Teaching Children to Appreciate the Arts

Almost everyone enjoys the arts – there is nothing more spectacular than the awe of live performance, gleaming lights, rich music, and the entertainment of song and dance right before your eyes!  The arts can even be enjoyable for children, if you teach them about it from an early age.  When teaching your children about the arts, it is important to keep it developmentally appropriate as well as educate them about what to expect…

Make it kid-friendly. For a young child's first cultural experience, choose an outing that is almost guaranteed to be successful, like a trip to the public library for the weekly puppet show or a shorter concert specifically geared towards children. At outdoor events, it is usually more acceptable if kids are a bit noisy, and you have the option of leaving whenever you are ready. Choosing a show appropriate for young children will give your child an opportunity to learn to pay attention, behave appropriately and, most of all, enjoy a performance.

  • Trips to nearby art museums (in bite sized portions not more than an hour) have been fun. Many museums offer kids’ events like an opportunity to create artwork. Last year we made paper lanterns and dragon masks at the Princeton University Art Museum during the Chinese New Year and took in a short visit to the collection of Asian Art afterwards.
  • Outdoor museums and sculpture gardens can also be a wonderful way for kids to enjoy artwork without feeling restricted to being quiet and “well-behaved”. Yet even really young children can learn wonderful lessons through a visit. Some years ago, I was chaperoning my son’s preschool class on a trip to an outdoor sculpture garden and his teachers took the opportunity to introduce a simple and effective lesson on “respectful viewing and respectful touching” to the kids.
  • Children’s concerts offered by local orchestra groups. Many orchestra groups hold special shorter concerts for kids. These performances are lively, invite participation by the kids and usually have a “Meet the orchestra” component where kids are introduced to the various instruments. My six year old was amazed at the sheer size and range of musical instruments in the orchestra and talked about the booming kettle drums all the way home!
  • Children’s theater in the form of drama or puppet shows can be delightful and interactive and usually encourages plenty of participation from the kids.
  • We use car rides to expose our kids to classical music. While you might encounter protests initially don't give up. Take a break from the toddler rhymes or top 10 countdown that you'd normally play and once in a while to play one of your classical favorites. Once familiar with the piece, you'll be surprised how quickly they will take to it.

Don’t Break the Bank! You don't have to spend a fortune on a Broadway show to have a hit on your hands, and it is probably better to work up to such an event. Choose a performance on a college campus, a local high school play or a local ballet school's holiday performance. If your child’s attention span wanders after the first act, you won't have invested your whole month's entertainment budget on the price of admission. After a few successful outings, you can spring for something bigger and more expensive.

Set the ground rules ahead of time. A week or so before you go, begin talking to your child about the performance you are going to attend. Describe what you expect to happen, and tell your child the behavior you expect of him. Say something like: Remember when we went to Mary's dance recital? We had to be quiet and pay attention so the dancers could concentrate, and the other people there could hear. We'll have to do that at the play we're going to attend.

Set a good example. If you expect to teach your child to be quiet and respect the performers on stage, you also have to teach him to respect the audience around him. The best way to do that is to set a good example. If you choose age-appropriate plays or musical performances for your grandchild, you should be able to give a brief explanation beforehand and then explain the nuances after the show.

Remember the essentials. Visit the restroom ahead of time with your child to avoid having to get up just as the curtain is rising. Pack a small, non-crunchy snack or treat in case your child needs a bite before intermission.

Let them Create their own Artwork – What better way to foster art appreciation than encouraging kids to create their own!

  • We make dates to paint and sketch together or they create their own messes at home when inspiration strikes them.
  • Sometimes, I find a class or workshop offered by our local arts council where they learn techniques from professional artists.
  • I encourage my kids to participate in concerts and programs offered in school even if it means some extra effort and practice sessions.
  • Music, dance and art lessons also give kids an appreciation of the effort and diligence required to produce a quality work of art.

Make it special. In planning your outing, add another element to make it extra-special. For example, combine attending a musical with a stop for ice cream afterwards. Be sure your expectations of your child's behavior are realistic since you don't want the occasion to become punitive. If your child is tiring after two acts and there are still two to go, the wise thing to do is leave early and still go out for dessert. One success will lead to another, and before you know it, your young child may be begging you to take him to the symphony.

This topic was featured on The Modern Parent segment on The Rhode Show – click here!

Heather is the Director of The Children's Workshop in Lincoln, RI.  She first started my journey with the TCW family in 2007 in our Smithfield location as a Kindergarten teacher.  She then entered the company's Management in Training Program, working in several of our locations while also training staff in various areas of early childhood education. She holds a BA from Providence College in Elementary and Special Education as well as a Master's Degree from Rhode Island College in Early Childhood Education.  Her true passion is not only working with children, but sharing knowledge with families and teachers in order to provide the best early learning experience for all young learners. She is also a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Rhode Island Childcare Director’s Association, as well as the Rhode Island College Early Childhood Advisory Board.