7 Tips for teaching your kids to appreciate art museums
I’m an avid art museum traveler. Wherever we go, we make sure to visit as many art museums as possible (this is the second priority in our travel planning – the first being great food). When we had a child, I wasn’t concerned that she’d love art museums, too. But from the plethora of comments I’ve received when we visit art museums, this is a rarity. Often, people ask me how I’ve taught my daughter to appreciate art museums. Here’s the rub – she doesn’t only appreciate them, she PLANS for them. They are often the most important parts of our trip (or day). So, here are my top tips for teaching kids to appreciate art museums – and it all starts with an appreciation for art.
1. Don’t be afraid of art! Art is everywhere – from the walls in your house to your own fridge (you know you post those drawings there!); from benches in parks to sculptures that grace those parks; from patterns in nature to patterns in popular media. Learn what you like, explore color in your home, wardrobe, and yard, and teach yourself to have an eye for art. This might mean liking the angles of a building, or the pattern and color in a daffodil. It’s not all about art history (which is important, but maybe not to you). It’s all about viewing the world as one big creative playground for art. It’s knowing that your favorite statue might be David, or it might be one of Deborah Butterfield’s horses (my favorites of hers are at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park).
Cabin Creek, Deborah Butterfield
2. Know about visual development in children. Babies see in black, white, and grey 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. Play with clay, and learn about sculpture. Provide as much color as possible in their lives – from the jumbo box of crayons to color in their rooms and wardrobes. 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.
3. Take your kids to all the art museums and institutes you possibly can, from a very young age. 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. Many art museums have programs for kids – from seek and find quests (often with rewards, as the Dayton Art Institute has) 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. 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.
4. Provide plenty of supplies to create art – and encourage your kids to use them. Buy as much paint (washable tempera suggested), pencils, stencils, clay, crayons, paper, and other supplies as you can. Supplement this with treasures from your yard or walks (sticks, feathers, leaves, flowers, acorns, etc.). Create art every day.
5. Provide access to art and make it fun. Whether you have books of art or photographs on the table, posters on the wall, or access to websites that teach about art (Smithsonian, MOMA, or my favorite website, SmARThistory), make art accessible. Look at these every day, talk about art, artists, color – and your kids art. Do they love drawing manga? Painting still life? Coloring in coloring books? Encourage all of these activities, as they form the basis for a life filled with art and color.
6. Visit art museums as much as you can. When you go to visit the grandparents, find the local art museums and make it a priority to explore them each time you’re there. When you visit a new town, take at least an hour or two (or a whole day, if you have time) and spend it in the art museum. Also frequent your local art museum – your kids will have favorites, but will also enjoy rotating exhibits. 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!
7. When your kids get older, have them help with travel planning. Kids love to explore online and create itineraries. Have them scope out the art museums you can visit – and look online for highlights of the collection. Heading to Paris? Set them to find the local’s way in at the Louvre, for faster access to the Museum. Heading to Fiji? Ask them to explore the Fiji Museum in Suva to learn what is authentic and local before hitting the markets to purchase art. Find art museums online for wherever you are headed – and then plan to spend time there. Your kids will appreciate a quick rest in front of some beautiful paintings in the middle of a vacation – art museums will feel like home, and pretty soon they WILL be. Your kids (like mine) will clamor for time in art museums, for more art supplies, and spend those long hours in the car or plane drawing, inspired by what they saw.
All photos courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts