Nurturing Art Appreciation in
Young Children

Art has always played a central role in the education and development of young children. Painting, drawing and other art activities enhance other areas of development, including perception, fine motor skills, language and social interaction. These activities involve the idea of "thinking in art."

But there is another way that parents and other adults can help young children learn and grow with art - the idea of thinking about art, or art appreciation.

At first, art appreciation may seem like an academic and abstract concept, the stuff of college courses, not early childhood. On the other hand, who better to share art appreciation with than children, whose senses and perceptions are so open and attuned to their surroundings?

Creating their own artwork is one way in which children create meaning in their lives. But they can also discover meaning in the art created by others and in nature, and that discovery is the core of art appreciation. While engaging children in creating art, parents can also connect them to the world of art beyond their own actions.

Here are some tips on using your children's creative experiences to develop a knowledge base about art:

- Make sure your child feels safe and secure expressing observations and opinions about art. Sharing one's response to a work of art is a public revelation about something highly personal. Your child must feel comfortable enough to reveal himself in this way.

- Help your child collect reproductions and illustrations of fine art. Reproductions of paintings, prints and drawings of master artists are available at museum gift shops, bookstores and libraries. Magazines and brochures feature reprints of work and the book review section of your newspaper may contain illustrations from recently published art books.

- Connect your child to art in the community. Go to nearby museums and art galleries, visit artists in their studios, and then provide your child with the kinds of materials and tools used by the artists she sees.

- Observe art as it occurs in nature. Talk to your child about how changes in light (bright sunlight, cloudy day, sunset) affect the color of objects. Encourage him to observe and comment on shapes and textures in plants, rocks and wildlife. Or look at examples of nature depicted in artwork and ask her what she thinks an artist found most interesting in a flower or rock or animal. Children are natural observers. By helping your children consider what they see from an aesthetic perspective, you can simultaneously promote their appreciation of the natural environment and the artwork it inspires.

Appreciation of art for its own sake is both possible and valuable for young children. Too often, adults limit art experiences to the making of art. By helping your children grow from art makers to art appreciators, you can deepen their understanding of the world and enrich their lives in the process. Few people continue creating art beyond childhood. But art appreciation is a skill and a pleasure that can last a lifetime.

Excerpted from "Thinking About Art: Encouraging Art Appreciation In Early Childhood Settings" by Ann S. Epstein, an article in the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) journal, Young Children,