Introducing Grandchildren to Art

Dec 6, 2018 by

By Genie Davis

How young is too young to introduce grandchildren to art? And what exactly does the word “art” entail? Well, at our house, my grandchildren were never too young to see art, and reading about art and creating it came soon after. Above all else, just plain having fun with art is what I was super excited to introduce to them.

Seeing Art

As soon as their eyes can focus, I passionately believe that taking an infant to a gallery or museum can be incredibly stimulating and a happy experience for both grandparents and baby. These experiences certainly were for me and my little ones. From the colors of Van Gogh’s Irises to the cool, crib-mobile-like sculptures of Calder, my grandchildren looked and learned. Going to gallery exhibits – or artists’ studios – where artists are friendly and can interact with my little ones is even better. The ease and pleasure of this went straight up through the toddler years. Ah, the toddler twos… there I had to take a precaution that once they were past the stroller stage, they were in a space they could comfortably move around, and that they know the boundaries of “Look but don’t touch.” For me, that wasn’t all that hard – not that there wasn’t the occasional episode of running up to sculptures in the museum sculpture garden, hoping to scale them. But part of their self-control came from seeing art early and often, and learning boundaries by doing, not telling.

I recently read an article by educator Nancy Crosby Kile, M.S., who in her webinar series Baby Picasso: Art with Infants and Toddlers, said that viewing art and participating in art activity “stimulates the senses, and therefore the brain, creating connections and wiring for the brain for future successful learning. At birth, babies have about 50 trillion connections, or synapses, within their brains. In the first three months of life, that number multiplies by almost 20. At one year, the number becomes about 1,000 trillion synapses. That is a huge number of connections being made within that first year of life, before children even learn to talk or walk.”

Wow. I had no idea that I was doing that much good in taking my grandchildren to galleries and museums; but it was fun for me and they enjoyed it.

My friend’s older grandchildren also love going to museums and galleries. For them, it’s a matter of making sure they think it’s a fun activity. We never make them spend hours indoors on a bright day, but we do think it’s a terrific indoor activity when the weather is chilly or wet. I always tell the kids a bit about the artists, and if I’m in a situation where I can talk to living artists, I encourage them to ask questions. Taking them to see accessible works – bright abstracts, vivid impressionist work, dimensional sculptures and installations, or landscape photography is also important, I believe. These aren’t the years to dissect the art of the Middle Ages, or surrealism. However, I’ve heard that entering the teen years, surrealist works often provide a terrific vision for kids transitioning from childhood. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

My grandchildren learned a lot about color from seeing paintings and sculptures. I’d point out the colors in a work and they’d look where I pointed. When they grew old enough to repeat words, I’d say the color names. At three and a half years old today, my grandson still points out shades like “vermillion” and “watermelon” and “ruby red.”

Reading About Art

I also love to read books about art to these little guys. There are a number of terrific titles out there that I’ve read to my grandchildren, and later they will be able to read and enjoy the books themselves. Some of my particular favorites are Katie and the Mona Lisa by James Mayhew, and the wondrous Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. Matisse, King of Color by Lawrence Anholt is another great read.

Making Art

And finally, what would introducing kids to art be without letting them make some of their own. Both my children and now my grandchildren, have had hours of pleasure from making art. My grandson has an easel and finger-paints that I can take outside and let him splatter anywhere he likes. He also has washable markers, a rainbow of watercolors and brushes, and lots and lots of paper. My fridge is covered with his lustrous artworks. Sculpting? Well, I use Playdough at this point, and cutout letters.

I’m also lucky enough to be able to take my grandchildren to art classes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I took my own children to these classes, and now the happy memories continue and the art work hangs everywhere in my house. LACMA holds family classes for ages 3 to 5-and-a-half, and one day workshops for ages 5 and up. In both cases, a family member stays with the child. It’s fun to meet other grandparents and parents this way, and it’s a joy to let skilled staff members show the kids the art in the museum itself before allowing them to make their own takes on that art work. I’m looking forward to the next level of classes too, where more sophisticated art-making techniques are taught for ages 6 and up. I highly recommend checking out what local museums offer for kids or if not available, looking at enrichment art programs offered through the YMCA or private kids programs.

So, how early is too early to introduce the grandkids to art? For me, it was never too early. Ω

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