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Why you need to take your children to art galleries

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Why you need to take your children to art galleries
Going to a gallery can be really enriching for children, but how do you get them through the door? According to respected psychotherapist Professor Michael Atar, there's an art to planning your visit
In today’s world of digital distractions, the thought of taking your kids to an art gallery—and them actually enjoying the experience—might seem a thankless and impossible challenge. After all, gallery spaces are places for quiet contemplation and observation, right? Surely a child won’t have the patience to stare at something they can’t swipe after a few minutes?
It’s understandable that we may think of art galleries as anything but child-friendly places—they are, after all, usually depicted in popular media as stuffy and solemn shrines, demanding intense and prolonged periods of concentration as we immerse ourselves in the backstory and meaning locked within each gilded frame.
"Surely a child won’t have the patience to stare at something they can’t swipe after a few minutes?"
With this all-too-common view of art galleries, it’s not surprising to learn that they are the least-visited heritage attractions for British families. Research has found that trips each year to theatres and castles far outstrip those to galleries, with a survey by Ecclesiastical revealing that 35 per cent of families have never been at all. 
This is a crying shame as being exposed to art holds profound significance for the development of young minds, both intellectually and emotionally.

Why should you take children to art galleries?

Beyond mere aesthetics, art galleries serve as invaluable educational and instructional resources, fostering creativity, critical thinking and empathy.
Here, children have the opportunity to engage in diverse perspectives, cultures and moods, with each painting, sculpture or photograph telling a story, inviting young viewers to interpret and connect with the artwork on a personal level.
Image: Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889), oil on canvas. Public domain
This exposure not only broadens their artistic horizons and stimulates their imagination but also encourages them to embrace diversity and appreciate different ways of seeing the world.
So art galleries are packed with nourishment for mind, heart, and soul, but with many kids being notoriously fussy eaters, and galleries seeming as appetising as yesterday’s porridge, how can we get them to tuck in?

How to make art fun

As with art, it all comes down to interpretation. In reality, art galleries, like the great artworks they house, can appeal to all ages…if they are approached with fresh eyes. 
"It all comes down to interpretation"
We need to consign our idea of galleries being old-fashioned, antiquated institutions to the dustbin. Similarly, we should see engagement with art being far wider than a collection of dry facts about the artist, style and history. If we don’t, by the time our children’s children grow up, galleries probably won’t be around anymore.
I firmly believe art galleries can be great fun for all the family if we set out with the intention of making them so. All we need is a fresh approach.
Let your children enjoy art on their own terms
Rather than trying to make kids "fit in" with our preconceived notions of a gallery, instead make the art gallery fit in with your kids, defining their encounters on their terms.
Who said that walking around a gallery had to be slow and methodical, stopping to look at every picture? That’s simply not attractive to children.
Image: Pablo Picasso, Guitarist, La mandoliniste (women playing guitar or mandolin) (1910–11), oil on canvas. Public domain
Instead, let them dictate the pace. If they want to head straight for a certain display, let them. If something catches their eye on the other side of the room, far away from the Picasso or Constable in the spotlight, that’s absolutely fine. If they keep going back to a previous room, no problem at all.
Turn art into a game
While it might sound like I’m being a philistine, the particular work of art is simply not important. What really matters is that children build a connection with art, for whatever reason.
To encourage this, you can make it into a game, either with or without a reward, with simple quizzes for older children such as, "Who can guess the artist?" or, "Who can identify the period it was made?"
I did this many times with my children and always found it to enhance their interest, not trivialise the experience. 
Don't spend too long in the gallery
There’s nothing wrong with making a visit to an art gallery shorter rather than longer. In today’s fast-paced world, where screen time is a fact of life, children’s minds deal in quick impressions rather than in-depth studies.
Bearing this in mind, and that children naturally have shorter attention spans than adults, limiting your visit to 45 minutes in a gallery is perfect for stopping boredom creeping in.
"There’s nothing wrong with making a visit to an art gallery shorter rather than longer"
With this approach, perhaps consider making a trip to an art gallery part of your day’s activities rather than the main activity. You can always pick up the conversation about what you’ve seen on the way to the next attraction or while at the restaurant.
You could even visit two galleries in one day, each for 30 minutes. A gallery safari, you could say!
Engage your kids in conversation about art
Talk to children in the language of emotions as this will stimulate their interest. Ask questions such as, "What exhibit did you find most exciting or boring?" or, "How did that painting make you feel?" and discuss your different impressions of the same works.
As an added bonus, your conversations together will help deepen the connection between you and your children on an emotional, subconscious level.
By taking this approach, art is no longer dull but something alive and relevant to young people, instilling a rewarding and fascinating pursuit that will last a lifetime.
Professor Michael Atar is an expert in parent-infant psychotherapy. For more information, see his profile on Psychology Today
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