explaining art to kids

Art is everywhere--but it's not always easy to explain. Here are some suggestions on how to talk about art with your kids.

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It's not something we usually stop and think about, but art--especially visual art--is everywhere. It's hanging on your fridge, in the books you read to your kids at night, and even on billboards. Even so, it's complicated to explain to kids what exactly art is and isn't. Try these fun art activities and ask these age-appropriate questions to teach preschoolers about art. You'll also be unlocking your kids' creativity!
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Art Stories

Artists often use their artwork to help tell a story and express their ideas. And your preschoolers may already be using art this way by drawing things that happened to them or things they've imagined. To help your child understand how art can be used to tell a story, try these activities and ask these questions:

  • Ask your child to think about a place that they loved visiting or something that they really like to do, like a trip to the zoo or a fun day at the playground. Then ask them to draw a picture of what they remember.

  • Ask kids to tell you about a picture they've drawn on their own. What's happening in the picture? What are they trying to say?

  • Make up a silly story together, and then have your preschooler draw it. You can draw your own picture, too, and then share your pictures with each other. Talk about what things are the same or different in the pictures.

  • Look at a painting together and ask your child what they think is happening in the scene. "Who are the people in the picture? Where do you think they are? What are they doing? What do you think they are talking about? I wonder where they're going." Make up a story together about what you see.
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    Art and Feelings

    Art is also a wonderful way to communicate feelings. Instead of using words, artists might express emotion by creating art using different colors, shapes, and textures, or even through the type of art they choose to create (painting, sculpture or some other medium). To help your child understand how art can be used to express emotions, try some of these fun activities:

  • Ask your child to name a feeling. They might choose happy, sad, excited, or even angry. Then ask them to draw a picture of what they think that feeling looks like. What does happy look like? How about sad? How about excited? They might draw a picture of something that happened to them that made them feel this way, or they might choose to draw pictures of items that make them feel a particular way.

  • Look at a painting together and ask your kids how the painting makes them feel. "Why does the picture make you feel this way? How do the colors in the painting make you feel? Why? Do you think the artist wanted to make you feel that way?" Many preschoolers might have trouble expressing their ideas with words. Feel free to help them by pointing out items in the painting. "When I see that big yellow sun, I think of the time we went to the beach and how much fun we had." Or, "That yellow feels like a happy color to me. What do you think? How does that color make you feel?"

  • Point out different symbols or shapes in a painting and talk about how they make you feel. How did the artist want you to feel when looking at that shape? "Those little circles remind me of bubbles. They make me feel silly." Or, "That dark shape reminds me of a rain cloud. That makes me feel sad." Let your child express their ideas first whenever possible.

  • Look at two different paintings and compare them. "This one has lots of squiggles and curves. This one has lots of straight lines. Both of them have the color red. How do these paintings make you feel? Do they make you feel the same or different? This one is very dark, and this one is very light. How do you think the artist wanted us to feel?" Continue in this manner with other painting pairs. You could try to compare a realistic painting with one that is abstract or non-realistic.
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