One of my favourite ways to experience art is by visiting art parks, because let’s face it, it’s not so taxing to go for a walk in a nice garden and find the art, and see how it’s integrated or not with the nature. I’ve always said that art parks are great for kids, too, but I have no firsthand experience in that. So I’ve asked artist and mother Karen Brummund to help out: she’s an expert in experiencing art with children and she’s written up her top tips for visiting art parks with them. If you like her ideas, check out her writing on her blog Lines-Between.
Dragging or chasing your children through an art exhibition can be stressful. There are a lot of expensive objects and rules to follow. But when I find art that challenges or inspires me, I can’t help but want to share it with my children. Artists’ outside-of-the-box, raw and soul stirring perspectives are something I can’t live without. Their work leads me to new understandings that can’t be taught any other way. Therefore teaching my children how to read aesthetics and see life through art is imperative. The challenges of experiencing art through their young perspective has given me new ideas, expectations, and ways of seeing art and life (which I write about on my blog).
My two preschool ages boys and I visit art galleries and collections regularly, but our favorites are always art parks! Last year, our family visited a number of art parks up and down the east coast of the United States of America and in Italy. But art parks aren’t playgrounds, so these seven tips for helping your children engage will make sure that everyone enjoys the experience.
I always check the art park’s website for three things before we visit. First, are bikes or scooters allowed. Second, are there any available children’s activities, resources, or events. Third, can you climb it? My children love it when there is art they can touch or climb. Knowing if there will be even just one interactive art installation, can help motivate them as the day progresses.
It helps to be prepared with a few artworks you know you want to see at the art park, so that you can prioritize your time. Either space out the most interactive installations or make sure to see your favorites first before everyone runs out of steam. Children enjoy anticipating what might be coming. Look for one or two artworks you can introduce them to ahead of time. Show them an online video about the artist or pictures from their website. Often, like Christo, you can find pictures of artwork under construction that brings it to life for children. Also, the Gori Collection has a full list of artists and artworks on their website. Invite your children to choose their favorite, talk to them about it, or even print a photograph of the artwork for them to carry. If you don’t have information ahead of time, you can use the park map to equip your child to take the lead. Let them pick their favorite spot on the map and figure out how to get there. A few wrong turns just means you see more art.
Be ready to play! My children are preschoolers, so they love playing hide and seek or chase. Many art parks have open space around the artwork where we can play these games safely. Hide and seek inside Richard Serra’s towering planes of steel or playing tag around Mark di Suvero’s steel beams is not only fun, but can also draw your attention to different aspects of the sculpture. Think of any gross motor games like charades or dancing that your children love. Challenge yourself to adapt those games to the art park by acting out part of the sculpture or translating the feeling of the artwork into a dance.
Collect, observe, and track your way through the park. My youngest loves to collect things, so we put an empty backpack on his back before we start the hike. Throughout the trek, he will eagerly fill it up. Although, we have to set limits, like one stick from each artwork. My oldest is more interested in checking off his progress. So we bring stickers for him that he can use to mark each place we visited on the map. We also make up scavenger hunts for him on the fly. We will write the names of six different colors or shapes that he needs to find during our visit. Then he can use the same stickers to track what he has observed. Think about how your like to observe their surroundings and use that to motivate them to explore the art park.
We take time at different artworks to make small things with our hands. We choose a few artworks where we want to take a seat in the grass or on a bench. I bring our travel sketchbooks (aka paper) and our favorite pencils everywhere. The most important thing is for you to do it with them. I draw or write with them. I might also stow a small bag of legos or some light wire with which we can build a model of the artwork (or the cars passing by or the dirt). We don’t make something at every artwork, but I’ll say, “When we get to the next artwork, let’s get our new markers out.” And that is what is great about art parks, markers and snacks are allowed!
A new kind of pencil or a special snack is an easy way for me to reward my preschoolers for making the sometimes long hikes and letting me have time to sit inside Turrell’s Skyspace for longer than they want to. I really enjoy art, and they really enjoy cookies. It is a fair trade. If the art park is particularly large, then lollipops are like magic for keeping their feet hiking.
My last piece of advice is for adults and children. You don’t have to see everything. Don’t ruin the experience by dragging your tired selves to see the last five artworks. Enjoy what you do see and come back again later. Maybe everyone just needs a lunch break, and then you can scoot back to see the one thing you have to see. Most importantly, having a few really good experiences with part of the art collection is better than sad memories you make by pushing yourselves to see it all.
We travel as a family and we travel for art. Autumn is a great time to take a hike and watch the seasons change. What makes it even better is when you get to also think about how an artist is changing that place with their artwork. For more stories about visiting specific art parks with children, see my articles on Lines-Between.