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Art Class & Teaching Children – The Parent Perspective

Teaching art to children is a very popular way artist make additional money. And when speaking to artist teachers, I find many expressing frustration when setting up and teaching classes. To the point that many talented, caring artists simply stop offering teaching after a few private pupils or classes because they don’t understand why parents stop the classes when they seem very happy with the classes and the results their children are getting from them.

I understand this artist’s frustration, as I too have felt extremely confused and frustrated when a child that is doing well, enjoying class and progressing is then not signed up anymore. I think this frustration comes from not understanding the way most parents view art classes for their children.

From my experience there are two main reasons parents sign children up to take art classes. They take them either to fill a gap in time or to further explore their children’s interest in art. However, very few parents really focus their children’s art career on a regular basis, because most people do not believe art is a way to make money in life. The confusion often occurs when we as artists forget that most parents signing their children up to take art classes, aren’t looking to really expand and continue their child’s study as artists. They are simply looking to expand their children’s life experiences for a few weeks.

Let me explain what I mean with two examples. When I have taught one-on-one art classes to someone’s child I’m always told by the parent that their child has a great aptitude for art, and that they want to expand on this. When I look at this as an artist, I think great, I get a chance to help someone else develop their creative side. And so I spend time creating and adjusting the curriculum based on the individual needs of that child. Then inevitably 6 or 8 weeks will go by and the parent will pull the child from classes for some reason. The reasons all center around the same issue – which is parents, like the rest of us have a set amount budgeted for children’s activities. So if they feel their child should be well rounded, they will use their monthly budget for a new activity every 6-8 weeks.

I have a friend who did a very well thought out 6 week art class with a very detailed curriculum at the start of summer. All the parents were thrilled and happy with the progress their children made in the class. But when she offered a second 6 weeks to continue their progress none of the parents signed them up. They went on to sign their kids up for swimming or a sport for the remainder of the summer. She felt this was a reflection on her and was very disheartened. When in fact, if you asked any of the parents, they were thrilled with her instruction.

The disconnect occurs, because we as artists look at art as a life long pursuit. And so we view the skills we are teaching as life long skills, that require more than 6 weeks of activation to achieve. And it’s also extremely frustrating to see our teaching begin to pay off in a change in our student’s abilities. Only to then have the parent, who also sees this improvement in execution, then cancel further classes. Generally, parents are looking at art classes, even for their gifted creative child, as a way to expand a children’s brain for a period of time. And sometimes they really are just looking for an activity for their kid to do for 6 weeks, before giving them some other activity. There isn’t a lot more thought process than that. So we as artists are looking at a life long skill, and a parent is looking for 6 weeks of activity to fill a slot.

To avoid frustration, sometimes it’s easier for me to simply offer a workshop or an hour long class somewhere, occasionally, with a set activity that can be achieved in a 1 or 3 hour time block and leave it at that. If you can find a venue or a group that is looking for artist teachers to do this type of work – I feel this is a rewarding way to help kids increase their creativity, without investing a lot of extra emotion and attachment to it. Plus then I don’t have to worry about marketing my classes. And since I teach the same thing over and over again, my prep time before and after class is cut down significantly. As are my expenses, as I use the same materials each class.

For those not in a position to partner with an organization, or for those who are asked to do private or group lessons I have the following advice (which I also follow myself). Any private lessons are done in a block of 6 weeks. With a total of 7 weeks available to complete. This way I can prepare a syllabus, and feel that I have made an impact on my student. And at the same time I am able to schedule myself better. I find that teaching private lessons is more an act of love, than a viable way to make money, given how much time and thought I put into each session, thinking of ways to tweak the curriculum to best address the needs of my student. So if I can at least know that my time and energy will be rewarded

And for any artist offering of group classes for a period of 4-6 weeks, think of it instead like how churches offer vacation bible school. Offer it only once or twice a year. This way it can be an anticipated, looked forward to activity. Which parents can plan for financially, and be included in the yearly budget for child activities.

Obviously, occasionally there will be a parent looking to truly increase their child’s artist ability throughout the year. But for the most part, understanding the parent’s perspective will help alleviate our own frustrations and self-judgments we experience when teaching private lessons.

What are your thoughts? How do you best balance your needs with those of parents?

For more about the business of art, see Selling Art: It’s Like Building A snowman