Teaching Art to Children During Shelter-in-Place

Amy Happler, a child educator and mother of three in Southern California, answers questions about teaching art to young ones during COVID-19 restrictions. Until shelter-in-place, she did not specialize in teaching art; once this is over and done with, she plans to begin teaching it – even if only an evening class for adults who never thought they could learn to draw.

On finding quiet time with three young ones:

As I type tese words, it’s quiet in the house right now. All three of my children are occupied with headphones and tablet screens, but it’s a learning environment. We’re really trying to focus on separating the education machines from the entertainment machines. It’s an uphill battle sometimes, but I think we’re making progress. My other main quiet time is when they’ve all been dispatched to bed. I allow them to stay up a little later than usual as long as they’re reading a physical book. It seems to work out. I usually squeeze an extra hour or two of quiet time at night before I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.

On children who can’t draw:

The kids get really excited about drawing time. We’ve done a little classwork on famous artists, famous portrait paintings, and subjects like that. But when I was a kid, if you weren’t good at drawing right away, you weren’t really encouraged to keep drawing. The opinion today, on the other hand, is that anyone can learn to draw. So I believe that encouraging even the less talented among the group is important at an early age. I’ve been trying to learn as an adult, and I tell you – it’s a struggle. I would have rather learned more as a child. So I’m trying to help my kids avoid that struggle by getting started early. Cody, my youngest, seems to have the knack. I’m so jealous! The other two struggle, but Mom struggles right there with them. We’re going to do this. Hey, maybe that was the “big reason” why I never learned when I was little. It was so I could learn next to my kids, and they would take encouragement from my learning and the obstacles I face.

On resources to lear

There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to draw, but we really get a kick out of the live Instagram drawing class from Wendy Mac. Well, her real name is Wendy MacNaughton. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen her work. I have a copy of “Meanwhile in San Francisco” somewhere around here. Anyway, the classes are every weekday. The kids look forward to it all day, and Wendy is a really funny, engaging teacher. We supplement her class sometimes. We add a little “extra credit” if the kids want it, which they usually do. 

On analog vs. digital:

We don’t actually own a stylus or anything like that, so the art making is all analog at our house. But we try to encourage a balance between digital and analog experiences. For example, the children have a shared record player and a collection of vinyl records. My husband and I have our own separate record player and record collection. But, in 2020, it’s a real treat to see children stretched out on the floor making art or just reading a book while listening to records. We also bought a typewriter a few years back and encourage the kids to play with it. Composing something on a typewriter is just so different from typing a text message or dictating a memo to Siri. I know that it’s my generation that struggles to keep a foot in both worlds, and for my children, it’s completely natural to just be a hundred percent digital, but I’m happy they’re getting to try the analog stuff.

On advice to other parents:

Hang in there! Have hope that we’re going to collectively make it through this, and everything will be okay soon enough.

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