*Please note: all the photographs included in this post are publicly available on my employer’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ymcacentralnz/, and parents have consented to having their children’s images posted online. Also note that I do not actually have any pictures from our visit to the Sarjeant so I’ve used pictures from a different trip.*
As I write this it’s the New Zealand Spring school holidays and I’ve been busy running a school holiday programme for five and six year olds. One of my goals in planning holiday programmes is always to cover a wide variety of interesting activities, so along with trips to the swimming pool and baking and sport and art projects I decided to take the kids along to the local art gallery, the Sarjeant.
Children, especially children this young, don’t relate to art in remotely the same way as adults. Their attention spans are shorter, and while you may convince one or two to look closely at a picture getting twenty or so of them to do so – at the same time – is difficult. The last time we visited an art gallery we split down into groups of about six and let the children explore, pointing out the works which most interested them. I consider this kind of freeform exploration, rather than forcing them to follow an adult agenda, to be an excellent way of getting younger children interested in exhibitions at both museums and art galleries.
Children are also far more open to the idea of creating art than adults are, which is why a variety of art activities form a regular part of my programme. These school holidays, for example, we’ve made Maori-inspired pendants from air-drying clay, and by the time you read this will also have made paint-print butterflies, pompom caterpillars, and animal masks. I’m also a fan of ‘free choice’ art, where I give kids playdough, or scissors, paper, glitter, and glue, or a selection of cardboard boxes, or whatever else I can think of, and let them make what they like.
During the school term the Sarjeant runs programmes for schools and two of their curators, Jess and Elise, were on hand during our visit to show the kids through their current photography exhibition before taking them out to the onsite classroom to draw some ‘selfies’ for the school holiday competition. It was clear that they knew just how to engage the kids, keeping the pace brisk and asking them questions about what they were looking at rather than just telling them about the photographs. They also made us the generous gift of a book on contemporary New Zealand photography written especially for children, See What I Can See, by Gregory O’Brien.
My top tips for introducing children to the world of art in a way that will hopefully whet their appetites for further exploration are therefore:
- Make gallery visits a time of exploration: if you want to enjoy the art yourself, leave the child with a sitter. If you want the child to enjoy the art, let them look around and find something they like, then tell you why they like it.
- At the same time, help the child to understand how to behave appropriately in an art gallery: not to run or shout, and definitely not to touch. I’ve found that if you explain this ahead of time they’re usually fine with it.
- Ask them questions: what can they see in this picture? What colours are there? Do they like it? Why or why not?
- Give kids the opportunity to make art, not in structured classes (unless that’s something that interests them), but purely for the joy of being creative. Kids don’t need fancy art supplies and once you have a stock of the basics it shouldn’t cost much to make a range of activities available. Pinterest is a goldmine of easy ideas.
- Talk about art in a positive way, even the stuff you really don’t like/don’t get, unless you have a really good reason for criticising a particular piece. Attitudes are caught, not taught.
Do you have kids? Do they enjoy art? What’s the best/worst art project your child has ever brought home?