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We've set aside one evening a week as our dedicated family craft night. That doesn't preclude us from doing craft projects at other times, of course, but rather ensures that my son gets at least a regular minimal exposure.

The craft sessions tend to be short, based upon the project and my son's attention span (he's almost 5).

When we're doing art projects (drawing, painting, gluing, etc.), how much guidance or instruction should we be giving to my son?

I want him to create the things he wants to create, instead of what we think he might want to create, and he's certainly welcome to color outside the lines as much as he'd like (both literally and metaphorically), but at the same time, I want to encourage him to start building up better skills and techniques.

Part of this stems from my recent venture into painting for recreation. I have essentially no training, and haven't painted anything since I was a kid using watercolors and fingerpaints. I'm "learning by doing", and, by doing so, I'm finding how much technique and practice can be involved in being able to express oneself artistically.

So, should I be teaching my son anything at this point, or just letting him have fun?

If I just let him have fun with it, when should artistic skills be actively taught?

If I teach him now, what types of things should I be teaching him? Things like "if you're painting something, make sure you haven't missed spots where you wanted color" and the basic concepts of color mixing? Or should I include things like brush techniques, layering, or other, more "advanced" tricks?

How do I ensure that these craft projects remain fun while building his skills?

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As adults, we're often concerned with doing things "the right way", and while technique and practice are certainly critical to mastering watercolor (or pottery, drawing, sculpting or any other art form), they aren't likely to be appreciated by a 5 year old. Kids that age are curious, relatively restless, energetic and enthusiastic, with creativity mostly unlimited by considerations of what's "normal". This is a good time to encourage kids to be wildly creative in a wide variety of mediums; they will learn soon enough to reign in their wonderful creativity in order to conform with expectations.

Learning what's important to your son** will help make creative time more meaningful and fun for him. Is he still in the "process over product" stage? That is, does he focus more on the process of creating and not so much on the finished product? Or does he want to keep their artwork once it's finished? If it's the former, just let him have at it in a large number of media - paint, sparkles, torn colored paper, macaroni, play-doh, crayons, stickers, cotton he can pick apart, etc. If it's the latter, then start introducing technique, color theory, etc., but let him lead the way. You can also start using more permanent media and more expensive tools - Sculpey, Fimo or Primo, better paints, paper, etc. Also remember that it's more important to praise effort than to praise the product.

**This site on child development and art will not only help you figure out what stage your son is in, but will help guide you in your expectations of him.

Stages of Artistic Development

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What I've found to be successful is not to try to proactively teach artistic skills, but to model skill for my preschooler. Either by myself constructing the craft/drawing the picture/etc. alongside him (or just in front of him), or by having him next to other, older children who are by nature of age better at the crafts.

That leads him to both want to be better (by seeing the better picture/craft), but also allows him to see the technique and learn from it without explicit tuition. My son is quite stubborn and doesn't really like to be explicitly taught - but he loves to learn on his own. Sometimes if he's having a hard time he'll ask for help, in which case I'll give it, but most of the time he simply learns by watching.

This can include times when he's not explicitly in a craft activity - for example, walking by a chalkboard at the local kids' diner, I randomly drew a train track. He then spent the next several months perfecting his train track, since he loves trains, and now can draw a fairly good track - and sometimes a train along with it.

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