Can babies benefit from art classes?

Starting With Art

Starting With Art - Credit: Archant

Natalie Zervou, who runs Hampstead’s Starting With Art, tells Scarlet Howes why art can make kids powerful.

Starting With Art founder Natalie Zervou embraces the idea that art makes children powerful. Her range of workshops for babies, children and parents with pre-school children dismisses the concept of ‘painting by numbers’ in exchange for artistic collaboration between child and teacher.

She believes that it’s “art that gives them the skills to question what’s around them. Children aren’t passive vessels that need filling but are able to come up with their own solutions.”

Zervou’s words are both poetic and political, sending a positive message to people of all ages about the power and importance of education. The professional artist and gallery educator – who lives in Camden, but works in Hampstead – is disheartened by the lack of funding that the government is investing into creative subjects.

“The creative industries are the vastest part of the economy yet gets the least amount of funding, which doesn’t make sense. A lot of times at school, art is an afterthought – at the end of a lesson, when they’ve done everything else, they can do some colouring in. It’s never the star of the show when actually so much is learnt through art.

“There’s a right and a wrong way in a lot of subjects; they don’t really have a voice because they have to answer something correctly, whereas in art they can be free. It gives them a voice.”

Zervou, who gained a First for her degree in Fine Art from Norwich School of Art and Design, moved to London over seven years ago, working as Head of Art for Active Learning Nursery in West Hampstead while finishing her Masters. The artistic ideals of process driven work was substantiated when she saw that parents were having to look elsewhere for a chance for their children to be creative.

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“The area was really missing something that put the children at the foreground and was about the child experimenting,” she says.

Zervou desolately comments that “a lot of children don’t get an opportunity to play with material”, which is why her workshops propagate playfulness by immersing the students in an interactive environment based on famous works of art.

“We looked at Henri Rousseau so I made jungle scenes where I got loads of green material whereas when we looked at Bridget Riley it was very monochrome.”

She is quick to stress that the artists are only used as a foundation to introduce the children to different techniques so that they can understand that art can be anything.

“The artist is merely a springboard to introduce them to different art and different techniques. It’s never about them reproducing anything the artist made. I feel really strongly about children not being asked to copy.”

Children might look at the artist’s work and feel as though they are not drawing something different, Zervou continues. Consequently, Starting With Art is about giving the confidence to take risks as well.

“Not all people understand it”, she adds, “so I’m really aware that some parents might be like: “Why hasn’t my child come home with a beautifully constructed piece of artwork?

“But I’m hoping that parents do understand that’s not what I’m about. It’s about the child and about them exploiting the materials and along the way learning so many skills.”

Workshops at The Hundred Acres Toyshop in Heath St and The Winchester Project in Swiss Cottage. Details: