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What Children Learn from Looking at Art

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Raising a young art enthusiast is one of the joys of parenthood. There are easy and natural ways to cultivate an appreciation for art in your young child. Many of these are things you are likely doing anyway: going to museums, drawing, reading books. But the way we’re approaching this is intentional – with the goal of helping your child appreciate art.

“It’s never too early to explore art with your child,” says Saundra Ayala, Director of Education at Vivvi’s Tribeca campus. “I have the awesome privilege of seeing our youngest artists at work every day! Creating process art is a staple at Vivvi that gives children multiple ways to express themselves, explore their senses, and develop their fine motor skills as well as build self-confidence.”

Young children don’t just grow from creating art, though. They also benefit from studying art that others have made. Picasso. Renoir. Warhol. Your child might actually be into them.

Looking at and talking about art with young children can help them to develop critical thinking skills, language skills, and social skills. There is so much going on behind the scenes when you start sharing ideas and feelings about art with your child. 

“It is a good way to gain insights into how your child views the world and lets your child know that their thoughts and ideas are valued,” Saundra says.

Here are three ways to help your child learn through looking at art:

1. Take your child to art museums.

A great way to appreciate art with your child, and to show them just how important art is, is to take them to a museum.

And you don’t have to wait until your toddler is past the “sticky stage” to take them to the Met. In fact, we recommend starting early. Like, as soon as you feel up to pushing a stroller. Familiarize your child with this type of setting as a natural and normal place to be.

Children are naturally curious about objects and images, making art museums a perfect place to excite their little minds. But don’t over do it: we suggest planning to spend no more than two hours at the location – and we also encourage you to focus on the artwork that interests your child, which will naturally extend the amount of time they are engaged and excited.

“The basic elements of art — line, shape, color, and texture —are not complicated concepts for even very young children to look at and understand,” Saundra says. “Start by identifying and talking about what you see in the artwork. Point out animals, children, or items your child can relate to and recognize.”

You can also ask your child what they think is happening in the work or how they think the subject is feeling. You can find the major colors in the picture and talk about how they look next to each other. You can point out geometric shapes like circles, triangles, and squares.

2. Create art with your child.

Bring your museum experience home by creating art inspired by the same pieces they loved in the museum.

While you’re at the gallery or museum, snap a picture with your phone of your child’s favorite works. At home, print it out or prop your phone up on the table so you and your child can see the work – then, try to recreate it!

Ask your child “What colors do you see?” or “What shapes should we start with?”. These questions will guide your child to think critically about the work of art they’re looking at.

Let your child know, everyone’s art looks different. Their art will not look exactly like the art in the museum, and that’s okay. Consider hanging your child’s art in your home. Even something as simple as a prominent display on the refrigerator will instill a sense of pride.

1. Notice art in your everyday life.

Helping your child notice art in their daily life can help them find beauty – and comfort – in new surroundings and situations.

Start in your own home. What art is on your walls? Talk to your child about why you chose that painting, that screenprint, that wallpaper. Show them the art in their own space.
On your neighborhood walks, look for building murals. Explain how someone painted that. Focus on the beauty in the landscaping and the architecture where you live. Are the bike racks fun and curvy, or sharp and pointy? How many colors are on the leaves? Can we draw that when we get back home?

Point out art on playdates at friends’ homes and in community spaces. Show your children that people make art, that art is important and hangs on our walls for a reason.

Book list:

Give your bedtime reading an artistic revamp. We love books about art like Good Night, Starry Night by Amy Guglielmo, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg, or any of Sabrina Hahn’s Art & Concepts for Kids books.

Photography by Hanna Nakano.

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