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Bring Art History to Life

Bring Art History to Life

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Updated on Dec 1, 2010

Do you love going to museums but hate listening to your child complain about it the whole time? Most kids run clear in the opposite direction at the mere mention of a museum. When was the last time you and your child went to an art museum? While most schools teach children to create their own artwork, it's rare to find a school that teaches art history and art appreciation to very young students as part of its curriculum.

But that doesn’t mean your child has to grow up in the dark about some great art masterpieces. Susan Piccoli, a high school art history teacher who teaches in Woodstock, Vermont, believes that by the time students get old enough to take art history classes in high school or college, they should not be strangers to the concept. “Introducing young children to art encourages their creativity and exposes them to a new way of viewing the world around them.” You might be downright surprised at the many things your child can learn by looking at art.

For the Youngest. Start very young children with art that is fun and colorful. Modern art is filled with primary colors and big, bold shapes to catch a child’s attention. Looking at art can reinforce what your child is learning about from everything from counting objects to learning colors. “A great way to engage children in learning about art,” says Piccoli, “is to look at a work of art in a book or online first and then visit the museum to see it in person.”

But don’t just pass the art by and say, “very nice.” Take the opportunity to talk with your child about what she sees. Ask questions about what colors and shapes are used in the picture. Name the pieces of fruit in the artwork or count the number of children playing in the scene. The art can be a great conversation-starter to get your child to express herself.

If your child is old enough to keep the conversation going, ask about the artistic process. Questions like, “Why do you think the artist decided to paint a soup can?” or “What do you think the artist wanted you to look at first in this picture?” can help to foster more contemplative thinking.

And don’t be afraid to pick and choose what you think would appeal to your child the most. Certainly skip the Renaissance exhibit and make a beeline for the colorful Picassos if you think that will keep her most interested. You can create your own museum experience! You may find that your child can easily recognize the unique style that Picasso used in his paintings. Talk about the work and then go on a museum hunt to find other works with a similar style, color, or subject matter to a painting you discussed together. But remind your child of the golden rule of museum visiting: Look, don’t touch!

For the 5 to 10 Year-Old. Once your child is old enough to understand and appreciate more about art, Piccoli recommends picture books that focus on art and artists, such as Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork and Leonardo’s Horse by Jean Fritz. These books introduce both the art and the artist to young children. With the help of books like this, your child can begin to imagine life during another time and understand the context from which the art was created.

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