Art Appreciation … with preschoolers?? So much YES! 🙌
When I was growing up, I was privileged with classical art exposure through ballet and orchestral music. I pursued flute intensely through high school and later went on to study ballet and modern dance as my minor in college.
It is a goal of mine to instill a love of the arts in my children early — and to create an infusion of art into our home atmosphere whenever possible.
Can Children Appreciate Art?
Can children appreciate art? Oh, absolutely!
Who better to revel in the colors of a painting than the child who just yesterday marveled at the tomato in the garden turning red? Kids are natural observers and proclaimers of beauty, especially if given an extra push in that direction.
Charlotte Mason says it well: “An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing.” She was referring here to nature, but I believe the same is true of art.
An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing.
My kids definitely explore, create, and expound on their own interests in pretty much everything they find… but they also are at the perfect age to love the things my husband and I love. Of course we encourage our kids to pursue their own interests, but we also foster a curiosity and hunger for beauty by sharing our love of art with them.
Art as Family Culture
There are many, many ways to create an art-filled home. I think about this endeavor as cultivating the culture of our home environment. Home is the primary place our children build their entire framework of reality. Presenting our kids early and richly with exposure to great beauty, the power of imagination, and the poignancy of communicating across language and cultural boundaries through art — THIS is a powerful foundation!
Ahem. I’ll steps off my soapbox now…
In our home, we implement art in some very simple ways. We do visual art appreciation, practice daily use of visual arts skills, listen to a variety of quality music, and provide access to beautiful books as well as books specifically filled with works by great artists. We keep real musical instruments in our home and teach our kids how to treat them respectfully. We are also beginning to add fine arts lessons outside our home.
Visual Arts Appreciation
For art appreciation, I regularly download and print classic works of art from WikiGallery. I include the art medium, date (if known), and the artist’s name, country of origin, and the years he or she lived. I’m not super well-versed in studying visual art, but I love taking this opportunity to learn alongside my children. Sometimes we do activities or crafts about a piece of art, but often we just have the artwork visible to be experienced and enjoyed.
Arts & Crafts
It has been easy to add art projects into our daily life. Easy — but definitely messy! After a few rough starts and several semi-disasters, I now only buy and use washable art supplies for my kids (who are 4, 2.5, and almost 1). We have on hand watercolor paint, tempera paint, fingerpaint, erasable colored pencils, crayons, and markers … so it is simple to switch up the project for the day based on the kids’ interests.
For music with our little kids, it’s all about immersion right now. I like to give my kids exposure to classical music, church music, children’s songs, worship music, and the genres of music my husband and I love. We listen to just as much Fleet Foxes, U2, and Coldplay as we do Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn. We sing songs as a family and regularly listen to music while doing chores or dancing in the living room.
I also do my best to give the kids chances to experience music live. This summer, we spent a day at a bluegrass festival with my parents— and the kids loved it! My 4 year old daughter now wants to learn violin, and purchasing one just her size was how she chose to spend her birthday money. You guys, it is the cutest thing EVER. All the heart eyes!
Dance & Movement Arts
My daughter has taken ballet lessons since she turned 3, and, yes, I plan to enroll my son in ballet. With most of my childhood and young adult life spent in dance studios, I believe in the dynamism of both male and female dancers. I want my boy to pursue his skills in whatever field he chooses — and I aim to give him the privilege of arts exposure without limitations.
We also allow dance to be a regular aspect of our family culture. Lessons, yes, but also encouraging movement for the sake of movement, using dance to express emotions we’re already experiencing (joy, frustration, excitement, etc.). I regularly dance with my kids. Sometimes it is semi-structured with stretches and a few ballet elements, but most of the time it is all improvisation and feeling the rhythm.
Literature as Art
Books are my friends, and I want my children to adore books just as much as I do! However. I discovered early on in my mom life that many children’s books are just … well, they’re awful!
Enter Charlotte Mason’s philosophy on “living books” and the idea of children as “born persons” deserving the very best books that can be found for them. This has been illuminating. Living books are those written by one or more authors who are experts in their field and share a contagious sort of energy in their work that readers instinctively grasp.
I feel the holistic experience of reading should be profoundly beautiful. I used to just take any old book recommendation, but now I’m not just a book collector — I’m a book curator. Which is just a fancy way to say that I’m picky…
A book must be pleasing to hold and to smell. It must have artwork that piques my imagination and take me on a journey. The content must be gentle, original, engaging, rich in vocabulary and literary style. What can I say? I was an English major…
Children are Artists
Instead of asking, “Why give children art?” — I believe the question we should all ask is, “How can I give them art?”
Children have such a capacity for knowledge and a glorious intuition for things that are lovely. Being smaller and possibly simpler than adults doesn’t mean children cannot appreciate art. By virtue of their humanity alone, they deserve to experience beauty, imagination, emotional expression, and creativity. I like this thought from Maria Montessori: “Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.“
Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.
The arts are not too fine for children. I believe that those gifted with exposure to the arts from an early age will take creativity and artistic expression in stride. Art can become a lifestyle and a platform for making sense of worldview beliefs and life experiences. Granting our children access to fine art can infuse their lives with an appreciation for ingenuity, discovery, and empathy as they encounter ideas and communication styles different from their own.
Perhaps my children will pursue artistic careers one day, but right now it is my desire that they dwell in a physical, emotional, and spiritual place infused with great art. Ultimately, I hope they will take beauty in stride and inspire others with their passion for the arts.