Discovering the value and fun of art is a wonderful experience for children that can enhance their development in ways far beyond improving their ability to draw straighter lines or paint trees. 'Art is a mixture of imagination and thinking outside the box,' says Eleanor McColl, director and founder of Chameleon Workshop. 'The kids work on artwork based on different themes, which allows them to learn technical skills as well as something practical. 'With art, they get to explore and push the boundaries all the time, experimenting with paint, working with clay, learning about printing, and they get exposed to so many different art mediums. Art is so versatile and broad, we don't just stick to drawing and painting.' Established in 2002, the Chameleon Workshop offers six-week art courses throughout the year for children aged three years and older. For a broad range of styles, each course introduces a new art medium, such as clay, printing or collage, or incorporates drawing from a different perspective. While some parents may question how well a three-year-old can draw or paint, Ms McColl says even at that age they can learn to draw a face. By dividing the face into shapes and sections, the face becomes a virtual fruit bowl. Ms McColl may start the class by telling a story about a fruit bowl, then asking what a lemon or an orange looks like. Then the students are instructed to draw a face composed of two lemons for eyes, inside each eye is an orange and a grape for the pupil. Two raisins joined together make up a nose. 'Breaking everything down in shapes makes it easier for them to remember,' says Ms McColl. According to the British-born director from Leeds, working on art projects such as creating a mask presents children with an infinite amount of choice in terms of colour, texture and facial features. Ultimately, it's an exercise in problem solving. 'I think Hong Kong is quite academically focused, and a lot of people want to know why they should choose an art class instead of a music class or sports. Art also helps student interaction. When we finish a class, we ask them to critique each other's art. 'Do you like this piece and what do you think of this colour?' They need to be aware of what each other is doing.' While students work on an activity with a common theme, the end product is unique. Ms McColl says, 'Even though they are doing the same project, it's completely their individual creation and something personal.' While some children may be more adept at art than others, Wendy Ip Suet-ting, director of teaching division at Kids' Gallery, believes all children can do art. She says, 'There's no right or wrong in art, it's all about interpreting materials. 'At schools, art teachers have to grade students, so there are guidelines and direction to what is good art. Sometimes kids and teachers lose sight that art is about creativity, imagination and self-expression. Some kids can't express their individuality because they have been told how to do it ... If they are allowed to express themselves freely, they will produce artwork that is very individualistic.' Founded in 1996, Kids' Gallery offers an extensive range of visual arts courses for early learners from 12-months through to 16-year-olds. To keep the art centre's youngest artists (12-months up to toddlers) interested, each one-hour class is taught in 10-minute blocks with segments including an introduction, singing, story time, artwork, snack time and role play. Ms Ip says, 'We've structured classes to keep them focused.' After attending a few classes, the young kids know the routine and easily adapt to the structure, she explained. For 12- to 16-month-olds (accompanied by a caregiver), the Kids' Gallery courses are more about experimentation than producing great art. The young artists stimulate their imagination through tactile materials such as finger paints, sponges and rollers. Another way to keep young students focused is to vary the work space, from painting on the wall to painting on 3D objects, such as transforming a cardboard box into a bus. From 16 months to 2? years, children's attention spans improve and they are able to work on a basic theme to produce a completed project. 'The courses provide younger kids with [visual and tactile] stimulation and the opportunity to develop hand-eye co-ordination and motor skills,' says Ms Ip. 'They have so much fun while building their confidence in art which also builds their confidence in general.' Ms McColl says, 'We want to expel all those thoughts about a wrong way to draw something. Art isn't about drawing the perfect leaf or apple, it's about putting your own slant on it. 'There are kids with natural ability, but a lot of kids can be taught art with practise. Leonardo da Vinci had natural talent, but he still had to practise.'