Know a few things before taking your kids to see great art.

Have you taken your kids to see any good art lately?

 

Talking about art is good for kids’ minds: it helps them think critically, develop strong reasoning skills, pay attention to nuance, and explore new ways of interpreting the world. But facilitating a rich discussion about an abstract expressionist painting or a life-sized bronze statue can be daunting to many adults who don’t feel like they have enough knowledge about art to share it with their children.

Before heading out to a museum, you may want to grab a copy of a handy book about the subject. The first children’s art book for grown-ups, “How to Talk to Children about Art” explains in everyday language how to explain to children what to look for and how to enjoy paintings as diverse as a Renaissance religious scene or a Jackson Pollock. The book gives examples of the kinds of questions a child might ask about the paintings, and provides straightforward answers. ‘Who are the people in this painting?’ ‘Why has the artist used those colors?’ ‘How did the artist choose what to paint?’ In short, the book demystifies art appreciation and reveals that the simplest questions can be among the most pertinent.

Here’s a little secret: Information is not important. What’s important is helping children find ways to describe what they see. If you understand a basic methodology for discussing art with kids, you’re good as gold and your children will enjoy the process of discovery that unfolds.

“Teaching young children to appreciate art is not the daunting task that it appears to be,” states Rhonda Cummings, a Texas child psychologist since 1987. “At a very young age, children are quite capable of having an aesthetic experience. When children express preferences for colors, shapes, sounds, tastes and textures, they are making aesthetic choices. Long before children can speak their responses to shapes, sounds, and other necessary phenomena around them establish their personal personalities and their styles of interacting with the world.”

How to Talk to Children About Art by FranCoise Barbe-Gall

It isn’t that most kids don’t enjoy art museums, but that they have trouble maintaining the level of quiet and decorum that’s standard in such places. Kids want to talk about what they see. They want to point out the people and the animals in the paintings, and ask questions when they don’t understand. If you’re constantly telling them to be quiet, they’re going to get restless in a hurry.

To successfully expose your child to art, you’ll need to think like a child. This means providing your kids with time to ask questions and talk about what you see. Explain to them that you’re going to look at art for a short period of time, without talking. Tell them, too, that you’ll answer their questions once you’re outside, as long as they don’t talk while you’re looking at things. Alternately, decide that you don’t care if they interrupt things and let them ask their questions when they have them.

A few pointers: Be open-minded. Expect that the child will have his or her own ideas about the art, and try not to interject your own ideas of wrong and right into the conversation. Encourage careful looking. Get up close or take a look from a different perspective. But remind them: no touching. And  look for an opportunity for related art-making. Making art can help strengthen a child’s understanding and critical thinking skills as they interpret what they saw in two or three-dimensions.

Museums in North Texas offer many programs designed for a kid’s mind and fascination. Looking at a real piece of art can be a far richer experience than looking at a reproduction. Below, a sampling of some upcoming opportunities to expose your kids (and their little friends) to the wonders of art. Be sure to check with each institution for pricing and reservations. Many programs fill fast, so start planning now for spring breaks and summer recess.


 

Kimbell Art Museum

 

 

Pictures and Pages
Museum learning begins early with this special program for preschoolers (ages 4–6) and their adult partners. Popular children’s books inspire group conversations and simple art activities. There is no charge for this program, but space is limited and advance reservations are required. Maximum two children per adult.

Tuesday, March 6: City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems; pictures by Jon J. Muth
Tuesday, April 3: A Blue Butterfly: A Story About Claude Monet, by Bijou Le Tord
Tuesday, May 1: The Crown on Your Head, by Nancy Tillman


Children’s Workshop
Connect with artworks, new friends, and creative activities during Saturday workshops for children (ages 6–14) and their adult partners. Limit three children per adult; no charge for parents.

Saturday, March 3: Keep Dreaming
Children’s book author Jake Brittain and creative illustrator Scott Dykema will guest-host this special program exploring how little ideas can grow into big dreams and even bigger accomplishments. A reading and related art activity will complement docent-guided gallery tours.

Saturday, May 5: Impressionists on the Spot
Looking out from an apartment balcony or down a country lane, the Impressionists invented new ways of picturing the world around them. See where Monet and Renoir set their easels and then create your own site-specific Impressionist landscape.

 



The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

 

Wonderful Wednesdays
Wonderful Wednesdays is now twice as nice, offered every second and third Wednesday of the month. This program for families with young children is led by a docent and includes a gallery project designed by the education department. Both the tour and project focus on a few works in the Modern’s collection. Registration is not required, but a sign-up sheet is provided at the front desk the day of the program. Attendance is limited; admission is free.

March 14 and 21: Visiting the work of Vija Celmins
April 11 and 18: Visiting the work of Robert Rauschenberg
May 9 and 16: Visiting the work of Carl Andre
June 13 and 20: Visiting the work of Lawrence Weiner

Drawing from the Collection for Children
This exciting gallery program for children (ages 5–12) is led by an artist who takes participants through informal drawing exercises in relation to works in the collection. Children under the age of six must be accompanied by an adult during the program. Bring a sketchbook and pencils or purchase materials in The Modern Shop. Attendance is limited. A sign-up sheet is located at the front desk; early arrival is encouraged. Offered the first Sunday of every month.



Dallas Museum of Art

 

Arturo’s Art & Me
Adults and young children will work together to look at works of art, read a related story in the galleries, and do an art-making activity in the studio. Taught by Museum education staff. Class size limited to fifteen pairs. Selected Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, select one class day per month. For a 3–5 year old and a favorite grown-up.

Homeschool Class
The DMA’s homeschool classes offer an interactive museum experience for families with children ages 6 and above. Parents and children learn about works of art together in the galleries, participate in hands-on activities as a family, and create a work of art together in the studio. During the program, parents learn techniques and skills for creating their own educational experiences in the gallery.

Creative Creatures
Thursday, March 22 and Tuesday, March 27
Discover surreal shapes and abstract figures in the Museum’s collection and then use your imagination to create an entire scene out of a mysterious form.

A Day at the DMA Family Celebration

Saturday, March 10
Created for families to discover a wide variety of art, Family Celebrations include art-making activities in the Art Studio, music, performances, interactive experiences with artists, family tours, sketching in the galleries, and more. Free, with activities scheduled all day.



Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Family Fun Week
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
An artist a day keeps spring fever away! Bring the whole family to get to know four amazing American artists through art exploration and art-making. Each day of Fun Week features a different artist, artworks, and activities. Refreshments will be provided. No reservations are required.

Homeschool Workshop
Friday, March 23, 2012
Ever wonder what life was like in the Old West or how cowboys really lived on the American frontier? Homeschool students will have the unique opportunity to view and discuss some of the finest examples of watercolors by “The Cowboy Artist” Charles M. Russell in the special exhibition “Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell.” Looking at Russell’s actual studio materials and work done by paper conservators, students will discover step-by-step how this self-taught artist created his watercolors. Participants will discuss other artists’ depictions of life in the West, such as those by George Catlin and Frederic Remington, and will conclude by drawing and journaling in their own cowboy or cowgirl sketchpad.

 

— SCOT C HART