This week is the perfect week to explore the images around you with your preschooler as it’s national Art Appreciation week. Rather than focusing on the traditional approach of fingerpainting and coloring, a new approach has been sweeping the country.
Studies in California and elsewhere have discovered children introduced to classical works of art at an early age and in a specific way demonstrate stronger social-emotional growth and better math and reading skills than students who had not received any instruction in art appreciation.
Who knew art was a STEM-related field?
According to teachers of this method of art appreciation, it’s developing skills children will need as we move further into the digital age.
“As society becomes more digital, it’s not enough to just be able to read words; we have to be able to read images. We have to be able to look at an image and understand it, not just react to it,” said Kim Moran, a professor at Fresno State University who teaches teachers how to use this method.
So, how do you do it?
Whether you are in a classroom full of children or sitting at home with your own child, take some time to look, really look, at some of the classic works of art by masters such as van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Degas, or Seurat.
Looking at one image at a time, ask your child/the children what they see happening in the picture. Allow them to express it in the words they know.
If you were looking at something like the image above, they might say something obvious like “there’s a bunch of fancy people at a park” or they might key in on something less clear such as “there’s a dog stealing a lady’s lunch.”
Let them talk about the painting as much as they’d like, paraphrasing what they’re telling you along the way with words they might not be familiar with yet.
“Yes, there are a few dogs in the foreground of the painting,” or “yes, the people who lived in the Victorian era did dress very fancy.”
When you paraphrase like that, you are both letting the child know they’ve been understood and providing them with words to bulk up their vocabulary and understanding of the world.
If you’re not sure what they’re talking about, ask them for more information:
“What do you see that makes you say that?”
Once you’ve exhausted that avenue of conversation, you can ask them to search for other things they can find in the painting or ask another child what they see.
Seurat is a good one to start with because there’s a lot going on in the artwork and, if you present it to your child in a large version, you can even talk with them about how the painting is really just a bunch of dots that our eyes blend together to make pictures.
You can also take a trip to a museum and show your child how many different ways people can communicate using pictures. As visual rhetoric becomes a more important means of sharing information, having these skills are going to be vital for your child to navigate the world of the future.
As you can see, art appreciation is about so much more than creating squiggles on paper with fingerpaint.