I believe that most art (paintings, sculptures, installations etc.) is accessible to children from a very young age. After all, art is very subjective and we all see it differently during different periods of our lives influenced by many factors like culture, life experiences and even mood. The way your child experiences art will likely be very different from the way you experience it and from he way they will respond to it in the future. The most important thing is to start exposing them to it.
- Start Simple: There is no one right way to begin your child’s exposure to art. I would, however, recommend starting with simpler, kid friendly images first and gradually progress to more complex works. It goes without saying, I recommend steering clear from art with disturbing or adult or even heavily religious content. Stick with the classics, beautiful color palettes and simple content. Make sure to review them before introducing them to your child. For example, art with animals and other children in it tends to appeal to children. Children are also drawn to bright color palettes even if they are chaotic. I noticed that children do a better job embracing chaos than the grown-ups. I’ve had most success with paintings from the Baroque period on. My daughter’s early favorites are Rembrandt, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gough, Paul Cezanne, John Singer Sargent, Wassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. She is also a big fan of sculpture by Auguste Rodin. Please see the list of art that I recommend for young children in the book table below.
- Pace Yourself: Keep in mind that this is a very gradual journey so there is no need to rush or push art on your child. Let them develop their own interest by leaving the books out around the house so that they can come back to them on their own. Last thing that we want to achieve here is an aversion to art from the early age.
- Tell a Story: We all know how much our little ones like stories. Especially if they can’t yet read, they rely on pictures in the books to keep up with you when you read them.I like coming up with a story to tell my daughter about the characters or objects in the paintings. If the painting is more abstract we talk about feelings that it evokes.
- Visit the Library Before You Go to the Museum: Your local library is a tremendous resource for all things art. I have spent a lot of time searching for kid friendly books about art and have included a comprehensive list in a separate post with my and my daughter’s reviews of each title. This way we get to benefit from the hard work of the art experts who have already done all the research and curating for us and have even come up with a kid friendly way to present the famous works of art for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and beyond. Not to mention, that you have access to this resource without any additional cost. Even if your library doesn’t have a certain title, most library have an exchange program and they will request the book from the local library that has if you ask them. Of course, if you find that you keep coming back to the same book or series you can always purchase it for your home collection. This is what we ended up doing with several of the books below.
- Follow Up with a Museum Trip: Before planning our trip to the museum, I tend to do some research into which artists’ or sculptor’s works are being exhibited and see if I can match it with our library book list below. Get on your local museums mailing lists so you don’t miss good and kid friendly exhibits! It makes for a very productive and fun visit if you read about the artist and their work at home first and then see it in person at the museum. Museum’s can be very overwhelming for the little ones. Definitely do not plan to see the entire museum in one trip. Focus on one artist/exhibit that your child already knows about from the reading and stories at home. This strategy worked really well for us. For example, we read about Jackson Pollock (see book list below) and went to see his work at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. While they only had one of his painting on display, my daughter really enjoyed the “mission” of finding it among a myriad of works and then took interest in Pollock’s contemporaries like Hans Hoffman.
- History Lesson at the Museum: Museum can be enriching in so many ways. For example, we are currently listening to the Magic Tree House book on tape series by Mary Pope Osborne and one of the exciting adventure stories is about Ancient Egypt. We followed the story up with visiting an accent Egypt exhibit which was a huge hit. (I will be posting more about the success of books of tape over screen time). Use your local museums as a resource that you can continue to draw from. Keep in mind that your local library frequently has discounted passes for the local museums. A museum trip doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
- Continue the Art Inspiration at Home: Its important that art doesn’t remain theoretical and out of reach. I recommend buying a simple easel and putting it outside during the warm weather days. That way you will limit the mess and allow your child to draw inspiration from nature. My daughter absolutely loved doing her own “Jackson Pollock” at home with a mess of paint. We talked about what feelings she was painting and what each color represented. I have not taken my daughter to any formal art lessons as I believe she is still too young for that (she is currently 4). She also gets some of the formal instruction at school. At home, her imagination runs wild (even if we get very messy in the process). She paints and cuts and glues and builds with play dough (i will be posting about my homemade play dough recipe soon). We’ve also purchased some coloring books. My favorite coloring books are the ones that are produced by the museums with the painting of the exhibited artists.