Art and ADHD: How to Get “Active-Minded” Children Focused on Art by Karine Bauch
When we consider that so many creative people in history, like Thomas Edison, would probably been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, we realize that artistic expression can open up a wonderful new world to young “active-minded” students. (I hate negative labels!) If you have one of these precious children but think that they could never learn to draw, think again!
Some of the symptoms of ADD and ADHD actually includes elements of creativity and, perhaps, might be relabeled as such:
SymptomCreative Possibility Impulsivity Willingness to take chances Questioning of authority Ability to think “outside of the box” Restlessness Discontent with the “status quo” Distractibility Able to notice small details
But how do you, the homeschool parent, get your active-minded child to sit still and learn to draw? Here are some of the roadblocks for these special children:
• Lack of confidence • Lack of fine motor skills • Inability to focus on something uninteresting • Fidgeting • Unable to stay “on task”
Of all these roadblocks, the one that must be overcome first is a lack of confidence. Once an active child realizes that he can draw successfully, he will usually take off like a rocket and quickly move forward in the area of fine motor skills. Many ADHD kids lack self-confidence and need an area of mastery in their lives. Art could easily become that outlet for non-competitive success!
How is this done? There’s the rub, you say. You are afraid that your child will not sit still for an entire art class and so he will never gain this confidence that comes from completing an art project. Let me share my experiences as art teacher and mom of an “active-minded” child:
Of all the students that I teach on a regular basis, at least 10% have ADHD tendencies. I have seen the same progression happen as they attend my art classes. They start out disinterested and distracted. They interrupt me constantly and require a lot of my attention (which I give them to establish a relationship). If I can successfully guide them step-by-step through their first few projects, they (and their parents) are usually amazed that they created something nice, let alone actually finished something they started! Most of them have become my top students.
Easy Does It
So my advice is to start small and easy, if your child has never drawn before. Start with tracing simple cartoons, if this is where he is at. Go to the library and check out some of the simple “how to draw” books or try some of the free projects suggested below. Work with your child through his first project. Encourage him at every step! Urge him to not only finish the drawing but to add some simple color to it right away, because you know that it won’t happen later. Hang it on the refrigerator, or frame it and display it prominently. Be sure to compliment him on the featured drawing repeatedly to build his confidence.
Supply the Supplies
Most children, especially “novelty-seekers” love new art supplies. Just having them around will inspire a certain amount of creativity. Many moms have told me that their active children had no use for coloring books (they are all about “coloring outside the lines”!). But when given a simple sketch pad and markers, they start to draw like crazy.
If your child deals with fine motor skill issues, stick to simple, non-smudgy media like pencils, markers and crayons. Once they master these, oil pastels add a new dimension of vibrant color! Later, soft pastels and charcoal can be introduced as they increase in ability. Modeling clay can be a great first medium as well. Don’t introduce painting until they are older and have shown success in dry media. Brushwork requires tremendous control and we want success!
As most parents of active children already know, they often have areas of intense interest, such as cars, boats, planes or animals. I have an 8 year old student who is an expert on WWII fighter planes and can recite long fact lists on them! My own son is very focused on learning about wild animals and now draws them at every opportunity. Discover their area of interest and find art projects and lessons that teach them to draw these items. If they love the subject matter, they will often “hyper-focus” (the way they do on video games) and actually finish something that they start. You can find many free projects that may fit your child’s area of interest in the free section of this website. Eventually, they can just use photos of the cars, boats or horses that they love as references for their drawings.
Take a Stand
If the inability to sit still is holding your child back, then allow other positions for drawing like:
• standing at an easel • laying on the floor • kneeling in front of a coffee table (I can’t understand why they like this, but they do!)
Eventually, as your child builds confidence, you may be surprised at how long he may sit to draw, as he starts to hyper-focus on his new skill. If they need frequent breaks, allow them to “run the stairs” a few time and then return to the project
The Finish Line
Doing all we can do to encourage our active children to finish a task is probably our most important goal. Because of the divergent thinking patterns of the “active” mind, these individuals will often go through life with a string of unfinished projects such as failed relationships, business ideas and starts at higher education. Perseverance is the most important trait needed by the ADD or ADHD individual because it will be the pivotal issue that turns their creative ideas into success someday.
As your child shows you his simple line drawings, suggest another detail or step (like color) that can be taken to make it more of a finished project. Do this several times, while praising the former steps taken. Once he has done all that he is willing to do, don’t frustrate him. Trim the paper so that his drawing is centered and glue it to a piece of black construction paper. Mounting it will give it a finished look and help to build pride in his creation. It also shows that you thought enough of his work to treat it with such respect! You may be surprised at how much further he goes with his next project.
An Artsy Education
If your active child suddenly becomes an intense artist (I have seen it happen), start to use art in your other academic subjects, such as history, geography and science. They are often “tactile” learners, and art is definitely tactile! Explore the many free projects that teach these other subjects at the Art for Academics page of my website.
• Each lesson is multi-level, so they can go as far as is comfortable for them within each lesson. • The curriculum assumes that the student has never drawn and gives concise, step-by step instructions. • It’s on CD! Active kids love doing things on the computer. • It can be used by other family members at the same time, creating a class atmosphere, which helps to build structure in their lives.
Will learning to draw solve all of the struggles in your child’s life? Probably not. ADD and ADHD are serious issues that have many facets. Art, however, can provide an outlet for expressing some of your child’s frustrations and may also provide some precious quiet time in the home.
May you find your blessed, “active” child blooming with creativity and becoming the Masterpiece he or she was meant to be!
Karine Bauch is the author of the Teach Art at Home website and all of the Masterpiece Art Instruction CDs. She received her degree in Illustration from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She has been teaching art for 9 years and homeschooling for 10 years. She lives in the Fox Valley area of Illinois.