It’s early on a Saturday morning at Ductac, and a group of two- and three-year-olds are sitting rapt as Mr Squiggles the toy cat tells them about the concept of painting silhouettes. I’ve brought the kids along to one of KidzArt’s Squiggles to Grins classes, which sees toddlers and their carers getting creative in a fun environment, along with songs, play and lots of fun along the way.
The concept is part of a popular franchise from the US, with the mantra that ‘art can be created by anyone’. Offering lessons at various locations around Dubai, they cater to artists of all ages, from toddlers through to teens studying for their high school qualifications, all the way up to adults and seniors.
‘KidzArt offers programmes that correspond to all stages of life,’ explains Hetal Shah, KidzArt’s director. ‘Students of all ages will learn many fine art skills and concepts throughout the course of their KidzArt education.’
While the notion of ‘fine art’ and enthusiastic two-year-olds don’t seem like natural bedfellows, the results back in our Saturday morning class beg to differ. Under the watchful and encouraging eye of Miss Nell and the KidzArt team, the children match pictures to their corresponding silhouette on the classroom wall. When Miss Nell brings out a sunset picture of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai skyline that the kids will be copying, I cringe inwardly at the thought of the right royal mess we’ll be making (not helped by the fact I’ve forgotten the overalls), and can’t help but feel we’ll just end up with the usual colourful splat on the page, as with most of our at-home art projects. But the other parents seem to take it in their stride, as we and the kids take our places around the semi-circle of workstations, already laid out with all manner of brushes, stencils and sponges.
While parents are encouraged to help and guide, with two kids in tow I find myself concentrating on Bobby, my two-year-old son, while my independent three-and-a-half year old Zia gets on with things herself. As Miss Nell guides the pupils through the steps, the mini-masterpieces take shape, first the sunset background, painted in vibrant stripes and blended together using a smoother, then the silhouetted building, stencilled onto the page with sponge and black paint, and finally (Zia’s favourite part), the all important finishing touches – a large yellow setting sun, birds and lights twinkling from the sides of the Burj.
Considering some of the kids are barely talking, it’s incredible to see how the finished pictures turn out. What’s even more surprising is the levels of concentration in the room. You could almost hear a pin drop as the children illustriously carry out their work – no crying, no tantrums, no running around.
The Squiggles to Grins class is the only one in the KidzArt programme where parents are encouraged to be completely involved in the class. In part, this is because it’s a good opportunity for busy mums and dads to get a bit of bonding time with their little ones, explains Hetal. ‘We believe that children involve, enjoy, love and learn the most when parents are involved. Our Squiggles to Grins programme provides a lovely opportunity for parents or grandparents to spend focused time with their children, and most importantly to have great fun and create fond memories with them.’
As the finished paintings dry out, the kids wind down with a circle time session with the teachers and their parents – and judging by the smiles, it’s clear that a fun time has been had by all. But the concept isn’t just about fun, says Hetal. Nurturing their creative side can also have a profound effect, both socially and academically.
‘Art gives children an outlet for their emotions, which can be difficult to express,’ she says. ‘Children, especially young ones, do not automatically know the best way to express feelings of frustration, anger or joy. But art will not only help your kids express their creative side, but it can actually help them to succeed in the classroom, too. Studies show that there is a critical link to reading, writing and mathematical excellence in children who are exposed to art, drama and music, as opposed to students who focus only on academics. Experiencing the arts in general is tied to a child’s intellectual, personal and social development, creating a well-rounded individual. Every child is an artist, it is very important to remain one.’
And as I gather up my own little artists and their paintings, it’s clear that the early morning art session has fired their creativity, as Zia proudly shows off her painting to anyone who’ll listen, and Bobby point blank refuses to leave, furiously brandishing his paintbrush. With their works of art now in pride of place on the wall at home, we’re already looking forward to the masterpieces they bring home next time.
For more information on KidzArt and the classes, prices, locations and programmes, visit www.kidzart.ae (050 551 5928).