Recently my family had a “Parent-Professor Conference” for my 4 year old daughter, who is in a Transitional Kindergarten program at a top performing California Charter school. We were happy to hear that she scored high on all of her subject assessments and is well above average in Language arts, Math, Fine Motor Skills and the like and received “straight A’s” (I know, 4 and 5 year olds being academically graded, just adorable!). I have to admit though, that as we went through each subject matter in her testing packet, I was most filled with pride when the teacher showed us her drawing of an imaginative place that she had not yet been to before. Whenever my kids create something, I feel as though it comes from a place of the unknown - in the mysterious corners deep inside their mind AND their heart. I feel so privileged to be able to witness something almost sacred, and I can’t help but want to savor those moments as their mother overflowing with love and curiosities about these beings.
I remember snippets of countless family trips growing up, like driving through beautiful Vancouver Island humming along to my dad’s favorite Enrico Macias tunes to visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History in New York and falling in love with the beauty of paintings and sculptures and being in awe of the natural wonders of the world. I remember sitting at the New York Public Library with my brother in the Main Reading Room as my dad pointed out the gorgeous architecture and elaborate book illustrations to us. As a teen, I remember getting moved by Il Postino at the Lincoln Center and Broadway Shows like Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. I have vivid memories as a child in Vancouver, and spending hours in my dad’s Art Room, watching him work on oil paintings and being curious about all of his art supplies. My childhood was far from idyllic, but these moments were the ones that fueled my passion for art and culture, why it’s always my happy place and why I parent my kids in the way that I do. I want to share my Top 5 Tips on How to Get Kids Interested in Art to those who want to help cultivate a mind that thinks outside the box. Kids are sponges and have the ability to memorize the entire multiplication table if taught to do so, but in my opinion it’s much more valuable to instill skills to problem solve, make the most with what you’ve got, and not be fearful to be unique and to express new ideas.
1 - Be Prepared for a Mess
I’ve heard from many parents that they won’t allow painting in their home because of the mess it makes. I feel like young kids learn by trial and error, and when you are working on art projects that require tactile materials like glue, paint and other things that can make a mess it can be daunting to think about the clean up afterwards. If you are prepared with drop cloths and the right materials, it gives them more freedom to create, try new things, make a few spills and learn from their experiences. Peter Crabbe, the Chief Program Officer at the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena, CA gives some really great tips on doing artwork with your kids:
- Use good quality materials.
- Use inspiring visuals to get people excited – beautiful objects, natural objects, stained glass, etc.
- Use a core idea or concept that provides some clear goals and has plenty of room for children to feel like they can choose what they want to do. Pattern, light and dark, colour, transparency, nature, etc.
- Use adult help at the right times, but not to do their project for them.
- Use it as a chance to express their thoughts and emotions.
- Use it as a time to fail and try again in a risk-friendly environment.
2 - Give Them Your Full Attention
They crave our attention at all times. Although it’s hard to find the time as a working parent or when you’re splitting attention between siblings, making the time special by having conversations about their ideas make them feel important and encourages them to take their ideas even further. Even if you aren’t particularly artistic yourself, it’s easy to buy some art books or craft kits at the store that come with all the materials and work on that together. When you do things together and show them how interested you are in helping, they are so much more engaged and less likely to be distracted. If you are working on a craft together, help them focus on following the step by step directions. Although it’s always OK to deviate a bit, following directions is an important lesson – try to find that balance! There should be a distinction between projects that are free flowing and ones where it’s best to stick to the plan. When you are working on something together it gives you those opportunities to instill those skills in a fun way.
3 - Make Museum Trips a Regular Part of Your Life
Whether it be a kids’ museum or a fine art museum, museums are so vital in making kids interested in art. They are not only exposed to the beauty of amazing artworks, sculptures and architecture but it helps them to see how things are made and makes art accessible. They become inspired to make artworks using similar materials or techniques. It’s so important to have conversations about specific pieces that pique their or your interests. They will feed off of your enthusiasm and start to notice things themselves. Emily Mahon, the Senior Director of Education at the Bowers Museum shares that “the best way to instill a love for the arts in young kids is to love the arts yourself and let them share in that. I've noticed that if you surround yourself with art and include your kids in engaging with the arts that you love and appreciate, in the same way you do everything else, small children won't know any better and think that's just what life is. Children love to learn and their parents are their whole world. Share your passion and love for the arts in all their forms and the kids will follow. Make going to museums and concerts and festivals, singing, playing piano and making art, as normal as going to the grocery store, park or school."
Rachel Stark, the Assistant Director of Education at the Skirball Cultural Center shares some valuable tips for visiting Museums with the family:
- Take shorter and more frequent trips to museums rather than spending long stretches of time doing so in a single day.
- Make museums visits interactive by looking closely, asking questions, make up stories about what you see or imagine in the artworks, act out the stories, or even pose like the sculptures!
- Go to museum Festivals or Family Days which often include opportunities for art-making.
- Read books about art and artists and look closely at the illustrations or pictures.
4 - Sketch Books!
I always make sure Sofia has a notebook or sketch book and some writing utensil with her almost everywhere we go. Whenever there is a bit of a down moment or time of waiting, I encourage her to take out her art materials and draw what we are experiencing and she is more than eager to notice things around us and replicate it down on paper. The other day, we were at a slow moving train ride at Disneyland and she happened to have her sketch book with her. As we got off the ride she showed me a picture of a candy corn she quickly sketched up while on the ride while we were passing by a giant sculpture of one. It’s been her recent inspiration and she has been drawing countless candy corns at every chance she gets. It’s amazing what little things they notice in their everyday environments and have those things become continuously joyful creative moments. It also keeps their minds active and be inquisitive. On a grander scale, I like to think that it helps to make active, and not passive citizens of their future societies.
5 - Stop for Art Moments in the Everyday
Almost every city has such a wealth of public art, outdoor art installations, sculpture gardens or graffiti art. Sometimes it a lot of work and money planning and making trips to Museums and galleries. Noticing the art all around us as we commute to and from work, schools, running errands, and while we are travelling is an easy way to engage the young ones in all forms of art. While we were travelling in Stockholm recently, we noticed that almost every train station was outfitted with a magnificent art installation. It was so much fun stopping in the midst of the commuters and our own busy schedules to notice the art and discuss shapes, colors and forms. When we are walking in a setting where there are landscapes and outdoor sculptures, I always follow their lead and if even more a few moments allow them to touch and walk through and around the objects they are interested in. I feel like there is an innate need for kids to exercise their curiosities in a tactile and interactive way. I read an article a couple of years back on our current culture of hustling our kids from one place to the next, and our repetitive commands for them to “hurry up”. Let’s break out of that mold and be encouragers of slowing down. Encourage exploration!