Talking about art with young children is a wonderful thing to do. Not only does it encourage critical thinking, understanding of others and the world around us, observation, and expressing emotions and feelings, but it is simply joyful to spend time discussing something beautiful together.

Time and again at the moment, I keep coming back to my favourite Montessori quote: “The things [the child] sees are not just remembered, they form a part of his soul”. Do I want an appreciation for beauty to form a part of Frida’s soul? Absolutely.

But it can feel daunting to discuss art with children, especially if we don’t have a background in art or much knowledge of the subject. If that is you, please don’t be put off! It’s not about what you know, or about “teaching art”; rather, discussing art with young children is all about helping them to describe what they see, think, and feel.

We have been using Usborne Famous Painting Cards for a while now, and I cannot recommend them enough. We use them daily, looking at a painting each day over breakfast or at afternoon tea time, and talking about what we can see.

I tend to ask Frida some questions about the piece she is looking at, such as:

  • What can you see?
  • What does it make you think of?
  • What do you think they are doing?
  • Which colours can you see?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Do you like it?
  • What is strange / unusual / exciting about it?
  • What do you think that person is thinking about?
  • What season do you think it is? What is the weather like?

Discussion of these cards has also led us to discuss geography (where the artist was from, what landscape they were painting), weather, emotions, differences in the way people dressed over the ages, different painting styles, and much more. Frida also inevitably asks if the painter is dead once I tell her their name and that they lived a long time ago. There’s no plan, nothing I want to “teach” Frida, just a really enjoyable chat whilst we look at a painting together over tea, toast, and candles.

I truly love the set of cards, but as it only includes paintings I am planning on adding to the set with some postcards from museums including some modern art, print, and sculpture.

Frida and I also enjoy going to galleries and museums together. We are spoilt for choice living in London (remind me of this if I ever start talking about moving somewhere quiet and green, please)! It is especially enjoyable to spend time looking at one of the paintings which we have already talked about, as seeing them in the flesh is so much more powerful.

Earlier today we went to see “Ophelia” by Millais, which hangs in Tate Britain. We spent a long time looking at it and talking about it; Frida had a lot of questions, including “Is she dead?” – can you tell Frida is really interested in the concept of death at the moment?! – and “She has blue flowers as a necklace, are they real or drawn on?” There were pencils and paper out for people to use, and Frida enjoyed doing some drawing with the colours she could see in the painting.

When we got home Frida got out her painting cards, and we looked at “Ophelia” again together. Frida may not remember who Millais was, or even the name of the painting, but I hope that, when she looks at it later on in her life, something will stir in her and remind her that when she was very small, she found beauty in it. Just as I felt when I looked at it today, as I remembered being awed by it when I was small myself.

We also had a good look at the beautiful Moore collection, which made for some great discussion about abstract vs lifelike, and what the sculptures looked like from different angles and heights. Galleries are brilliant for encouraging careful looking, in a way that isn’t really the same when looking at a postcard or print.

Galleries are also often wonderful places for children to move about in; even when Frida couldn’t walk yet she would happily crawl around the open spaces. I feel this adds to the experience a lot.

We tend not to read many art books together yet; Frida does have a few books on Frida Kahlo (this book especially – Frida by Jonah Winter – has been a firm favourite for as long as I can remember), but she is more interested in Kahlo as a person and the story of her life than in her paintings. We have also really enjoyed Katie and the Starry Night and Katie and the Sunflowers. I’m on the lookout for similar books about other artists, so if you have any recommendations please leave them in the comments!

Frida also has unrestricted access to art materials at home, including coloured pencils, crayons, paper, watercolour paints, finger paints, modelling clay, and collage materials.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy art with your children? Do you enjoy visiting galleries together? What are your recommendations for art books for young children?

PS There are still some tickets remaining for the Frida be Mighty workshop on simplicity, where will be exploring simplifying and slowing down in our homes, our schedules, and our children’s daily lives. It’s going to be a brilliant morning, connecting with like-minded mothers over tea, cake, and meaningful conversation. Come and join us! 

Posted by:Eloise R

24 replies on ““Is she dead?” Discussing art with young children

  1. Love this post! We’ve a large selection of books about artists. Some of our favorites are Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature; Georgia’s Bones; Matisse’s Garden; Frida Kahlo (from the Little People, Big Dreams series); and The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon

  2. I forgot to add that I also love An Eye for Art: Focusing on Great Artists and Their Work. It’s a really good introduction to some of the most famous artists, their styles, techniques, and inspiration. It has good activity suggestions, too.

  3. You are lucky to have access to so many museums and galleries indeed ! ;D

    A favourite book of my daughter is called : “Blue and other colours”. It’s a board book about Matisse’s collages. I guess it’s meant for younger children, but it’s a fun book nonetheless !

  4. we used to live in a more art friendly area…i need to search around to find something here–or make a trip to chicago.
    my kids all came over to look at the pictures as i was reading this. they were very interested in the abstract sculpture so we got to have an impromptu art discussion 🙂

  5. Frida might really enjoy Laurence Anholt’s artist series. We have the whole set and they’re absoultey wonderful! He writes true stories of children who personally knew each of the artists-something kids can relate to!

  6. Thank you for this lovely post. Eloise. One of the things I enjoy most is looking at art with my daughter. We also enjoy the Katie books and make regular trips to the National Gallery to see the Van Goghs and Gaugins as a consequence. I can second Matisse’s Garden which is a really beautiful book. We also have Blue and Other Colours which is aimed at younger children but could definitely be enjoyed by older ones too. When our son was a baby he would gaze at the pictures. My daughter draws or paints everyday and we have sometimes done art based on particular artists such as Matisse’s cutouts. I should thank you for the Stockmar crayons recommendation – they are excellent.

    1. Brilliant recommendations, thank you so much! Love love love the idea of doing art work based on the artists too. Xx

      1. Jackson Pollock inspired painting worked well but one for the summer in the garden!

  7. I really enjoyed reading this post, and I have ordered a set of the cards, thank you! Have you discovered the ‘Katie’ series by James Mayhew? They start with Katie’s Picture Show where her granny takes her to an exhibition, and the pictures start to come to life in Katie’s imagination. At the end there are some art ideas related to the story. There is one called The Starry Night which is my favourite of all.

    1. Yes! There are wonderful, though I don’t know the picture show one – we might have to get that as it sounds perfect xx

  8. Thank you for this inspiring post. I now have the Usborne famous artists cards on the top of my list of what I’d like to get the children next! We also like the Katie series, our library has almost all of them, and have just discovered the Laurence Anholt artist books which are lovely. There’s also a book called A is for Art by Lanaya Gore which I really want!

  9. I loved this entry. We have been exposing our daughters to art paintings since they were born. First with cardbooks I found with some famous paintings. They were ok to look at some art together. But later on, I found the Katie series and the Laurence Anholt series (the Matisse one is a favourite as it tells the true story of a church made by Matisse before he died and how he used the cut-outs process to create the stained glass windows). Then, we also got the Aline Wolf Childsize masterpieces books, to play with art paintings. They are really good, although I found they lacked from women painters, so I started researching about this. We got I am Georgia, about Georgia O’Keeffe (we loved it!), and A life of colour (about Sonia Delaunay). We also went to Madrid, and we wanted to take our daughter to see The Meninas by Velazquez, so I found a fantastic story book about how it was painted, and Olivia could tell all the characters involved and who they were too. Art is a key part in our home. I hated going to museums when I was a child and I decided I didn’t want that for our daughter, so I wanted her to see the beauty and feel inspired to create herself. Many thanks for a lovely entry x

  10. Dear Eloise, thanks so much for the inspiration! A book that I loved as a child and still do is “Linnea in Monet’s Garden”.
    Best wishes from Germany – Johanna

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