Is taking a preschooler to the art museum a crazy idea? No. But that may not be the right place to start introducing your child to art. Or I should rephrase that – the best place to first acquaint your children with fine art might involve a library card and a comfy cuddle chair. Exposing your little ones to quality picture books is a great starting point.
Here are a few of our favorite illustrators …
David Catrow: He does mainly cartoon illustrations that are always delightful!
This book has become an annual tradition in our house every Thanksgiving. Over the River and Through the Woods illustrated by David Catrow
Ed Young: He usually has an Asian focus to his books – amazing illustrations!
Alice Provensen: Her illustrations evoke colonial and other time periods of long ago. Classics.
Robert McCloskey: With only about a dozen books to his name, two won the Caldecott medal (see below for explanation) and two won the Caldecott honorable mention. When you see his books, you will understand why!
Marcia Brown: Her illustrations evoke nostalgia and are classic block prints.
Eric Carle: His illustrations are whimsical and striking and enjoyable and … These you have read to your kids without knowing their significance (such as Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. A whole book has been devoted to just his art and is amazing in and of itself.
The Eric Carle PIcture Book Museum also edited a book entitled Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Take to Children About Their Work – filled with various picture book artists.
Need even more ideas: This is the list from the American Library Assocation of all of the Caldecott Medal and Honor Books from 1938. That award is given to the best picture book of the year. (Note: While the illustrations in these books are amazing, I would definitely preview them for content. Some of them may not be appropriate for young (or older) children in my opinion).
And one last list: Best Children’s Books Illustrators from Children’s Books Guide
Books About Art: Children’s Books Illustrated with Works of Art
My favorite author of this focus is Lucy Micklethwait. Her “I Spy in Art” series is incredible. The kids naturally engage in her books without even realizing they are actually exploring major artworks.
Richard Muhlberger has a whole series on specific artists (What Makes a Picasso a Picasso for instance)
Gladys Blizzard has a whole other series for children on looking for specific items in artworks.
For older children, Anna Nilsen wrote several books on identifying certain characteristics in art. Of course, the kids actually think they are solving the mystery of which art is authentic and which one is stolen.
Narrowing your search to children’s titles, then searching “art appreciation” will lead to the discovery of even more titles. (Note: all picture book covers were taken off the Amazon site – the titles can be purchased there for various prices and may also be available at your local area library)
Now on to visiting art galleries …
I have taken our kids to museum. And left without owing the place a bunch of money for destroyed artwork. In fact, everything was intact. Usually. (More on that near the end of the entry about our recent trip to the Sheldon Museum of Art).
The Joslyn Art Museum can be found in Omaha. They happen to feature backpacks that you can “check out” for children and then go on a scavenger hunt throughout the museum. Paper is provided, so that you can create your own masterpieces.
What I think the key is to introducing kids to art museums and galleries: pick a place near your home, so that you can start slowly. I have learned that my kids tend to get out of control when they are tired. So if an hour or two at a museum makes you exhausted, imagine what that does to your kids! So, twenty to thirty minutes may be about perfect. Unless …
You manage to get them engaged in the artworks. Some days this will work – sometimes it may not. Follow the ideas from the art picture books – play “I Spy.” At the Sheldon, they have black benches in the middle of each of the permanent display galleries. You can sit together in the middle and search for shapes, colors, numbers and even certain objects. This way you are out of range of the artworks but still are experiencing the art. Some of the paintings are easy to engage with and others may stretch your mind a bit. And you may want to choose your angle carefully depending on the museum.
What child would not enjoy seeing this painting that is on permanent display at the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln?
Another great place to start is at a sculpture garden. Since these are usually located outdoors, the pieces tend to be a bit more indestructible. Plus often they involve a bit more of using your imagination.
One of the many fun sculptures that you can find scattered throughout Pioneer’s Park in Lincoln.
One final note: as with books, you may want to preview art exhibits, especially if you tend to be conservative or have sensitive children. While I respect the right of others to create art, I personally reserve my right to withhold my children from experiencing that art, especially when they are young!
P.S. Needing some ideas of places to go to begin experiencing art? Here is a link to the eight Nebraska galleries featured in the Nebraska Passport program this year.