“Let’s start with the markers,” says Valeen Parubchenko, a friendly Brooklyn art teacher who came to teach my 2-year-old and his two buddies a 45-minute, in-home art class. Valeen’s red hair is tied in a loose knot on top of her head and her toes are painted canary yellow. She’s sifting through a big bag full of art supplies at her feet. “I like to keep the children moving through the materials. After markers, we’ll use crayons, then oil pastels, then we’ll make a collage, then paint. It’s important to approach art from a 2-year-old’s point of view. They’re only going to sit so long, and that’s okay.”
Valeen founded Private Picassos, an arts education company for young children in New York City, six years ago. Its purpose is simple: With the zeal of Mary Poppins, she’ll come to your home to teach your child art. (Or one of her protoges will.) She’s become so busy in Brooklyn and the city that she’s expanding her in-home art classes to Westchester.
After the oil pastels, my 2-year-old’s attention begins to wane. “Wait, let’s get out of the glue sticks,” she says, reaching into that endless bag of supplies. “Here, can you all go tap, tap, tap on your paper with your glue stick.” Then she hands them shapes to stick onto a paper. The kids are once again deeply engrossed. “It’s all about different textures and materials, and keeping them busy.”
While your child can take a solo art class, Valeen often books Private Picasso classes for groups of children; she just booked a class of eight children in Scarsdale. Families in the same neighborhood may sign up together, or friends looking for a way to get the kids together. “We work around your schedule, so it’s easy for people to sign up in groups,” she says.
A mix of ages can be beneficial. All kids can take part at their own level, whether they have experience with all of the materials or not. “The kids often mimic the other children in the class, so they may start experimenting with making different patterns or shapes,” says Valeen. Not only does this foster a toddler or preschooler’s curiosity in art, but painting and coloring helps a child develop the muscle tone needed to learn how to write letters in later years. Research shows that early arts education can also increase a child’s reading and verbal skills later in life.
When it’s time to paint, Valeen gives each child a paintbrush and lets them experiment with dipping the paintbrush in the water, then the watercolor paints. She has a sing-song saying she repeats over and over as a means of teaching young children the process of painting: “In the water, in the paint, on the paper.” The kids follow her cues like a game, trying to follow her by dipping their brush to the beat.
At the end of each class, Valeen reads the children a story, what she calls a “reward” for all of their hard work. My son and his two friends are mesmerized by the tale, and when it’s over most of their art projects are dry and ready for the fridge.
The cost of the classes are fair: If you can organize four or more kids, a ten week session costs $280 per child, or $28 per child per class. Classes are 45 minutes. You can also enroll children for six weeks.
Says Valeen: “The arts build a child’s confidence. It shows them that life can be open-ended, that sometimes there are no right answers.”