Raising Innovative Thinkers: The Power of Art for Kids with guest Bette Fetter

In this episode of Brainy Moms, Dr. Amy interviews Bette Fetter, the CEO of Young Rembrandts and the author of the #1 Amazon bestselling book Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Innovative Thinkers.  Bette shares how the arts are critical for developing the skills that lead to creativity, innovation, and out-of-the box thinking. She discusses how schools are missing the opportunity to nurture these skills that every child will need in adulthood regardless of career path. Best of all, she shares how all children have the capacity for artistry with some instruction.   

Read the transcript and show notes for this episode:

Brainy Moms Episode 111
Raising Innovative Thinkers: The Power of Art for Kids
with guest Bette Fetter

Dr. Amy Moore: Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr. Amy Moore, my co-host Teri Miller is sitting on a beach somewhere. But while she is enjoying the sand and the surf, we are going to talk about the power and significance of art for kids today. And I am so excited to introduce you to our expert guest, Bette Fetter. Bette is the founder and CEO of Young Rembrandts, and author of the Amazon number one bestselling book, “Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Innovative Thinkers”. Bette began her career as a professional artist. Through her education, participation in various forms of the arts, and experience with Montessori education, she gained firsthand understanding of the value of the arts for developing minds. Her passion for the arts and early childhood education led her to develop Young Rembrandts, a unique teaching methodology, focused on developing foundational art and drawing skills in young children. Welcome to Brainy Moms, Bette.

Bette Fetter: Thank you very much.

Dr. Amy Moore: Tell our listeners where you’re joining us from.

Bette Fetter: I’m in the Chicago suburbs.

Dr. Amy Moore: All right. Are you sunny today like we are?

Bette Fetter: We Have been in a beautiful weather streak, but it going gloomy. We lost about 25 degrees of our warmth this week.

Dr. Amy Moore: Wow. Well, here in Colorado, that happens to us all the time too. So I’ve really been looking forward to this interview with you because I am a former early childhood teacher and some of my fondest memories of teaching preschool is surrounded by art projects. And I’m excited for our Brainy Moms community to hear from you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how, and your story, how you got from being a professional artist to leading an international art program for children

Bette Fetter: It’s a big stretch there. When I was a kid, I loved art, anything art, that’s all I wanted to do. My college degree is in studio art, photography, lithography, drawing, painting. And so many people said you are never going to get a job with a career, with a degree in art and studio art, much less so. But I couldn’t do anything else, that’s just what I love. When I was out of school, I eventually started, I mean, I worked as an independent as an artist. Did some illustration, but I ended up when I had children working at a Montessori school part-time and I love the philosophy behind Montessori education. And after several years of doing that and really studying, I was really curious. I’m sure like you, as a psychologist, I like looking at how kids think, how do they learn? How do they process information? And then I loved the Montessori approach to that, which is very much in our education system now, early childhood has adapted a lot of that.

But eventually somebody asked me, will you teach my kids how to draw? And I thought that was about the dumbest thing anyone had ever asked me to do. I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no. And I had a very persistent friend and she literally just wore me down. And I had my first class with eight kids in [inaudible 00:03:49] room. I actually still have my attendance sheet, March of 1988.

Dr. Amy Moore: Wow.

Bette Fetter: It just kept growing, more kids would want to come to class. And I figured, what do you teach kids? And I relied a lot on, what did I want to know when I was a kid? And I just really applied my, my studio arts degree. And I’m just not a teaching degree, but studio art, as a kid doing art, what did I want to know? And then it really blossomed into this teaching method that really affects both sides of the brain, it’s a very, it develops interdis… I’ll go into that in a minute, it affects so many other parts of a child’s development that I thought this is pretty impactful. And I just went further with it in terms of developing a business around it.

Dr. Amy Moore: All right. So can you talk to us a little bit about the importance of arts for kids in general?

Bette Fetter: Young kids are all very right-brained, we’re very young, youngest, children are hands on, they’ve got to do it, they’ve got to touch it, they’ve got to feel it. That’s how they explore the world, that’s how they learn. Like this foundation in touching, feeling, doing, making stuff is so fundamental and needs to be in place even before they get into an academic type of a classroom. And when they are in an academic environment, those are very left-brained skills. The arts are very right-brained skills. And sometimes by the time we enter school, school forgot that there’s two sides of us. School gets real focused on those left brain skills and sometimes at really a loss. So the kids that are are very right-brained are really struggling, cause you’re not getting enough. But I think overall in our education, we’re not regarding the development of that right side of our brain, which is so necessary for all children.

Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely. So how early do you think that we should start introducing the arts?

Bette Fetter: Oh my gosh. Even people think that when you’re in preschool and there’s the easel and there’s red paint and kids are, ah, that is so satisfying for them. That is so I matter, I impact the world. I can put that color on paper and every kind of experience crafts, arts, any of that, that they can have is wonderful. Now for us, we go into more instruction in the arts when kids are about three and a half to four, in terms of the preschoolers doing Young Rembrandts. That’s when I think they are, I have seen, they’re more, they’re ready to hold their pencil, they’re ready to draw in pencil, they’re ready to kind of think and be very intentional about what they’re making. And they’re just ready to learn more. And drawing is so much like language or reading or writing that the younger you do it with them, it’s also the more natural it is for them.

Dr. Amy Moore: So talk to us a little bit about the difference between just allowing kids to explore art materials on their own and what the benefit of adding some art instruction is for them.

Bette Fetter: We, even for me, as a kid who loved doing art, when I always had this notion, one of my resistance to teaching was, nobody ever taught me how. But I think the enormous amount of our population doesn’t draw or would say, oh, I can’t draw. I can’t even draw anything past a stick man. And I would say, nobody showed you how, but if we had math and you said, “I’m having a really hard time with these fractions”, somebody goes, “it’s okay, you don’t really need that”. We would say, “get in the classroom, get the tutor, you’re going to get fractions.” When you don’t give instruction in something, the perception is, I’m not that good at it so I’m just not even going to do it. Then what happens is about six, seven, eight years old kids are just doing very freeform, absolutely wonderful. But they, the problem that they come very critical themselves when they start to be more aware of the images around them. And they look at their stick man, and they go, oh, I’m not one of those art kids, I can’t draw. And they literally put that away-

Dr. Amy Moore: Right.

Bette Fetter: And they stop, and little six, seven, eight years old, you can make the decision, I’m done. So terrible. And the only reason they’re done is that we didn’t teach them anything. If they, we never taught them how to read, if we didn’t show many numbers or math, they’d quit that at eight too, but we don’t let them.

Dr. Amy Moore: So let me make sure I’m understanding you. You’re saying that we can teach any child how to draw?

Bette Fetter: Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: Well that’s exciting.

Bette Fetter: (inaudible) teaching preschoolers the most. I love teaching preschoolers because with Young Rembrandts, when we teach a preschool class, these kids do things that you would never in a million years would even think was possible with a preschooler. Do it every time, and it works with every kid. It’s just staggering, but it’s because we have two things. We have very specialized curriculum that we develop and we have a very specific teaching method that’s very unique to Young Rembrandts. When we put those together, the way we teach kids, the way we would lead a preschooler, but we also do elementary classes and that’s a lot of our kids are elementary age, but the way we teach it is why it is so successful. And it’s very affirming and encouraging, it’s not like do art my way or you’re wrong. It’s very individual. It’s very, meets the kids where they are, but yet takes them to another level for themselves. It’s critical.

Dr. Amy Moore: Sounds it, just like we know that reading instruction that’s direct and targeted is the most effective way to teach reading. What I’m hearing you say, is that you can develop young artists with the exact same philosophy.

Bette Fetter: Absolutely. And the thing that is also so cool about it is in, again, the way we are teaching it, we’re being very intentional about helping kids develop their focus, their time on task. Our preschoolers sit still for 45 minutes and do a class. I think for a four year old, that’s a miracle no matter what their-

Dr. Amy Moore: Sure. Absolutely.

Bette Fetter: Our elementary kids, from six and up our classes are about an, are an hour long and they do great. But we’re teaching them these fine motor skills, attention to detail, how to really look and see something. And those kinds of things are totally going to come into all their other classroom work, all the ways that they, the skills they need to do other kinds of academic lessons.

Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit more about that? About how that nurtures those other skills that apply then to the classroom.

Bette Fetter: Yeah. For young kids their, their exposure to what the world is about and yet, how do you translate it to a sheet of paper? But we’re working with language and keeping the language simple and clean. We’re very, we teach a very specific marker technique. Again, it’s not right or wrong or some nobody gets graded. You introduce it, you introduce it again, and again, and again. Each child is working at their own level, but the more they sit still, they learn how to look at something, follow direction, look down, do it step by step. The discipline, that internal sense of order, and confidence, and calm, and fine motor skill, pincer grasp, all of those things for young kids. Wow, does it impact them in the class.

Especially handwriting, for the most part nowadays people are, oh my God, my kid’s handwriting is terrible. Especially creative kids have the worst handwriting, which is not fair. But if you have young kids drawing, no you have a four year old drawing for 45 minutes, I have to write a few letter A’s, no problem. Or these young elementary kids that are learning to write, when they’re doing drawing, they thought they just came to have fun and draw colors and pictures. We packed it with so much intentional focus and development and fine motor skill, they come out of it. They don’t know how much they just got, but you can see it in the classroom.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. And those are skills that, we take for granted sometimes. I know that I have a friend who is an art teacher and she got her first teaching job in an elementary school, in a lower socioeconomic area. And she had this whole amazing curriculum planned, got in there the first day, and realized those kids didn’t even know how to hold a pair of scissors because they had never seen, or seen anyone use a pair of scissors before. And so she had to go back to the basics. We take that for granted, right.

Bette Fetter: Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: That you know how to hold a pencil, that you know how to hold scissors. You know that-

Bette Fetter: [crosstalk 00:14:30] they gave you a pencil to draw with much less, not a crummy old bucket of crayons and said, go do some art, you know?

Dr. Amy Moore: Right.

Bette Fetter: But they respected you enough to say, let’s learn how to see things, let me give you good tools to use, and then let’s work one-on-one on all these fundamental skills. I remember even as a college student, I loved watercolors and drawing, and I remember my watercolor class. So I’m in college, I loved the watercolor supplies, we had these huge creosote boards all the way across the farthest end of the campus. My watercolor sat in there and read the newspaper and said, explore. And I remember as a shy and intimidated college student kind of thinking, what are we paying for? But you got to get your degree, so I explored, I always got good grades, but I always sensed, I’m not that good at this. It didn’t just fall out of the sky. There is no other skill that we expect people to know without teaching it.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right.

Bette Fetter: In music, we don’t say here’s a drum set, bang away, see how it comes out. We don’t do that with the piano, with dance, with any of the arts or with any academic subject matter. Art is really the only subject that we say, did you like that? Go do that, but I’m not going to teach you anything.

Dr. Amy Moore: Incredible.

Bette Fetter: Unless I’m lucky enough to get that lady who is going to show me how to use a pair of scissors and my paint.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right. I love how you said that, that idea of providing instruction as saying, I respect you enough. Children are strong, powerful, and competent, right? And we don’t always recognize that particularly with young children. And so that’s super insightful, I really love that. I want to talk about your book a little bit. Bette’s book is called, “Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Innovative Thinkers”, and I’d like to share a passage that really jumped out at me, and then have you talk a little bit about that.

Bette Fetter: Okay. I’m curious which one it was.

Dr. Amy Moore: Okay. “Creative, imaginative thought comes easily for young children. They’re driven to discover and understand what is. They delight in imagining what can be, once they get to school, we ask their imaginations to take a back seat while we develop their logic and linear thinking skills. In the process of being so logical and linear, they may be robbed of their creative power, their confidence and ability to bring what else into the thought process maybe weakened or even lost.” And you go on to say that, “it doesn’t have to be this way”.

Bette Fetter: Mm-hmm(affirmative).

Dr. Amy Moore: Talk a little bit about that.

Bette Fetter: That’s the difference between, like when we get to school, it becomes very left brain linear thinking. Which is that your math facts and your multiplication, your addition numbers, and all the kinds of learning where you are going to memorize something, and answer a multiple choice test or a standardized test, those kinds of, that kind of learning starts to happen. And usually in that kind of learning, there’s not a lot of room in there for, okay, so this happened and then this happened, but what do you think is going to happen next? The thing about art and the right side of your brain is that is literally where all the ideas are.

One of the things in my research I thought was so profound, the left side of your brain is very, it’s organized in these neat little file folders. All my facts about the Civil War or my multiplication timetables, whatever I need, I know right where it is. The right side of our mind is very big, it’s open. It’s like you had every file folder in your, on your computer open at the same time, completely maddening. And you kind of have to manage that better, but that’s where ideas come from. That’s where innovation comes from. When you’re looking at a lot of different possibilities at the same time or different information, or input, you’re able to say, what if I did that? But I connected it to that. But I connected it to that. That’s what happens in the arts. That’s what happens in the right side of the brain. But we kind of think, only art people need that.

You know what? We just went through a pandemic and we were hoping that all these scientists in the world were able to think out of the box. We wanted our scientists to be able to come up with that idea that connected this and this and this. Even the people delivering the vaccines, passing them, everything about it, we needed some innovative thought. We didn’t need it from the artists to paint murals for us. We need every member of our culture and every area, every kind of work, every occupation to be able to know what the facts are, but come on. What are you going to do with them? It’s facts. What else is there? What else is possible? That’s why the arts develop that kind of thinking that we need in all parts of our life.

Dr. Amy Moore: So we have to stop thinking that it’s “either-or “ and…

Bette Fetter: Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: focus on “both-and.”

Bette Fetter: Perfect, I love it, I’m going to steal that.

Dr. Amy Moore: Okay. Right. Okay. And so I think that, that’s the disconnect, right? Where the education centers-

Bette Fetter: It’s not necessary. There’s only a few people who need that.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right.

Bette Fetter: Most people don’t need that. It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Dr. Amy Moore: So then how do we communicate that to the education community better?

Bette Fetter: That’s a really good question. I think as parents, we have to want it first, the education community has a job to do. They, they know what they’re tasked with, but anytime parents do speak up and say, wait a minute, we want more. Or we want, I want a little bit of a shift. I’m a little bit more of this on my plate. And Young Rembrandts is an afterschool program, so whether it’s Young Rembrandts or any other arts that you know about in after-school programs, parents can stay to their schools. We want, if we can’t have it during the day, we absolutely want it afterwards that we have that choice. But maybe there’s a way to do both.

Dr. Amy Moore: Sure. So I want to hear more specifically about Young Rembrandts, but we need to take a quick break and read a word from our sponsor.

Bette Fetter: Okay.

Dr. Amy Moore: Okay.

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Dr. Amy Moore: And we are back talking to Bette Fetter, CEO of Young Rembrandts. So I’d like to continue talking about this idea of if we can’t get it in the school or during the school day, there are options, and Young Rembrandts is one of those. So talk more about what it is, where to find it, what you do.

Bette Fetter: Yeah. Well, thank you. When I did start teaching, much against my, ah, I’m not sure, and I did start teaching. I ran my company as a family business for 13 years. I have four kids and I wanted a business that I could, I wanted something to do where that really mattered to me. And I felt it was very impactful, but at the same time I had four kids. I want the flexibility so I did as a family business, at some point, my husband left his corporate sales job to join Young Rembrandts. So together it was our family business, and then we franchised. So almost 20 years ago, seems forever, we franchised our business. So we have franchisees all across the U.S, we have some in Canada, we do have more territories available. We’re always looking for new franchisees.

But our franchisees then hire some part-time staff that are artists or teachers that do art, and they host classes after school at local elementary schools. They also do them at park districts, community centers, any place that kids are normally taking classes. And we do it during the summer to [inaudible 00:24:28] different things. So our website is young rembrandts.com, and you put in your zip code and it will lead you to, whatever franchisee is in your area. But during the pandemic, we also started doing Zoom classes. So we have a lot of online Zoom classes available, same thing, you’d punch in your zip code and see what was available in your area.

But Zoom areas can be a lot bigger than in-person, we also, then what you see behind me, we started doing on demand videos during the pandemic. We started recording our classes and it’s so fun because I get to teach again in the CEO. And I haven’t been teaching for the last few years, but I do always do the curriculum. I mean, I work with the curriculum team, but it was so fun to teach again. I do the classes and we recorded them, they’re beautifully produced. There’s all kinds of extras in terms of vocabulary and art history and all that. But that’s another way that people can do Young Rembrandts. We have a lot of options if you head to youngrembrandts.com.

Dr. Amy Moore: You mentioned briefly that you have territories available. Explain what that means to our listeners and if they were interested, let’s say there wasn’t a franchisee in their area, but they want their kids to have this opportunity, how would they go about bringing that themselves?

Bette Fetter: Wow, [inaudible 00:26:00] I’d love that. Our franchisees are just the most wonderful people. Professionals, people that are in business, have had business experience, how to grow a business, you would be employing a staff, part-time staff. It’s very reasonable in terms of costs and there, it’s home-based we all are loving this home base stuff, aren’t we.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right.

Bette Fetter: There are so many benefits and the flexible lifestyle, but at the same time, it’s a business and a very healthy business can be really good business. It’s just a matter of contacting once again, our website with little franchise tab, if you have any interest in the possibility of owning a franchise.

Dr. Amy Moore: Okay, that sounds great. So finally, you have a blog.

Bette Fetter: I do.

Dr. Amy Moore: Tell us a little bit about that and what type of topics you, you post about?

Bette Fetter: Well, it’s Bettefetter.com, and mostly that conversation is about the value of the arts, but it’s also about this right brain thinkers. I think 99.5, this is my, my undocumented opinion, but kids with ADHD are right brain thinkers. And if we taught them like right brain kids, we could alleviate a lot of their stress. There’s so many ways that we teach that aren’t helpful to right brain kids and they really struggle in the classroom and they end up thinking, what is wrong with me? Math, I’m like math, writing, essays, write an essay, doing math and are there certain topics that are like taking tests, time tests, those kinds of things that are very naturally kind of, almost off putting, really anxiety producing hard subjects for creative kids, because they’re thinking with the right side of the mind and the way that we’re teaching is very left brain. I talk a lot about how do we adapt the waiver teaching, so it’s more balanced in terms of brain and the way we can reach all kids would regardless of how they’re wired to learn.

Dr. Amy Moore: Fascinating, so that’s Bettefetter.com.

Bette Fetter: Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore: Okay, and we’ll actually put that link in our show notes so that you don’t have to know how to spell that right now.

Bette Fetter: That’s more challenging than you think.

Dr. Amy Moore: So this has been a fantastic conversation with you today Bette, I truly enjoyed it, and thank you for being with us. If you would like to connect with Bette or learn more about the Young Rembrandts program, you can start at youngrembrandts.com and we will put Bette’s social media handles and links to her website and blog in the show notes.

So thanks so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a rating and review and follow us on social media @TheBrainyMoms, you can also follow me @Dr_Amy Moore. So, until next time look, we know you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms, so we are out.

Bette Fetter: Thank you.

Social media and website links for Bette Fetter:
LinkedIn: @bettefetter and @young-rembrandts
Twitter: @BetteYR
Instagram: @youngrembrandts, @bettefetter
Facebook: @YoungRembrandts1 and @BetteFetterAuthor

Young Rembrandts www.YoungRembrandts.com
Bette Fetter’s blog www.BetteFetter.com