Anecdotal evidence has been showing lately that visual arts in the classroom and at home make better readers and higher test scores. There lies a link between creating and visualization that helps children read better. The child retains the meaning of words and writes more detailed stories. Here is information and some tips to give both parents and teachers an inside track to easy artistic ways to develop children’s minds.
First, acknowledge the value of the picture book. As an adult, we still love to look at illustrations, whether it is in a poetry book or magazine article. We scan photos quickly on the internet. Children need to be reading. Picture books need not be simple. Today, there are books for advanced readers and grade levels that have intensive and challenging text combined with wonderful pictures.
Believe it or not, comic books can provide much stimulation to the brain of a child. The visual representation is always available. My husband has a large comic book collection that was residing in his mother’s basement, and he commented once that he could not wait to introduce our young son to them. At the time, I was convinced that the highbrow way was the only way to proceed with our son.
Over time, my son became very interested in pop culture. An avid Pokémon fan, he began picking these books at book fairs and bookstores, much to my chagrin. So I developed a system for every book he read that mom chose, he could read one of his own choosing. We moved from simple general character books to large Pokémon ‘data information catalogs.’ His knowledge of descriptive verbs and action words and what they actually mean has exploded! When I ask him where he has learned some of these monosyllabic words and phrases, the usual answer is from these colorful comical Pokémon guides.
The crossover has been amazing. He uses these words in his writing and is quick to recognize similar root words in the more meaningful books chosen by me. Moreover, he would never choose one of these books if it were not for the elaborate illustrations into fun childlike fantasy. The art pulls him in and the bonus is a larger, healthier vocabulary. He now discusses root words with me and actually calls them root words. These types of root questions certainly make their way into standardized testing as we all know. As a first grader, he just took his first standardized test and over-exceeded the ‘over-exceeds’ level. To use a cliché, the proof is in the pudding.
Your children should begin including an illustration with every story they write. Give your child or student a list of words that include verbs, nouns and adjectives. From this list, require that they make up a story using at least ten or so of the words-over provide in the list so they have choices. Then provide paper and different mediums every time-use pastels for one story and watercolors for another. Tell them to describe by drawing and painting the story they just wrote and what the words actually ‘look like.’
The vocabulary that you have provided will be solidified into their brain by using this writing-drawing activity. It can be repeated over and over. You could provide modeling clay or even play dough and allow the child to create what he has written. Children could make a mural on the wall-easy enough with dark colored butcher paper and chalk. They could all contribute to the ‘wall of fame’ by illustrating their original story on this moveable mural. Having used this in church classes, I know from experience that this works and children absolutely love it.
Avoid pre-designed coloring books and photocopies as much as possible. Someone has already created this design and many children find it mundane and inhibiting-from having to stay in someone else’s lines and color someone else’s kitty cat. They should be drawing their own kitty cat! Coloring books and pages are by nature simple. I have heard educators and parents often say that these are time fillers when necessary. Instead, clean out a large drawer in your home or classroom and just stack it with all types and shapes of paper-even large remnants of other projects.
Allow each child to choose a paper and start drawing and coloring. No, everyone does not have to have the blue paper. Some can choose a red sheet or a white sheet, or even a thick piece of cardboard! Diversity and development of the artistic eye is the key here. As a parent, I can attest that this unique creations are of the most value to me-they stay in the save pile and make their way onto the fridge. Many cookie cutter coloring sheets often end up in file X unless there is some detailed merit to them.
Picture dictionaries are an absolute must. This is a hyperactive way of increasing spelling, language and reading skills. We do an activity in our home called ‘flip and find.’ Our son has to choose twenty or so words from the picture dictionary as sight words, and can use any of them as long as he can tell us the meaning. Of course, he goes directly for the words with the pictures. They explain the meaning to him.
I have seen him get lost in this and actually read the dictionary for an hour. He chooses his twenty or so words, reads them to me and uses each word in an oral sentence. Then he writes a story using at least half of the words, and then draws a picture to illustrate his story. Time has taught me that this works better than all the elaborate repetition in the world. He retains almost every definition and rarely ever misspells them. By doing this activity once a week you can increase a child’s vocabulary by well over a thousand words. Do this twice a week with twenty five words and in a year, the child will have added 2600 words to his vocabulary. It works. The test scores in reading and language arts will prove it.
Try some of these hints and think outside the box. Find ways to use visual art in all areas of education and see your child or your classroom soar in abilities and test scores.