Photograph by Shannon Hibberd / NG Staff
Photograph by Shannon Hibberd / NG Staff

Art is good for your kids—and here’s the science why

Plus, five ideas for easy at-home art projects

Kids who doodle, finger paint, or design bead jewelry aren’t just making art—they’re boosting their brainpower.

Making a masterpiece—or just a stick-figure drawing—is actually a problem-solving project for kids: First a child looks at the materials and decides what they want to make and how they’ll make it. Then they’ll engage motor skills by manipulating tools to make and adjust their art until they’re happy with their creation … or not. (Dealing with disappointment is good life practice too.)

Creating art can even make your child a kinder friend. Neurologists have found that creating art at least once a week can increase introspection and empathy because the act strengthens the brain’s default mode network, regions that are active when thinking about others and your own actions. Art can also help kids be kinder to themselves. In one study, professor Girija Kaimal of Drexel University and the president-elect of the American Art Therapy Association, discovered that creating art for 45 minutes had a significant reduction in cortisol, the main stress chemical in our bodies.

Making original art instead of, say, coloring in a coloring book might have benefits as well. Studies have shown that free drawing keeps people more focused on the activity than directed art, and significantly improves creative thinking skills. “Improvisation totally lights up the brain,” Kaimal says.

Not sure where to start? Give your kids one of these DIY art projects with ingredients you probably have at home.