then think, discuss, and ask “Why?” “What did it mean to you?” “Would you change it?” Not only will you have more quality time with your family, you’ll also be developing critical thinking skills.

Teaching children to ask questions is essential towards their creative development. Art should be a place where children can learn, explore and create without right or wrong answers. By nurturing creativity we develop future innovators. So don’t be afraid to teach children to color outside the lines

Do All Children Need Art Education? Test Your Creativity IQ To Find Out

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Parents are faced with a dizzying amount of information on what, exactly, children should be learning in school or after school. They’ve been told “Creativity is Essential for 21st Century Skills”. So what exactly are those skills any why are they necessary?

Here’s a short quiz – it’s easy, True or False?

Creativity is a vitally important skill, but difficult to measure.

Question: Art is just for kids who like to draw. Unless a ‘gifted’ child likes to spend time doodling, sketching or drawing there’s no reason to spend valuable educational hours on a visual arts curriculum.
Answer: False. It has been proven through government studies that art education measurably increases a child’s academic achievement. According to the PCAH Turnaround: Arts Initiative, “Research shows that when students participate in the arts they are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, have higher GPAs and SAT scores and show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12. They are also more likely to be engaged and cooperative with teachers and peers and are more self-confident and better able to express their ideas.” What parent doesn’t want those benefits?

 

Question: A course of study in the Visual Arts will only benefit that small number of children who have ‘natural talent’ in hands-on artwork.
Answer: False. Art class isn’t just about making clay dinosaurs. A comprehensive, standards based art curriculum teaches the 16 elements and principles – those like line, shape, color, and emphasis – that teach children to effectively communicate in our overwhelmingly visual world.
It’s well known that there’s a connection between the Arts and creativity. It’s also known that a Visual Arts training enhances a skill known as ‘visualization’. Not coincidentally, those both contain the word ‘visual’. So what exactly is visualization, and why is it such an important part of children’s education?

Visualization can be explained with one simple question:
What did you eat for breakfast?
Note: This one isn’t true or false.

Answering this question defines visualization. First, the brain goes back in time and recalls an image – in this case it’s (probably) food – then labels it with words for the answer. That’s it. The ability of the mind to creates a picture to solve a problem or answer a question. Visualization skills are innate, yet children tend to lose them during the transition to adulthood. As with creativity, visualization skills need to be developed and encouraged in early childhood education so that they are not lost.

The ability for the brain to create complex images to solve problems is the key to creativity and innovation. Einstein didn’t change scientific thinking about the nature of the universe just because he was good with numbers. Rather, he often spoke about how he ‘was able to see’ the nature of matter and complex systems in motion, then follow with mathematical proofs. Clearly, visualization is a necessary if students are to study even high school level science and mathematics. However, at a basic level knowledge is not just a static standardized test. All of those building blocks start moving in real time. That’s where visualization is an essential skill. Children can know the names of the planets, yet without visualization skills there’s no understanding beyond rote memorization.

The last questions are actually disguised answers.
What does this have to do with the Visual Arts? well, Art is a visual language. If you teach children to decode art, they can understand why a Coke commercial will make them want to drink Coke.
Why start early? Why before Middle School?
Parents of teenagers know that children are most energetic and free thinking in Elementary School. By Middle School conformity sets in, and from that to teenage years parents can only hope they’ve distilled enough foundation to weather the storm. In sum, it’s never too late, but it’s always best to start early.

A Short List of (Mostly) Free Digital Paint Software

Monday, June 17th, 2013

 

          The internet is a mixed bag. On the one hand it can provide a treasure trove of knowledge and information, and on the other hand it can quickly turn into a confusing array of choices. It can also be a terrific way to spend large amounts of time that you really didn’t have in the search for that one thing you’re actually looking for. Admit it, we’ve all wasted time trying to get Google to cough up relevant information. So we thought we’d save you some time in the search for a kid-friendly (mostly) free digital paint program.

          For those new to Creativity Express, our 16 online art lessons include doART  ‘Creativity Builders’. These are hands-on art projects that can be completed using both traditional art supplies as well as digital paint programs. From a parent’s point of view, a digital approach can have several advantages. Anyone who has supervised an art project involving glitter appreciates the lack of cleanup time computers offer while still encouraging their child’s creative self-expression. Looking towards you child’s future, a vast array of jobs use digital tools for real-world products; a simple example would be architects who rely on computer aided rendering software to design buildings. So it’s a good idea to give kids at least some experience with digital paint programs – it is a worthwhile stepping stone to more complex software.

          In order for us to recommend a digital paint program it needed to meet three basic rules.

  • First, the software has to be kid-friendly. This means that the child can learn to use the program either because it is simply laid out, or because there are good tutorials. This should be fun for the kids, not a burden for the parents to trouble-shoot.
  • Second, the software should be free to download, or low-cost. Though free sound great, it has its downsides. Generally software is free because it has ads in it, and with kids involved that’s not always okay.
  • Hence my third rule: any advertising must be child-appropriate.

There are quite a few digital paint programs to choose from, so let’s get started!

Traditional MyPaint toolsMyPaint – Available for PC and Linux operating systems; MyPaint has a range of functions similar to Adobe Photoshop including pressure-sensitive capabilities for use with drawing tablets. In addition to basic layering features, MyPaint has many different brush settings. Kids can even create their own brushes, allowing them to be really creative with this program!

Firealpaca – This kid-friendly art program is available for free download on both Macs and PCs. A relatively new program, it does contain advertisements. However they claim to be art-related, and only placed ion the introductory screen, along with any relevant update information or user tips. The program has layer capabilities and many different brush settings.

Copic – Another free program compatible with Macs and PCs, Copic has a user-friendly interface that incorporates Copic’s color system as well as different brush settings. Kids will love the easy look of the program, and should be able to pick it up quickly.

Sumopaint – Users can draw online or download a more comprehensive version of this easy-to-use program; it has both PC and Mac compatibility. Its tools for drawing are virtually unlimited, allowing kids to have an expanded choice for their artwork.

ArtRage ToolboxArtRage – This program is very kid-friendly and simplistic, and is our choice for digital art software. It’s available for both Windows and Mac operating systems for $49.90. Supporting all levels of artists, ArtRage is designed to be like a virtual painting space, increasing authenticity and making the experience for kids more fun and realistic.

Artweaver – Suitable for beginners, Artweaver is a freeware program that is available for Windows computers. On this program, kids can even draw from a photograph scanned into the computer – draw on paper first, then paint on Artweaver!

SpeedyPainter – SpeedyPainter has a simple and intuitive design, and is suitable for children to use. It is downloadable for free for Windows users. It includes basic features, as well as a brush library and separate viewfinder to allow kids to really see what they’re drawing.

SmoothDraw – This program has many different brushes that can be used, as well as a simplistic interface; it’s available for free download for Windows operating systems. Children will love the ease of use in this program, and will be able to use it with little basic knowledge of tools in art programs.

Qaquarelle – Part of the Sourceforge portfolio of software, Qaquarelle supports tablet functions and has a simple design that children will find easy-to-use. It’s an open-source software that has a free download.

Last but not least, a clever drawing tool….

DrawPile – Although not specifically a digital paint program, DrawPile is a freeware program that allows multiple users to share the same online drawing board. Kids can have fun doodling and creating with their friends wherever they may travel.

With such a range of choices, we look forward to user comments on these programs, and links to others we may not have discovered.

Enjoy!

The Madcap Logic Team

Creativity Express Awarded 2011 BESSIE

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011


Madcap Logic's “Creativity Express” is awarded ComputEd Gazette’s BESSIE award for

Best Upper Elementary Art Education Website.

The Best Educational Software Awards “target innovative and content-rich programs and websites that provide parents and teachers with the technology to foster educational excellence.

Winners are selected from titles submitted by publishers around the world.”

For a full list of winners, and more information about the ComputED Gazette and the BESSIE Awards visit:

http://computedgazette.com/page3.html

For a compete list of the Creativity Express portfolio of Awards, visit:

http://www.madcaplogic.com/awards.php 

Madcap Logic Moves to Florida

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Leaving Colorado in late 2010, Madcap Logic, LLC has officially relocated to Florida. Our move is accompanied by a change in ownership and refocusing of Madcap Logic’s business plan.

“Our flagship sixteen lesson Creativity Express curriculum has been quite successful.” says the new CEO and Owner, Elise Ruiz-Ramon. “However, the CD-ROM delivery has caused significant frustrations from our customers – the operating systems are changing so rapidly that compatibility has become serious issue. We are at the mercy of Microsoft and Apple, and whatever upgrades or patches they may choose to place on any given computer at any time. Our Creativity Express Online product is free from those potential bugs, and is always on for any number of users from any web browser. The internet delivery of curriculum content is now widely accepted by home and traditional school students. Creativity Express Online is specifically designed to meet the needs of teachers and students alike, increasing productivity and creatively engaging the minds of children.”

The new CEO will begin by upgrading essential services within the Teacher Account Center, then improving the store front for greater product choices, pricing transparency and ease of ordering.

“We expect next year to be challenging for teachers and schools given the upcoming budget cuts,'” says Mrs. Ruiz-Ramon, “and we need to be able to provide a viable solution for art education to remain a core component of elementary curriculum.”

Newsweek Reports on the "Creativity Crisis" in America

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Affecting a generation of Americans, both children and adults,
“For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong – and how we can fix it.”

If you have school-age children this comes as no surprise. Children are spending more time in front of televisions and computers, and spending days in school being tested rather that taught. The long term effects are now being felt by a society that needs innovation more than ever to solve long-term problems.

What can you do? Read the article, learn, and reach out to the schools and children around you. Stay involved, and use books instead of television. Force your children outside (weather permitting) without electronics. Let them fail so that they understand how to creatively find solutions on their own. Encourage individuality.

Furnace recommends picking up a paintbrush and finding out where your imagination can take you! It’s a great way to spend a summer day. Just try to find a brush your own size…

Time4Learning Provides Creativity Express Art Curriculum to its Members

Monday, July 12th, 2010
Time4Learning Provides Creativity Express Art Curriculum to its Members

Durango, CO – Representatives from Madcap Logic LLC announced today that Time4Learning.com is bundling the Creativity Express online art curriculum with its existing curricula to its Time4Learning members.

Time4Learning.com has licensed Creativity Express web-based art program to add to the educational services that Time4Learning.com provides to its thousands of members. The animated online program teaches art as well as art appreciation and art history. Students learn the principles and history of art through interactive lessons on topics such as line, form and color, using real examples from art history to illustrate each concept. The sixteen-lesson program is available to Time4Learning subscribing members. Creativity Express features a built-in reward system as each lesson concludes with a quiz designed to assess the students’ understanding of the material presented: the higher the students’ scores, the more artist cards and puzzle pieces they collect.

Time4Learning parents and students who have used the art program quickly nicknamed it “Time 4 Art.” They are enthusiastic about having an art course included in the Time4Learning academic curriculum and are thrilled by the quality of the content and delivery of the material. “My kids loved the art so much that they work on the program well beyond their homeschool time, spending their free time on it,” reported one parent. Homeschoolers in particular appreciate the structure the program provides to learning about and creating art. “I am so impressed! Our kids adored being taught about art in such an educationally fun and guided way, rather than our usual laissez-faire approach to homeschool art,” reviewed another parent.

About Time4Learning: Time4Learning is a leading online learning system that offers a preschool through eighth grade curriculum for homeschool, afterschool, and summer use in language arts, math, science and social studies. The Time4Learning online educational offering also includes Time4Writing.com, online writing courses for K-12. Time4Learning was selected as one of the “Top 100 Educational Websites” in both 2009 and 2010 by Homeschool.com and received a BESSIE Award after being named the #1 “Multi-Subject Website” by the ComputED Gazette in 2010. Time4Learning is a certified “Green Business” by the Uniform Standard for Green Business Certification 2009.

Creativity Express selected as a winner of the 2009 FAMILY CHOICE AWARD

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

fca_logo_2007

The Family Choice Awards was founded by the Family Magazine Group, America’s largest free parenting publication,    and is recognized as the premier resource for the very best in children’s and parenting products and services.

For the Love of Whimsy & Play

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

It’s so easy to become overly serious about stimulating children’s creativity and we sometimes forget that it has to be playful and fun if anything is ever to come of it.

So this Valentine’s Day put a love of whimsy and play in service of creativity and imagination. The pervasive sense of whimsy and wit is one of my favorite parts of the Creativity Express program. I still giggle like a small child at the antics of Furnace and Pickle and rejoice at all the messes they get into.

And messes are part of creativity. Do you remember what it felt like to finger paint? Can you recall that delightful squishy-ness of the paint between your fingers? Finger painting is a staple of early children arts experiences. Why, I wonder, do we ever stop?

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo reminds us of how innately creative children are. For example, what young child has not enjoyed the box a toy comes in, often more than the toy itself?

abelle-avery-boxes-square-dec-081

I remember playing in big refrigerator or TV boxes for days and I frequently provided them for my children. They transformed those boxes into many wonderful environments before the cardboard finally collapsed. It seems, in the photos here, that my grandchildren have the same play-inside-and-outside-the-box gene. So instead of chocolate candy, this Valentine’s Day bring home a big interesting box, throw in some big colorful markers, and watch the fun begin.

Steve Gillman cautions adults to not crowd our children in their creative play. Although it usually stems from the best of intentions, we adults can frequently stifle creativity in children by watching too closely, offering unwanted advice, and trying to control the course of the play. Gillman also notes that while all children are naturally creative, adults quickly teach them to judge their creative efforts too harshly.

This doesn’t mean adults should not engage in creative play with children but we do need to be observant and know when to jump in and when to hang back. Perhaps these are a few reasons why, as we grow older, become less connected to the natural creative instinct and more concerned about what others might think of our efforts. After all, artists are just people who still remember how to play.

So if you need some scientific evidence for the value of play and whimsy, check out the research and doctors’ advice suggesting children and adults play more together. Apparently play reduces stress,increases intelligence, and enhances family bonding. Iit’s just a whole lot of fun as well!

So bring out the artist within and make Valentine’s Day a Creative Play Day!

Thanks for the playful photos ~C4Chaos, Annabelle & Avery, and  carf.

Design is Everywhere

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Check out that monitor you’re looking at? Ever wonder who designed it? Or how about that mouse you’re clicking? The pen sitting on your desk. The desk itself. The clothes you’re wearing, the car you’re driving. Or even still—the seats in your car, all the way down to the springs, in the seat, in the car you’re driving. All designed by someone.

Design is everywhere—we just tend to take it for granted. We really don’t notice how everything is designed, but we’re drawn to the design—either consciously, or subconsciously. We don’t really know why we want the cool new cell phone, or the latest fashions. We just do. It’s all about the design.

Try this test. Take a minute out of your day to pick an object—could be anything, a radio, tv, shampoo bottle, coffee cup, a spoon, a fork—anything. Then consider the design. The shape/contour/materials/color, etc. Then, think about how design ties into that object on multiple levels.

Example: a designer designed the plastic earpiece from the phone on my desk, which required a mold (which required a designer), made by a machine (which required a designer), which has a bunch of crazy parts (which required a designer)…. you get my point. The links become nearly infinite.

Now, consider the power of design, how it influences your life and how it ties in to creativity. Design is everywhere.

Chris Stevenson
Madcap Logic Graphic Designer

 

Meet the Players….Randy Parker

Thursday, November 13th, 2008


Randy Parker, Founder Madcap Logic

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after growing up.”
Pablo Picasso

How many of us start out as creative little beans, slapping colors around, mucking with clay, paste, crayons? Happy. Yet at some point, we start to feel inadequate. Maybe someone said something unkind. Maybe no one said anything at all.

This is one of the reasons Parker created Creativity Express.

“My main goal was to open that back up. Kids are wild, fearless at a young age. Yet at some point, that shuts down.” By using the animated software, kids get to learn about artists, their techniques, their tools, and become artists themselves.
“I contend that everyone has artistic abilities.”

The whole idea started as a museum guide for kids. Parker wanted to create a bridge between museums and schools, he worked with the staff at The National Gallery of Art to develop the program. . Kids would learn about the art in advance, then walk the great halls with enhanced perspective and information. However, the teachers noted the value of the software, in and of itself.  Nothing like it existed, so the project grew into a more structured tool, with a full curriculum. Parker and team brought in the Institute for Learning Innovation. Full on art 101.”I didn’t even know what the word pedagogy meant.” says Parker.
Together they built a fun tool that teaches kids everything art, from Anasazi culture to wax resist technique.
The program also encourages creativity through games and activities.
Everyone should express their inner artist, we are now finding important links between expression and the brain. Yet kids either don’t have opportunities to be creative, or feel like they have to excel, in this go go age.

“We stigmatize ourselves,” says Parker.  “Yet we all have the capability to be creative.”
Parker knows creative. At the helm of Disney’s famed computer animation department, he worked with teams of gifted graphic artists for twelve years. Although his own background was film study, he was immersed in a world of visual literacy.
The studio is known for intense preparation, each film undergoes a 3-4 year process of detailed research. For the film, Mulan, several dozen artists went to China to absorb firsthand, cultural traditions, the landscape, color palettes, quality of light. This depth of experience informs Creativity Express. Parker seeks to hone a child’s senses of observation and context through the software program. One theme running throughout is artists observing other artists, techniques, cultures and emotional states.

The current trend towards arts integrative learning is being welcome by many champions of the whole brain.
“Our education system doesn’t encourage right brain thinking, and that’s a shame.,” says Parker. Think Pink.
“However, I do think there is a wave picking up here,”says Parker, who has witnessed the teachers’ enthusiasm for early creativity.
“I have heard teachers say ‘If we don’t teach kids art in second grade, we’re going to have a really hard time teaching them physics in eleventh grade.’”
Parker agrees –our brains work holistically – the challenge for parents and teachers is how to bring these two capacities back together.
“They are both important, the left brain holds the factoids, the right brain tells it what to do with all that.” says Parker.  “Imagination, it’s more important than knowledge.”

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