There's hardly a one of us without a child, grandchild, or child of a friend who hasn't passed out a little juvenile art instruction at one time or another. Some of us have even taught children's art classes at one time or another. And likewise, all of us who have been in this situation have wondered, "What should I teach them?" All too often, when faced with this question, we work backwards at trying to answer it. We think of this project or that project, or this or that fun thing to do, all of which may be quite worthy of the child's time, but in so doing we basically treat the "symptoms" of the child's natural art curiosity rather than the curiosity itself. And likewise, all too often we concentrate on trying to teach what may, in fact, be unteachable--creativity. I've always been of the opinion that while we can foster creativity, we can't teach it. Thus, in the field of art instruction, creativity is a ghost--an ideal. What's needed is to imbed within the child's mind the concrete means toward expressing whatever creative urges may be present now, or in the future. What's needed are skills.
With that in mind, I've put together a "top ten" list that I think might be helpful:
1. Eye-hand co-ordination. That means initially, drawing from life. There's almost nothing in the field of art that doesn't require some drawing skills. The words, "look, draw, look, draw, look, draw" should be engraved across every sketchbook sold.
2. Drawing from within. Once some degree of image production is learned, children should be encouraged to probe within, searching their own psyches and imagination for visual content.
3. Drawing from 2-D sources. Call it copying if you like. In any case, it's the most convenient and concrete method of refining drawing skills. Whether using a grid, or simple observation as if drawing a 3-D object, it permits instruction to be "right on" so to speak, allowing simple, exact, one-to-one comparisons to the "model."
4. Colour theory. The wheel, the complements, colour mixing, value, shade, tint, and intensity, the whole nine yards, not all at one sitting of course, but incorporated at constant intervals as the child's progress dictates.
5. Three-dimensional thinking. This doesn't necessarily mean dragging out the old clay barrel and plopping down a wad with the instructions, "Do your own thing, kid." It's the thought process you're most interested in developing, not ashtray production. Teach designing or drawing an object from at least three sides--north, east, and aerial views. It's probably the most difficult concept in art to teach, but once grasped, it's a talent that will pay huge dividends as the child explores other areas of art.
6. Wet media management--how to hold a brush--how to achieve the proverbial "no runs, no drips, and no errors." Also included, when to be neat, when not to, colour mixing, blending, transparency, opacity, texture, cleanup, media similarities, and differences. It's easily the second most difficult area of art to master.
7. Flat design. Starting with cut paper pasted together and ending with compositional exercises involving tromp l'oeil or Abstract Expressionism. Fine design sensitivities and associated intellectual skills cut a broad swath across every art endeavour.
8. The work ethic. Bet you wouldn't have thought of that one. We're all too guilty of emphasising the "art is fun" element, which is fine in the right proportion, but at least as important is the idea that little can be accomplished in any area of art without the application of hard, diligent, thoughtful, self-disciplined work.
9. The links and the lines between arts and crafts. All too often we teach both without ever once considering how they relate, and if we do, we make little effort to relate this relationship to our relations (the kids we teach). "How to" is much more fun than the "whys and wherefores," but not nearly as important.
10. The child's national and/or ethnic art heritage. We're not just talking about art history here, though that's one element in the undertaking. Whether we realise it or not, this is the main part of who we (and our students) are as individuals and artists...probably the most elemental underpinning associated with the "C" word I originally promised not to overemphasise...creativity.