Introducing Young Children to Art

Art is a way of seeing and making everyday objects that are pleasing to see, touch, smell, hear and use. Parents and teachers can initiate young children’s appreciation of art by letting them “view” and “make” art.

Viewing the Fine Arts

For a young child, visiting an art gallery or museum can be a great introduction to art. Here are some suggestions to make your trip a success:

Start small. Choose a theme that relates to your child’s interests, such as ballet, and look at just three or four pieces to see how different artists represent the subject.

Pay attention to the artwork’s message. Artwork that shows people gathering food or nurturing a child or that highlights daily activities in other ways carries powerful positive messages.

Listen to your child’s response to artwork. Children may find some work frightening, such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Horse’s Skull with White Rose. Experts say toddlers respond to scenes of daily life and abstract art like that of Picasso or Klee, but show little interest in landscapes.

Watch for art in progress. Children are fascinated to see art in the making so watch for people who are sketching or painting.

Learn when to lead and when to follow. A toddler will let you know when he’s ready to look at a piece of art more deeply.

Find something for everyone. Having at least two adults with a family group allows you to split up and accommodate everyone’s interests.

Find creative ways to keep little hands off. Touching an object related to the artwork makes it easier for kids to accept “hands-off” policies. When looking at a sculpture, for example, bring a smooth stone for kids to touch.

Bring Out the Artist in Your Child

Kidsa and ArtBy creating with whatever they find in front of them, children increase communication skills, refine eye-hand coordination and develop motor skills. As they make decisions about color and size, they sharpen problem-solving and planning skills.

Here are a few ways you can help your children get the most from their art experience:

• When choosing materials, follow your children’s interests.

Let the process be as enjoyable and important as the finished work.

• Explain the materials, but let children decide how to use the materials.

Keep the project simple. Too many materials may overwhelm a child.

For Toddlers and Preschoolers

Have children look for patterns around them and create patterns within their art:

Bug Watcher – Decorate a toilet paper tube. Children can use it as a spyglass – the narrowed focus heightens their powers of observation.

Printing – Glue shapes cut from sponges or foam onto small blocks of wood. Then “ink” the shape with paint before pressing it onto paper or fabric.

“Weird and Wonderful” Box – Recycle egg cartons, bits of ribbon, fabric, etc. Children can delve into the box and create towns, spaceships and more.

Monochromatic Mosaic – Cut out variations of a single color from a magazine. Glue the clippings onto paper.

Edible Art – Practice mixing colors by adding different food colorings to a few teaspoons of white icing. Decorate cookies or cupcakes.

Speckled Pictures – Lay a few leaves on a piece of paper. Set window screening above the paper, dip a toothbrush in paint and rub the screen. Remove the screen and leaves.



Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters, by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga, Bright Ring Publishing Inc., 1997. Biographies of 80 artists and art projects playing on each artist’s style.

First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos, by MaryAnn Kohl, Renee Ramsey, Dana Bowman and Katheryn Davis, Gryphon House, 2002.

Looking at Painting: An Introduction to Fine Art for Young People, by Erika Langmuir and Ruth Thomson, Bunker Hill, 2003.

Looking at Pictures: An Introduction to Art for Young People, by Joy Richardson, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1997. Helps readers build observation skills.

Preschool Art: It’s the Process, Not the Product, by MaryAnn Kohl, Gryphon House, 1994.

Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills and an Appreciation for Art, by Susan Striker, Owl Books, 2001.

On the Web

The Museum of Modern Art, New York –  Children and adults go on Art Safari, an adventure in looking at animals in art. See paintings and sculpture, write a story about what you see and even make your own art using digital “paint brushes.”

The Worldwide Art Gallery – Choose an artist, a period, a medium or a subject in this extensive art education section. Kids get drawing tips or submit their own art for display in the “Art Activities for Kids” section. Also provides links to many other art-for-kids sites.