As a pop tune played on in the Davies’ household, three year old Lindsey began moving her hands and feet to the beat in her own choreography to a song she’d never heard. Her mother, Leslie Davies, looked on in amazement realizing this wasn’t something her daughter learned in Kindermusik class. “ Lindsey started moving in a way that I had never seen her dance before and I said ‘Lindsey, How did you learn to dance that way?’ She said, ‘Mama, the music told me what to do,’ “ Davies remembers.

Although only a toddler, Lindsey, a student at Lake Mary Montessori Academy, was learning to experience and express art at an early age. “I don’t care if my daughter becomes an artist but I try to exposure her to a lot of things. Art fits naturally with what children love to do. They love to draw, paint, and dance or play pretend.  I hope she enjoys these experiences and discovers the things she’s good at,” says Davies who keeps children’s musical instruments around the house for Lindsey to experiment with concepts such as rhythm, tempo, and movement. “Music is a source of self-expression. It’s an outlet for feelings and thoughts,” says Davies, who also encourages Lindsey to paint and draw.

Just as Lindsey, all children have creative brains that blossom as their imaginations awaken. Art is the catalyst for this awakening. Regardless of whether your child is destined to be an artist or an engineer, everybody needs a little imagination, the ability to express emotions and to put things in words. These are important life skills and in the big picture, art plays a part.

“All children need art and musical experiences and medium exposure,” says educator Sheila Linville, Director of Lake Mary Montessori School in Lake Mary, Florida.  “There is the artistic child, the child who enjoys the artistic process and the child who needs the experiences but maybe is not so keen on it.”  LMMA and other Montessori schools recognize the importance of artistic encounters in academics and build their curriculums around this premise. But, parents also play an important role in guiding their child’s artistic compass whether it points to music, painting, dance, literature or several degrees in between.

“Parents can awaken a child’s artistic inclination and help him or her discover hidden talents.  If you have an artistic child and don’t expose him to those experiences, he becomes frustrated.  Even if your child doesn’t appear to have a particular artistic talent or interest, exposure to the arts helps develop the skills needed for other kinds of learning,” explains Linville. She and other educators encourage parents to recognize the power of art in a child’s intellectual, emotional and physical growth.

“Something as simple as cutting paper develops fine motor skills for writing,” says Linville. “Art compliments academics in so many ways. It gives a child the framework for problem solving. Art also gives educators a window to the child’s emotional world that isn’t there with other mediums. There is a direct correlation between art and math and language skills,” explains Linville. Although LMMA exposes its students to a wide range of the arts, Linville says that art literally needs to go home with the child.

“You don’t need to have a Monet hanging in your living room to provide art encounters at home. There are many simple, cost effective ways to introduce your child to art.  For example, perhaps it’s taking your daughter to see a live ballet, which might inspire a passion for dance. Or, a visit to a local art museum might inspire a child’s interest in photography or painting,” suggests Linville.

If your child shows more than an interest but rather a passion for the arts, perhaps he or she is a budding maestro, sculptor, painter or poet? When does your child’s interest in art evidence real talent or ability? “ It’s usually at the kindergarten or first grade level that you can see some children are artistically gifted,” explains Linville. For those children, parents may want to channel art exposure into more formal training.   “Anywhere between ages five and eight, you want a talented child developing those skills. For example, if your child shows promise with the violin, you should have him in lessons by the age of 8,” explains Linville.

As parents, we can set the stage for art at home in a variety of ways. Here are some suggestions for homegrown art encounters:

Create Family Art Projects. Collaborate on creative activities such as making a family scrapbook, holiday card, or Christmas gifts. Look for simple crafts that you and your children can do together.

Create a Home Art Center. Keep an area in the kitchen stocked with a variety of glue, scissors, playdough, paint, crayons and colored paper. Encourage your child to be free with his art.

Play Music.” From rock and pop to classical compilations and folk songs, play a variety of music in your home to expose your child to the different moods, sounds, styles and rhythms of music.  “My rule at home is that we have as many music CDs as we do videos,” says LMMA Kindermusik and Montessori Teacher Kathy Callahan. She suggests playing tapes children can sing along with and have rhythm instruments in the home such as bells, drums or sticks children can play.

Make Art a Family Outing.  Seek out in local organizations to experience the fine arts. Many arts organizations such as those in Orlando, Florida host special arts events for children such as the Orlando Philharmonic’s Concert for Children and the Orlando Shakespeare Festival performances for children “The key is children need to see other children perform so they realize they can do this,” suggests Linville. An art outing can be something as simple and economical as seeing the local high school band play at a football game or attending a student play.

Study Famous Artists. Seek out books about famous artists that talk about their childhoods. Linville says when children learn about the childhoods of famous artists, they can identify with them and feel empowered that they too can create.

Take a Vacation with Art:  Make a trip to the museum part of your next family vacation or attend a concert, dance or other cultural event where you are visiting.

Celebrate with Art: Host your child’s next birthday party at a museum rather than the roller skating rink, thrill park or video arcade. Host a home birthday party with children’s entertainment provided by a musician or dancer in a mini concert  or performance. Make a piece of art as part of the birthday fun such as  painting ceramic plates at the local pottery store.

Hang Out with Art:  Bring art alive by displaying artwork in your home that speaks to you. You don’t have to have deep pockets to hang famous artworks on your walls. Why not display a print of a Georgia O Keefe flower or a Monet poster?

Choose a School that focuses on Art: Parents should explore what kinds of artistic exposure their child’s school offers and seek out programs that offer a wide range of encounters from the performing to the visual arts.

The LMMA Art Model:
At Lake Mary Montessori Academy, art is schematically integrated with a program that has many layers.  Each classroom is named after a famous artist. Throughout the year, children learn about the artist in individual and group lessons exploring his medium and techniques. Art also is connected with cultural studies. For example, students learning about China replicated the Chinese alphabet and made windsocks while students studying Africa made drums and drew African patterns. Music is a part of the daily learning experience as classical music plays in the background in all classrooms. The school invites musicians to perform for the children. Past performers have included a violinist, a harpist, and a drummer. Every student also participates in LMMA’s Kindermusik program, which integrates art and music.

“It might be something as simple as listening to Vivaldi and drawing to the rhythms,” explains Linville. “With music, children are free to move and dance and express how they feel. What we know about the brain is that rhythms and beat promote language development. There is a correlation between music exposure and reading performance,” says Linville, who takes her students each year to a children’s performance of the Nutcracker Ballet.

“It’s a tradition. Each December, we attend the Southern Orlando Ballet’s performance wearing our Sunday best. Prior to going to the Nutcracker, we read several variations of the story and watch a version of the ballet on TV so the children understand what the ballet is about,” says Linville, who delights in seeing the children return to school dancing the parts of characters on the playground.  In the spring, LMMA students will attend a children’s concert by the Orlando Philharmonic.

Art, whether in or outside the classroom, formal or informal, professional or amateur can also empower a child, which is why Leslie Davies encourages her daughter’s artistic expressions. Lindsey is now a kindergarten student at LMMA and a member of school’s the drama club. She also likes to write stories in her class journal. “Although she can’t spell, she writes her stories phonetically and thinks of herself as being a writer,” says Davies.

Side Bar:
Supply List for a Home Art Station:
•    Chalk
•    Tempera paints
•    Watercolors
•    Drawing paper
•    Poster board
•    Tracing paper
•    Glue
•    Colored pencils
•    Markers
•    Construction paper
•    Clay or playdough