A Childhood of Wonder: How to get kids interested in art

This month’s ArtSmart Roundtable topic is “art experience,” and it got me thinking about the role of art in our early years of exploration and our role as adults in exposing children to art and culture and brought me to the following 5 tips to get kids interested in art.

Do you remember the first time you experienced great art? I was fortunate as a child to have a mother who was really into the arts and took me to New York City to wander the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see Mikhail Baryshnikov dance at Lincoln Center. Later in my teens, I went to Italy with my dad and fell in love with painting and sculpture in Florence…I still vividly remember experiencing the wonder of art for the first time while seeing the sculptures in Piazza della Signoria (more on that experience here). The seeds of my lifelong love of travel, art and history were planted when I was young.

5 tips to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

Now as the mother of two children, I think about the role of art in their lives and my role as a parent to expose them to culture, specifically art, history and travel. Like many other parents, we don’t have the money to take many big trips abroad, and we sometimes skip museums because they can be expensive.

However, it turns out that my older son loves art–drawing is his favorite hobby, something he’s actually quite good at–and he believes in art. He uses it to explore ideas and express himself in ways he can’t through words or actions. He finds joy in it, and he wants it to be a part of his life for the long-term–it’s not a passing fad like some of the other hobbies he’s tried on.

So we weave art and culture into our travels and home life as much as possible, partly because we know that the openness of childhood is the perfect time to experience beauty and wonder, and also because our older son needs it. However, it’s not dragging toddlers into the Louvre or the new Calder exhibition in L.A. Although we like to take our kids along on our adventures, we know that museum exhibitions may not be the right place for two small boys (but now that they’re getting older, we’ll test that soon!).

The good news is that there are plenty of wonderful ways to connect kids to art and culture. Here are my 5 tips for how to get kids interested in art, all low-cost and age-appropriate for children:

1) Free art galleries

Art galleries are often welcoming spaces where you can pop in, show your kids some art, see something made by local artists, and then leave before the kids get impatient. In many cities, weekend events like Second Saturday in Sacramento include art galleries that are open to the general public. This one was a surprise find in the California city of Petaluma, and we all loved it!

5 tips to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

Getting a lesson on interpretation at the Petaluma Art Gallery in Sonoma County, Calif.

2) Art for the public

5 tips to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

Enjoying the Napa Art Walk on the riverfront in downtown Napa, California

Public art, especially “street art” and outdoor sculpture, is an ideal way for kids to experience art because it’s part of the outdoor environment. Kids can do what they do best–being active outdoors–while viewing art and seeing how it fits into its surroundings. Look for art walks like the one shown above where a series of works are meant to be viewed in sequence while walking from one piece to the next.

5 tips to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

Colorful street art in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sculpture gardens are also ideal because they’re often free and kids can experience the three-dimensional aspect of sculpture in an outdoor setting (i.e. not inside a museum where they have to be careful and quiet).

5 tips for how to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

Sculpture at Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma, California

3) Art in the community

I am a firm believer in supporting one’s local art museum. It may not have the high art that you see on your travels, but it’s a great place for the family to experience art on a regular basis. The changing exhibitions provide frequent chances to expose your kids to different types of art on a variety of subjects.

How to get kids interested in art

The permanent collection offers the opportunity for your kids to develop a relationship with art through identifying their favorite pieces and returning to them over and over. The museum probably has creative kids’ events and classes as well.

4) Environmental art installations

Art installations are usually large, three-dimensional works that the viewer can interact with. Free installations can be found all over the world, such as the famous Spiral Jetty in Utah, and local examples in San Francisco:

5 tips for how to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

Woodline by sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, in the Presidio, San Francisco

5 tips for how to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

The labyrinth at Land’s End, San Francisco, by local artist Eduardo Aguilera. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

5) Art programs for kids at major museums

During your travels, look into the art programs held at the major museums you’ll be visiting. Art museums around the world are realizing the importance of making art interesting and accessible to children. For instance, the de Young Museum in San Francisco has free Saturday classes for little ones. In Florence, Italy, the Palazzo Vecchio has tours just for families, and the Palazzo Strozzi Museum makes its exhibitions accessible for children.

5 tips for how to get kids interested in art | This Is My Happiness travel blog

The viewing tower at de Young Museum in San Francisco

Exposing children to culture and art does not have to be expensive or difficult–it’s easy if you look for age-appropriate art experiences like these where you live and travel. What ideas do you have for exposing kids to art?

For more about the art experience, see the other posts from our fantastic ArtSmart Roundtable this month:

Georgia O’Keeffe Country, New Mexico from Culture Tripper

Making the Most Out of Your Art Museum Experience from No Onions Extra Pickles

Storytelling in Fabric: The Bayeux Tapestry from Daydream Tourist

Archaeology in the Garden from Art Trav

Naoshima – Japan’s Contemporary Art Island from Art Weekenders



  • Charu says:

    Art and music–those are absolutely vital to start an appreciation for at a young age!

    • Jenna says:

      Yep. Small kids have no inhibitions, but they get them fast once they start elementary school, so I think it’s crucial to start getting them into these things when they are little, before it’s too late!

  • Mara says:

    I love absolutely everything about this post! You are spot on. Another suggestion I have to buy or take out library books about specific types of art or artists if you know you’ll be seeing the work in a museum or gallery. A little advance exploration can help get kids excited about what they are going to see. I also like museums that share artist’s studios – the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts does this. My boys loved seeing where he worked on the art they had just admired.

    • Jenna says:

      I love your suggestions. Your idea of getting them familiar with the art and artists is great. When we went to see the abstract expressionism exhibition mentioned above, I showed my son photos of Jackson Pollack to get him familiar with the concepts. I have a great pop-up book of Brunelleschi’s architecture in Florence. I hadn’t thought of museums with artists’ studios before. Thanks for that tip!

  • What a great post for parents everywhere. So happy you mentioned Public and Environmental too…fascinating and most of it’s free! Love the labyrinth and your photography throughout!!
    Jeff Titelius recently posted..Exploring the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in AvignonMy Profile

  • Elena says:

    Great tips! I love how so many museums have programs for kids- either formally or through activities like scavenger hunts and maps designed for them. I was hugely impressed with the “art cards” at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as well as the exhibit themed packets at the Metropolitan.
    Elena recently posted..Paddle Your Way to Wellness in AssateagueMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Good to know about the kid-friendly activities at the Met. I was just talking with my son about that museum today. I really hope to take a family trip there next year (but from CA, it’s so expensive!).

  • The city I grew up in didn’t have a major museum when I was a child and the public art back then consisted of bronze statues of ‘important men’. My parents were students and our apartments were pretty bare in the early years. My mom pinned unframed Degas prints over my crib and I remember Utrillo prints in the living room. My own son took a long walk through the Royal Ontario Museum’s deserted antiquities galleries on free nights when he was small. And he still remembers going by train to Ottawa to see a major Klimt show. We rode 5 hrs to Ottawa, saw the show, had lunch, bought a beanie baby and got on the train for another 5 hours home. Couldn’t afford an overnight but it was worth it. He has never forgotten those Klimts.
    Lesley Peterson recently posted..ArtSmart Roundtable: Georgia O’Keeffe Country, New MexicoMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Great stories, Lesley, especially that your son still remembers those Klimts. What beautiful art to see as a child.

  • Great tips! My kids love art, and I’m always looking for ways to introduce them to new stuff.
    Jodi @ Family Travel Magazine recently posted..40+ Hours from San Antonio to BostonMy Profile

  • Pal says:

    I have no kids, but this is exactly how I imagine it should be like. Great post Jenna, now when talking to friends with kids I’ll know exactly what to tell them to make future “art weekenders” out of them :-).
    Pal recently posted..Street Art Tuesday: Valencia, SpainMy Profile

  • Allison says:

    Art truly is everywhere when you’re looking for it, and one of the benefits of traveling with children is that they often force me to slow down and appreciate my surroundings.
    Allison recently posted..Shenandoah National Park Hiking for FamiliesMy Profile

  • Wonderful blog!

    Just wanted to confirm that the Crocker Art Museum offers an extensive variety of events, classes, and camps for kids throughout the year, as well as parent, caregiver, and family programs –> http://bit.ly/1jelkrM

    If you’re in town this weekend, FamilyPalooza is this Sunday, May 25. It’s a FREE event and fun for the entire family –> http://bit.ly/1pjVUhJ

    Hope to see you soon!

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for that information! I think the wording above may have been a little confusing, and I’ll see about changing it…I was referring to any local museum (that’s why I said the museum “may have” family programs) but mentioned the Crocker as my local example. My family attends your events and will be there tomorrow! Looking forward to it.

  • Alexandra says:

    It’s just wonderful that you make such an effort to involve art in your kids’ lives. I almost would want to have a kid just to bring her up to be an art geek 🙂 !! It looks like your area has some really lovely opportunities to see art. I hope to experience some with you some day.

    I totally agree that being exposed to art at a young age makes a big difference. Apparently I had a nanny who liked art, and who brought me to the AGO (art gallery of Ontario) every week when I was about 2 years old. Legend has it that at around age 3, having seen an exhibit of works by Paul Klee, on the following visit it had finished, and I went up to the guard and asked “where is the Klee?”. There are more such anecdotes that I’ll save for when I am famous 🙂
    Alexandra recently posted..Folon sculptures in Florence’s Rose GardenMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Wow, what a nice experience to have with a nanny. Actually, museums can be great places for small kids, but I honestly think it depends on the kid. My older son was quiet and loved looking at art when he was small and enjoyed (short) museum visits, but my younger son is less predictable. He enjoys it, too, but is sometimes more interested in finding something to climb (so we have to leave).

  • Both of my children love to make art and my 6-year-old son says he wants to be an artist when he grows up. I need to be better about taking them to art museums to continue to foster their love of art!
    Colleen Lanin recently posted..My Glamorous Celebrity Lifestyle & Appearance on Better TVMy Profile

  • Cindy says:

    This is a beautiful post! I loved your words about your son’s love of art: “he believes in art. He uses it to explore ideas and express himself in ways he can’t through words or actions.” The way you understand this part of him is lovely, and your intention to “weave” art through the lives of your kids is inspirational.

    Thanks for another amazing post. Your suggestions for creative ways to enjoy art are wonderful!

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