Family Life


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How to foster a love of visual arts in your tween

 Boy looking at art - how to foster a love of visual arts in your tween

The last time Jill Farmer took her kids to the art gallery, the kids ran around in circles and ignored her pleas to pay attention. Finally she conceded defeat and took the kids across the street to a restaurant, where they took solace in eating chicken wings. “I thought they liked art,” Jill says. The day did not go according to plan.

Jill is not alone. As parents, we appreciate that we are responsible for the cleaning, feeding and cladding of our offspring, but escorting them to art galleries can prove taxing to some. According to a 2003 Hills Strategies Research study, a little more than 25 percent of Canadians between 15 and 17 years of age visited a public art gallery in 1998. Maybe the key is to start earlier. Ever wonder how you can instill the love of art in your pre-teen?

According to Jane Lott, the Coordinator of Children and Family Programs at the Art Gallery of Ontario, today’s art galleries are designed to engage and provide an interactive experience for all families and all ages. You don’t need to descend from a long pedigree of art collectors to feel as though you belong in an art gallery. Here are some tips from Jane on how you and your family can enjoy a visit to the art gallery.

Avoid Museum Fatigue

The first piece of advice may surprise you. After you’ve paid good money to gain entry into an art gallery, the perfectionist in you may want to see it all. However, when it comes to introducing your tweens to art, less is more. Resist the urge to corral your kids through each and every cavernous hall in a gallery, insisting they analyze each and every image.

Instead, encourage them to view only one piece in a given room. The contemporary section of the art gallery is always popular with tweens. Perhaps start there. Either lead them to the piece that first grabs their attention, or allow them to explore on their own.

Get Real with the Mona Lisa

The biggest challenge awaits you when you and the kids come face to face with a masterpiece. What do you say? Too often we feel pressured to say something deep and meaningful. Relax and start a conversation by asking the simplest of questions: “What do you see?” “What’s the story?” “Does the painting remind you of anything?” “How do the colours make you feel?” There is no right question or answer. The goal is to encourage your kids to share their ideas. If you feel self-conscious asking these questions, start with a walking tour.

Meet the New and Improved Tour Guide

Today’s art gallery guides do not run on autopilot. Instead, they keep things interesting by encouraging kids to consider their own experiences. If your tweens are at that fun stage in which they don’t want to be seen in public with you – let alone share their experiences – inquire about a self-directed audio tour that will help them connect to art by getting them to tap into their personal world and experiences. If, by the end of the day, your kids have taken even a mild interest in a few pieces at the gallery, you will have successfully introduced them to the world of art.

Quit While You’re Ahead

When your kids start to run around in circles or demand chicken wings, this is your cue that you should break up the day with a snack or lunch or, perhaps, call it a day. After all, a day at the art gallery should not be confused with the running of a marathon.

Three Dos Before Visiting an Art Gallery

  1. Check out the gallery’s website.
  2. Inquire about children’s tours and activities.
  3. Plan nothing at all. Go with an open mind.

Three Don’ts Before Visiting an Art Gallery

  1. Map out an exhaustive schedule of must-see pieces.
  2. Pressure your kids to share your enthusiasm.
  3. Subject your kids to endless art appreciation facts and tidbits.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2014.

a man carrying two children

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