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:
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.
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?