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How can I nurture my 3-year-old’s exceptional artistic abilities?
Q: I have a 3-year-old son who loves to draw. He is very good at it for his age, exceptionally so. He can already sit down and draw animals and people. He was watching one of his favourite cartoons called Franklin and sat down and drew the beaver character that is in the show. I was frankly shocked to discover his talent because I never considered a child so young to be able to have this kind of talent. I really want to nurture his talent and was wondering if there are any kinds of schools or other programs I could take him to? At the same time, I want to nurture his learning ability of the A,B,C's, 1,2,3's, etc.
Theresa Chattanooga
A: The most important thing to do is simply to provide opportunities for him to use and develop his talent. Keep plenty of art supplies on hand—crayons, marking pens, finger paints, etc. And, if he is already producing recognizable figures, you certainly don’t want to buy colouring books for him. I’m not as opposed to colouring books as many early childhood professionals are, for, when used with slightly older children, they can help develop fine muscle control and good eye-hand coordination. But your son obviously doesn’t need any help along those lines; most children his age can produce only a rough approximation of a circle (and that only if the viewer is charitable), and he is far beyond that level. He obviously has excellent eye-hand coordination and now mainly needs opportunities to develop his skills and nourish his talent.

Check out what your local art museum has for children his age. Even if they don’t have art classes for young children (which they probably do), walk through the museum with him and look at the art. And, when you get ready to enroll him in an early childhood program, inquire specifically of the teacher or director about the school’s art program.

Let me offer a word about art supplies. Providing enough paper for a busy young artist can make a dent in the budget. I have two little granddaughters, both of whom love to draw (even more than to paint). I get a lot of e-mail that may have only one or two lines on the second page, and, as one who is concerned about the environment, I hate to throw away—even to a recycling program—all of that perfectly good paper. So I take it to the paper cutter and remove the small amount of print at the top and save the rest for them to draw on. (They’re pretty particular, and if I don’t cut off those few lines of print, they don’t want to use the paper!)

Finally—and this may be the best advice I am offering you—look on this web site for an article I wrote earlier this year on “Archiving Your Children.” Over time you will be flooded with those pictures, and you won’t know what to do with them. The article has some good practical suggestions of ways to handle the deluge.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education