School holidays: teaching kids to appreciate art?
Winter school break is almost here and most of the families are looking forward to spending some nice time together. There will be hours and days for simple talks, nice walks outside and big family reunions. Having all other opportunities, spending time in art museums is rarely an exciting alternative. Parents often steer clear of museums for fear that kids will be bored or disruptive. However, it is possible to make a visit to art museum a fun trip. Here, we collected tips on how to prepare for a day of art appreciation.
Start with yourself.
If you are not an artist, keep in mind that art is not just an art history. To appreciate art is a skill to see a beauty in little things: a corner of the building, a thick layer of cream on a birthday cream, a combination of colors on advertising etc. As simple as that. It starts with noticing, feeling, exploring things and learning a wide variety of art forms and shapes.
Learn about visual development in children.
- Babies see in black, white, and gray for the first 4 months of their lives. This is a good time to explore black and white paintings (from Hokusai to Velasquez to Roy Lichtenstein), look at black and white patterns in nature (the shadows a tree branch will throw across a sidewalk), view Ansel Adams photographs.
- Toddlers like to experience visual things, so make sure to experience art as play.Start by showing your children sculptures of people or geometric shapes and engage them by examining the statue from different sides, angles, and levels. Encourage observational, language, and vocabulary skills by playing a game ‘I see ____’ and finish each other’s sentences. Talk about what the statue is doing and why, what expression and feeling it’s conveying, and what shapes and materials the artist used. At home, play with clay, and learn about sculpture by creating one. Provide as much color as possible in their lives. Play together with blocks, creating astounding architecture. Play together with paints – copying Van Gogh’s Starry Night and then looking out at a clear, starry night yourselves. Draw correlations between art and real life – not only Starry Night, but Warhol’s soup cans, Monet’s water lilies, the folds of cloth in statues and the folds of cloth in their beach towel.
- Preschoolers are excited by bright colors. Find artists kids can imitate on paper, like Pollack, Miro, and Kandinsky, or find paintings with scenes that kids can create stories around, such as ones by Matisse, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Make up a story together. Look at your favorite pieces of art and talk about why you love them. Ask your kids to pose like the people in the paintings or sculptures do. Question why you like some art, and not others. Laugh at crazy expressions in faces, be soothed by calm waters.
- With school age kids look at art that was made to tell visual stories, such as tapestries, murals, stained glass, or mosaics. Engage them by asking what story they think the artist was trying to tell and what different elements in the picture (flowers, animals) might symbolize. Compare their story with the work’s ‘official’ story. It helps to understand how to read symbols and interpret all the visual stimuli we see in our society.
- Make big kids seek out portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. This is the time to introduce them to the masters, such as Leonardo da Vinci. Have mini scavenger hunts and get kids to look for items, shapes, or lines in a specific picture. Encourage children to view the same work from different parts of the gallery and to consider their surroundings: is the gallery brightly lit or dark? Why is a piece of art displayed in a particular way? How are other people in the room reacting to it? It teaches them to be sensitive observers.
Prepare the visit.
Before even going to the museum, spend some time and find information and visuals about collection online. Share and discuss with kids what they would like to see. Consulting the kids to find out what they are most interested in seeing at a museum will improve your chances of having a successful visit.
Stay focused and have plan ‘B’.
Try to focus on two or three exhibits and spend one-three hours in the museum (depending on kids age). There is no point in trying to see as much as possible until everyone drops – this is supposed to be fun not an endurance contest. Determine which exhibits the kids are most interested in and head there first in order to reduce the risk of disappointment if the visit has to be cut short. Having a plan ‘B’ helps to be flexible as well and accommodate unplanned situations (moods, crowded spots etc).
Present it as a game.
Many art museums have programs for kids – from seak and find quests to scheduled classes. Provide drawing supplies for your kids, and encourage them to find their favorite paintings, sit, and copy something about them that they love. Play in the children’s areas – there’s so much to learn and explore there. If they don’t want to sit still, that’s ok! Make circles, finding your favorite art, or looking for 10 green eyes, or 3 huge waves, fireworks, or a walking stick. Art is fun!
Close the loop.
Leaving the museum, buy postcards in the museum gift shop of their favorite paintings, and be sure to make them visible at home – on the fridge, or tacked to a wall by their desk.
Consider different art spaces.
Public art, especially free galleries, local art stores, street art, sculpture gardens and environmental installations are an ideal way for kids to experience local art and its different forms and perspectives on a variety of subjects.
Engage with art every day.
Look for art and symbols in everyday life. Point out church windows, subway mosaics, stop signs, and store windows, and discuss what the colors, shapes, and images tell us. Encourage your kids to draw their own versions of symbols they see around them or to use cut-up bits of paper to create their own mosaics. Better still, encourage your child to create a story by drawing, cutting, and gluing pictures and then have you guess what the story is.
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