Doing the impossible: Teaching Art Appreciation to a 5-year old and a 10-year old

I
know it sounds impossible – but I actually pulled this off. You know how half the time, well ok for me it feels like most of the time, I feel like I strike out more often than I hit a home run. I hear myself saying more often than I care to admit “Well, that didn’t go as well as planned.” But this time? This time I hit it out of the park.

It began when my mother told me about an exhibit going on in San Francisco: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and beyond at the de Young Museum. I rushed right over to my computer and bought tickets for Sam, the kids, my parents, and me before I even thought twice about it. Then of course it dawned on me that spending the afternoon in a crowded museum, looking at old pictures on the wall probably wasn’t going to be the most fun the kids ever had. So I came up with a plan. I would make it into a game.

As luck would have it, my parents had plans to go to this exhibit two weeks before. So I asked her, as she went through, to make notes of a few of the paintings in each room, so we could later develop a “scavenger hunt” – age appropriate for a 5 year old and another for a 10 year old. (Ok, yeah, my mom did a good part of the hard work here – I still think this was a huge success).

The day of our tickets to see the exhibit, we came armed with two clipboards and two pencils. For Zach, the questions were basic enough: Find a painting with a golden vase. Find a painting of a cow. etc. It was challenging enough and he really enjoyed it. The only difficulty we had was really thanks to the crowd.

(On a side note: I’m a bit frustrated and annoyed with the museum. They’re very clear that they don’t want people bringing sketchpads, because to have people standing there sketching the pictures would “slow the flow of traffic throughout the exhibit” – and yet, they push the purchase of these audio tours that has everyone walking around the rooms like drones at a snails pace (or rather standing there FOREVER listening to the audio tour) rather than actually moving on through. I really would have preferred a time when NO ONE was using an audio tour – I think it would have gotten people moving more so I could have actually gotten within a few feet of a painting, instead of standing on my tip toes trying to get a peek from behind twenty people.)

Anyway, thankfully the kids were small, and my goal had shifted from wanting to see the paintings to wanting my kids to enjoy the experience. So I stood way in the back and sent Zach down underneath to sneak up to the front (all grownups who could easily see over him) so he could get a close look at the painting.

Can I tell you how proud I was to see him go up to the painting – point at it excitedly and tell me he found the painting of =whatever we were looking for=. People looked amazed that this little kid was actually excited to be there. Excited to be looking at the paintings. (Between you and me, so was I! LOL!)

Scattered within the scavenger hunt were a few “Which is your favorite painting in the room? Why is this your favorite?” or “How does this painting make you feel?”

Rachel’s was a little harder “Find a painting that shows 6 smoke stacks? Who painted it?” “Who painted a picture of a circus in this room” “Name 3 paintings by Henri Seurat (in this room)”

Rachel, who thought the whole scavenger hunt thing was beneath her before we started, really got into it once we were there. I came to find out that she had very specific and sometimes surprising opinions about the paintings.

Now here’s the best part. Aside from the fact that we got through the entire exhibit without a single meltdown – I considered it enough of a win. But then something happened tonight that just totally sealed the deal. My mother had bought a coloring book that had paintings from the museum in it for you to color. Zachary was playing with it after dinner – found one of the paintings and said “I remember this one! This one was on my checklist!… This one too! This is the one of the man fishing!”

It’s out of the park! 😀

2 Comments

  1. Christine
    Jan 14, 2011

    That is totally brilliant!!! I wonder if it is something you could work with the museum on getting out to other kids? Or post the whole hunt online so other parents could find it and use it too? (Maybe an eBook?)

    What a great way to get them excited to see the paintings and thinking about what they are seeing!

  2. Jennifer
    Jan 14, 2011

    Well this particular exhibit will be closing and moving on soon. But it might be worth it to do something similar with the artwork that is on permanent display there…

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