Teaching With The Masters
By Shauna Smith Duty

If we limit children to the modern art depicted in cartoons and picture books, we withhold the greatest works of all time during the years when their brains are most active. The art of Monet, Van Gogh and Da Vinci, among others, is not too complex for youngsters. 


The concept of children understanding art in their own way is not new. Charlotte Mason, a liberal thinking educator in the late 1800's, wrote in her book Home Education, "We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the children's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life..He is enriched more than we know in having really looked at a single picture."


Bette Setter, founder of the mobile art education program, Young Rembrandts, has seen firsthand that exposure to the arts at a young age makes children more aware of details.  They become whole thinkers, she explains, and they keep the art images for life. 


Sarah Herbert, early childhood teacher at The Center of Creative Arts in Missouri, explains that teaching children art through the works of the Masters encourages the development of many skills. When they are painting, they become more autonomous. Sarah also points to fine motor skill development from working with paints and other media. The drawings of a two year old promote the development of pre-reading and writing skills because of the symbolism created. To foster the development of language and the concept of process-oriented art, Sarah suggests asking the child what he wants to say with his creation instead of what the creation is. The way a child thinks about his art is more important than the way you think about it, says Sarah. Make observations from fact. Say, "There is a red circle," or "See these three red lines?" 


Introducing the Masters to Young Children


Hang prints of famous paintings on the wall at eye level so children can study the paintings up close. Prints can be purchased in art stores, online, or checked out from the library. You can also find magnets, coffee mugs, and calendars that feature artwork by the Masters.

  • Discuss colors and shapes in the art. Can the children name the color or shape? Can they find another object of the same color or shape?
  • Talk about the distance of items in the print. Items close up are larger than ones far away. Look out the window to see how this same concept is true in reality.
  • Identify items in the print. For instance, in Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, children can identify the stars, houses, trees, darkness, and even the wind.
  • Use descriptive words to discuss the prints. Help children learn how to describe items with words.
  • Link art and life through literature. For example, read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Discuss the emotion on Max's face when he is angry. Present some of Rembrandt's sketches. What emotions do the subjects express? How do you express emotion? 
  • For an easy-to-clean finger painting center, tape newspaper over a low windowsill, lay a drop cloth on the floor, and tape a piece of white paper to the window. A child can paint on the paper and the window. The natural backdrop, as seen through the window, may provide inspiration for budding artists. 
  • Outdoor painting is also fun and provides easy clean up.


Teachers cannot travel inside their children's brains and ensure that all the educational efforts made are learned, stored, and applied appropriately. They can be certain, though, that art enriches a child's overall education. The developing mind of a child will soak up whatever it is surrounded with, so why not provide the best history and culture have to offer?




Shauna Smith Duty is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother of two in Roanoke, Texas. She writes activities, crafts and parenting articles for websites, magazines, and newsletters. Visit www.shaunasmithduty.com to read more of Shauna's articles and find out about her latest projects.