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Getting young kids to look at art

Cate Lyons

Are you someone who takes your kids to art galleries? Is it a thought that horrifies you (they’ll get bored, become loud, race around and get us thrown out), or excites you (what will catch their attention, why and what will they make of it)?

Whatever your thoughts the good news is our galleries are pretty kid-friendly places these days and many offer programs specifically designed to get young kids looking at art, then give them the materials to create something based on what they’ve just seen. (See some options for kids’ art activities at the end of this story.)

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But you don’t need to book your child into an organised activity with a trained facilitator in order for them to have a great time at a gallery. Helping your kids to look at art is not rocket science, it just takes some patience, thought and an open mind. Here are some tips and ideas to get you started:

Pick a theme. For example, you might choose to look for animals, clouds, water, shapes or the colour blue. Maybe look for the primary colours (red, yellow and blue), look at big or small works of art, try to find an example of five different types of art, for example sculpture, photography, watercolour, oil painting and a bark painting.

Always ask open-ended questions. It helps to build confidence if you start with very general questions. They can be as simple as what do you see in this painting and describe it to me? Don’t look for a particular answer, just encourage them to say whatever it is they think and let them know there are no right or wrong answers when looking at art. Always be encouraging.

Don’t spend more than 5 minutes in front of a piece of art. You might love it but your kids could hate it. Keep things moving and only spend between 1–5 minutes in front of an artwork.

Engage the senses. Stand in front of a piece and depending on what it is ask what can you hear, feel and see? Does it have a rough or smooth texture? How has that been created? Why do you think the artist did that? (Just avoid taste as you really will get thrown out.)

Use the proper terms to describe things. You don’t want to give young kids an art education while at a gallery, that will just bore them, but it is important to use the right terms. For example, are you looking at a photo, a collage, a print, a sculpture or an oil painting? Is it a landscape or a portrait? Is it abstract or realistic?

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Play a game or sing a song. Maybe play a game of ‘I spy’ to get very young kids looking, do fingerplay for nursery rhymes such as ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ and ‘This Little Piggy’ if you spot those animals, see who can think of a song to go with an artwork, for example, you could sing ‘Baa Baa Blacksheep’ in front of a landscape with sheep, or just make up a story for a person in a painting. For example, what do you think the story is behind Russell Drysdale’s The Drover’s Wife? Is she sad or stoic? Is she lonely? What is she carrying? Where is she?

Be prepared to be amazed. Kids come to art with fresh eyes and no preconceptions. Unlike adults they are not worried about saying the wrong thing and looking silly and they come up with amazing things. Don’t explain what something is, just encourage and suggest and see where things go.

If you want to book your kids into an art activity, there are some fantastic options in Canberra. Here are just a few:

CMAG always has programs running for children and families that are interactive, educational and provide a bit of art history as well. An upcoming CMAG on Sunday program on 23 August will offer an afternoon of activities based on books. For children aged 4 to 12. Free, workshop bookings via [email protected] or 6207 3968.

Little Faces is offered by the NPG and is for children aged 6 months to 3 years. A facilitator leads playful activities around certain paintings before everyone enjoys morning tea in the café. $10 per adult. Bookings essential on 6102 7070 or [email protected]

A little look at ART is offered by the NGA and is designed for mums and dads with babies aged 0–1. A voluntary guide takes you on an informal tour of the Gallery, which is followed by coffee and muffins in the café. Held every third Wednesday of the month at 10am. $12 per adult. Bookings essential on 6240 6701 or online at online.nga.gov.au/eventbookings.

stART with Art is offered by the NGA and sees Gallery educators take kids to look at works in the galleries before heading back to the Gandel Hall to create an artwork based on what they’ve just seen. It’s highly creative and fun and the last 15 minutes sees a professional singer lead the kids in songs and dance according to the theme of the day. $12 per child. Bookings essential on 6240 6701 or online at online.nga.gov.au/eventbookings.

Cate Lyons

Cate Lyons is a Canberra-based professional writer and editor with over 20 years experience. She’s not a writer like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King. She hasn’t written her blockbuster yet. But she is an excellent wordsmith who produces copy with care and thought and has a flair for creative copywriting and web content. She is also a voluntary guide at the National Gallery of Australia. www.catelyons.com. More about the Author

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