One of my favorite things about art is that there isn’t just one right answer or one right way to do things. This makes art an ideal way to teach kids problem-solving skills that will last a lifetime.
Problem-solving can feel high-stakes when it becomes a zero-sum game, when only one solution is “right”. Fortunately, art offers a myriad of possible “right” choices. This takes the pressure off and helps kids feel more at ease experimenting with options and making decisions.
Well-crafted art lessons are an ideal way to teach kids problem-solving skills.
Here is a 4 step plan to keep in mind as you design your art lessons.
1. Offer choices
The best art lessons offer plenty of opportunities for creative decision-making. Not only is this a great way for kids to learn, but it also results in the most interesting art.
Without enough free choice along the way, kids’ art projects can have a “cookie cutter” look. Creative choices are necessary to prevent each project from looking too similar to the others. Kids enjoy creating art that’s original and unique so we need to give them opportunities that enable that.
When possible, offering students flexibility in choosing their subject, media, or style will help them practice making decisions and taking risks. As you plan each lesson, consider how students could make choices along the way to achieve different outcomes.
2. Impose limits
It may seem counter-intuitive, but limitations and choices go hand in hand when you teach kids problem solving skills. Without some limitations to narrow their focus, kids can feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities.
In crafting your lessons, plan in a few restrictions to guide and encourage creative thinking. Avoid “blank canvas syndrome” by giving kids a specific theme with lots of choices while narrowing the options within those.
For example, you could plan a rainforest watercolor painting where students research and choose three animals they want to include. The rainforest theme narrows the scope, and the medium being decided for them allows you to demonstrate specific techniques.
3. Ask open-ended questions
You can encourage “outside the box” thinking by asking open-ended questions and allowing time for reflection.
Open-ended questions can be woven into every part of your lesson. From introduction to critique, there’s so much value in questions that don’t come with a single correct answer.
Because these kinds of questions require deeper thinking, be sure to allow enough time for thoughtful answers.
4. Model your own internal problem-solving process
You can help kids adopt a problem-solving mindset by modeling it for them yourself. To do this, try to “think out loud” and talk through your own problem-solving process in real time.
As real life problems come up, involve your students in solving them. Admit when you don’t have an answer and learn together! You can do this by talking through the steps below:
- Identify the problem. (“I planned for us to start a new project today, but some of the supplies I ordered haven’t arrived yet.”)
- Brainstorm solutions. (“Let’s brainstorm what we could do instead. I’ll write our ideas on the board.”)
- Discuss the pros and cons of your options. (“If we try Nate’s idea, we could….”)
- Choose a solution and act on it. Try different things and take some risks.
- Reflect and evaluate with open-ended questions. (“What did you learn from this? What would you change or do differently next time?)
- Make adjustments and try again as needed. Remember, problems can have more than one solution!
Verbalizing your problem-solving approach is especially useful when you’re demonstrating a new technique or the steps of a project. Hearing the decisions you’re making in your creative process can be a huge help to those with less experience.
Art education helps kids gain confidence in making decisions, exploring options, taking risks, and evaluating results. They also benefit as they develop more comfort with making mistakes and learning from failure.
an inspiring quote:
“The arts can build children’s ability to see problems as creative opportunities instead of obstacles.” ~ Lisa Phillips, “The Artistic Edge”
Problems usually represent things that we want solved, fixed, overcome, or improved. When they’re in the way of a desired outcome, it’s easy to think of problems as obstacles.
But if kids learn to view problems creatively, they can begin to see them as opportunities. The opportunity in a problem may not always be obvious, but it’s always worth looking for.
Expecting to find an opportunity in their problems puts kids in the right frame of mind for seeking solutions. It helps them develop a growth mindset that will serve them well in every area of their lives.