Children are naturals when it comes to art

After all, your baby has probably turned a variety of meals (and your kitchen) into a Jackson Pollock-style masterpiece at some point, and a blank wall and a few crayons are all the inspiration a toddler ever needs. So how can we encourage this passion for chaos, colour and creativity to continue?


“We often stifle creativity as our children get older because we think that what they are doing is messy or that it’s not ‘right’,” says Helen Cordey, the National Gallery’s family and out-of-schools officer. “At family workshops, it’s usually the parents who are self-conscious and feel that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing art. There’s not.

Children just need to be exposed to ways of looking at art and be allowed to express themselves freely. For example, if a child paints a picture where the sky is green, ask her why she chose green rather than tell her that the sky is actually blue – she probably knows that quite well.” In a study at the University of Nottingham, toddlers not only differentiated between colours, but also demonstrated preferences. So don’t cramp their style!

The non-linear nature of art also encourages higher-level thinking in children.“They always surprise us with their insights about art,” says Helen. “When visiting a gallery with your child, the best way to nurture this thinking is to ask your child what they see in the picture; explore the painting together and ask why the artist might have painted that subject or used those shapes.”

Art also offers the opportunity to develop storytelling skills.

There is a story behind every work – even the most abstract. You can ask your child to create a story about the painting, or talk about the artist who made it. Learning as a family is a really important way to demonstrate that you value art as a way of seeing the world.

More like this

Essentially, the more you allow children to partake in creative activities, the more likely they are to think about them when there's choice in downtime. The same, of course, can be said for any activity. So normalising an appreciation of art, creative industries and even music, all come down to leading by example.

6 Books to help children understand and appreciate art

kids art book

Demystifying art appreciation, this is a children's art book for grown-ups that shows how to explain to children what to look for and how to enjoy paintings. When faced with questions like 'Who are the people in this painting?' 'Why has the artist used those colours?' 'How did the artist choose what to paint?' this book equips you with straightforward answers to help encourage a love of art for years to come. >> How to Talk to Children About Art by Francoise Barbe-Gall

a history of pictures

Based on the bestselling book for adults, this children’s edition of A History of Pictures for Children takes young readers on a journey through art history. From early art drawn on cave walls to the images we make today on our computers and phone cameras this book will delight will illustrations by artist Rose Blake. >> A History of Pictures for Children by David Hockney and Martin Gayford

books of art

A lavish picture book that introduces 32 of the world's best-known, best-loved works of art - including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet and Georgia O'Keeffe - to a younger art critic. With engaging, jargon-free writing, lively anecdotes and cartoons that all help bring key moments from art history vividly to life for children. >> Children's Book of Art by Rosie Dickins

art book for kids

With amazing facts, clear explanations, and stunning photography and information on everything from cave drawing to photography and digital images to famous sculptures this is the essential introduction to the art world for children. >> Art A Children's Encyclopedia by David Taylor and Susie Hodge

history of paintings

The beauty of this book is its large format which means the art is reproduced on a wonderfully impactful scale that will engage children. Plus the friendly text and illustrations will help kidsto appreciate the art, by highlighting interesting biographical details and picking out key details to spot in the boom - and it they get to see the art in real life. >> The Story of Paintings: A history of art for children by Nick Manning and Illustrated by Brita Granstrom

modern art book

The perfect introduction for children into art made since the 1960s. Featuring artworks from one of the worlds leading collections of modern and contemporary art, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, it has lively and engaging text that introduces the art and ideas to young readers, with background information, fascinating stories and intriguing questions which encourage children to engage directly with this dynamic and exciting art form. >> What is Contemporary Art?: A Children's Guide by Jacky Klein and Suzy Klein