8 ways to raise art-smart kids


Written by Laura Grace Weldon of Free Range Learning

My seven-year-old daughter and I dressed up for a special evening out together. After years of attending Cleveland Orchestra children’s programs and listening to stories of composers at home, she wanted to attend a “real” concert.

We settled in velvety seats, excited to see a college symphony perform.

When the music started she was silently enraptured. The man sitting behind my daughter leaned forward. I assumed he’d whisper his delight at seeing a music-loving child in attendance. Instead he informed me I was an idiot for bringing her. He was sure she’d wreck his evening, although he stomped away from his seat too soon to find out.

It’s assumed kids and fine arts don’t go together, or not till assignment-laden Shakespeare is imposed on high school students. Wrong!

The arts can be joyfully woven into children’s lives from babyhood on.

These days my kids (now teens and young adults) eagerly engage with the arts. They go to plays, enjoy new classical music scored for video games, and keep up with literature.

During a recent discussion I overheard my kids relate the theme of a current movie to Homer’s Odyssey, tied together with quotes from a Terry Pratchett book plus a cartoon meme.

Lightning fast, funny, and sharp. No curricula could possibly keep up.

Here’s the enjoyment-based way my family has gotten comfy with fine arts:

Start early

Listen to music as you nurse your baby to sleep, letting your child associate the sounds with comfort (whether Dvořák or dulcimer).

Indulge in sock puppet conversations with toddlers. Dance and sing together unselfconsciously. Keep art supplies readily available and display their work.

Remember very young children model your own delight.


Photo by Mito SettembreMusica

Build in some fun

If you’re going to a concert in the park, take along silent amusements for small people—drawing materials, a tiny stuffed animal to dance on a lap, a small treat specific to concerts (“lollipops are only for concerts, Sweetie”).

Leave when their interest wanes. When kids are older they often have more fun if they can invite a friend.

Encourage discovery

Set preteens loose with books like Wreck This Journal, Finish This Book, and others by Keri Smith.

Go on image scavenger hunts, drawing or photographing on a theme (maybe things that are happy or signs of spring).

Consider art museums a place for exploration, letting kids go where curiosity leads them. We look out for something different each time. One of my sons liked to spot animals, another son made it his quest to find anything airborne—birds, planes, angels, flying carpets.

Go on adventures

When you journey any distance to attend a play, dance performance, or concert, add in more fun.

Eat lunch in a park, throw pennies in a fountain, try to spot public art including murals and statuary –letting your child’s curiosity guide the day.

If there’s a lot of sit down time (including the ride to and fro) be sure to include movement, exploration, and sensory adventure.

Make music familiar

My kids have loved listening to CDs like Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, Mr. Bach Comes to Call, Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, Tchaikovsky Discovers America, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and Song of the Unicorn while coloring or playing with blocks.

Compelling music woven around stories makes these classics into friends. We’ve also enjoyed music by the African children’s Choir, Scottish bagpipe bands, Tibetan throat singers, and many others.

Try Putumayo recordings to start exploring world music.

Make child-sized instruments available (perhaps a lap harp, hand bells, panpipes, or ukulele) for impromptu concerts.

If there’s a nearby children’s choir, join!


Photo by Yi Chen

Make literature familiar

Go to storytelling events, dream up your own stories, and read aloud well into the preteen years.

Keep high quality CDs available for quiet time or bedtime listening.

Try professional storytellers such as Odds Bodkins (who started my kids’ love of the Odyssey) and Jim Weiss. Find selections at Greathall Productions, Gentle Wind, and your library. Another fascination is the audio magazine Boomerang. My kids listened to those discs over and over for years.

Make plays familiar

Start with puppets and playacting at home. Maybe invite friends over for a regular “playwrights club” run by the kids.

When going to a classic play it helps if kids are already well acquainted with the story. My secret? In advance of a performance I read aloud a beautifully illustrated picture book version of the play (yes for even Shakespeare, yes even with big kids).

Keep arts an ordinary part of life

We magnify what we pay attention to.

Conversations about music, philosophy, or logic can be ordinary mealtime topics, brought up with the same casual interest as the weather.

Literary discussions with a 4-year-old are as easy as talking about the book in your lap. Could it have ended differently? Why do you think the main character acted that way? Who would you like to be in the story?

When my daughter and I tried to puzzle out what really upset the man behind us at the concert we’d already had plenty of experience discussing a character’s motivation.

We decided he wasn’t even a minor player in our own glorious evening.

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning.

Do you have tips for raising kids art smart?

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything as well as a poetry collection titled Tending. Join the Free Range Learning community on Facebook and connect with Laura at her blog.


  1. These are great tips. As a cellist, and the daughter of musicians, it’s imperative for me to soak my children in the arts–in all its forms. Starting early and keeping it fun and familiar are excellent ideas. They work!
    Hannah’s latest post: Mid-Week Moment

  2. I get such a thrill when I hear my kids discussing books and theater productions they have been a part of with one another and their friends!
    Julie’s latest post: Colorful Hats

  3. Totally agree with this. My father took me to my first musical at a free performance of “Brigadoon” at Golden Gate Park when I was four years old. I still have memories from that experience and later, I majored in theatre arts in college. I followed the tradition with my two children, one who is developmentally disabled. When they were younger, they were allowed to bring a favorite stuffed animal with them when we attended concerts or plays. They continue to love the arts as adults, and now my young grandsons are starting to attend live performances.
    Nancy Taylor’s latest post: Big Snow – And Teaching the Letter S

  4. Wow, there is just a wealth of resources in this post, thank you!

  5. How rude! I can’t believe that awful man would say such a thing! I have had the total opposite experience. We started to go to the university orchestra, symphony and other music performances since my Little guy was 1.5 (He will turn 4 this month). My kids love it. We are in the special mailing lists because we don’t miss a thing! Tomorrow we are headed to the Irish music performance. Last moth we participated in the Chinese music ensemble. There is a sign at the concert hall that says it is for older kids, but I am yet to be kicked out. I always get compliments on how well the kids behave (I will thank raisins, goldfish, and other not so smelly or crunchy snacks). My kids always stay after the performance to try out the instruments and ask questions.
    After reading your post, I am going to finally take them to the Chicago Art Institute to EXPLORE! You have inspired me to include more art in our lives. I have so much to do!

  6. Yes, yes, yes! My seven year old and five year old both have attended concerts. We live in a University town so we sometimes have lunch time concerts available. We listen to classical music daily. The kids know stories about the composers. We’ve watched the Nutracker on youtube and read the story. When are headed to an art gallery soon and I love your idea about looking out for specific things in the paintings. Definitely going to use that!
    Johanna’s latest post: Snapshot of life #2

  7. I adore this post. We are a huge arts family over here. It’s one of the reasons I am thankful for homeschooling. One would never have time for the arts otherwise!
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: Seuss and His Magic Wand

  8. Great tips! So many gems to remember. I love this: Remember very young children model your own delight.

    I will be pinning!
    Emily’s latest post: Mom, where will you be? Looking towards independence.

  9. As an artist, author and mother of four who was a home school pioneer, I suggest that the most important thing is to let them think for themselves. Let them explore bizarre possibilities. Blessed are the Creatives and the world desperately needs them, even if it labels them weirdos at times. My kids are grown and still think for themselves-and make art.
    Je’ Czaja’s latest post: Brushed by the Wispy Wings of History

  10. I never thought about how my enjoyment of music might help my kids also enjoy it. That’s a great point, and I will have to be more careful about showing happiness to classical and other kinds of music that I typically wouldn’t make a point of listening to with them. Hopefully it will encourage them to explore their own musical tastes as well.

  11. There are also Fine Art Puzzles and free downloadable coloring pages of well-known works of art, for example here are some links:

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