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Give Your Child a Head Start on the Arts

"I didn't grow up with the arts," my friend Shelley confided over coffee recently. "Now I wish I had. I'd like to give my kids some exposure - want them to be able to enjoy art and music and to understand them more than I do. But I'm not really sure where to start."

Shelley was asking me for advice, not because of my music or art degree (I have neither), but just because I'm a megamom (11 kids, ages 4-30) with a track record. Maybe she'd noticed my kids da-da-da-da-ing along with Beethoven's Fifth. Or rehearsing lines from Shakespeare. Or studying a book of French Impressionism. Maybe she was impressed that they seemed comfortable and unembarrassed - as though Mozart was as valid a teen choice today as Back Street Boys.

And Shelley's hunch is right - I have had a lot to do with my kids' appreciation of the arts. But she'd probably be surprised to know I started out feeling pretty inadequate, asking the same questions she's asking now.

Then again, looking at my kids, how could she have known I grew up in a home where country music and black velvet paintings were the rule? That my mom was too exhausted from eking out a living to do much more than laundry on the weekend? That as a kid, I thought concerts and museums were only for school field trips?

But as a young mother, I knew I was in a position to change all that for my own kids. And I knew from my Montessori training that the best time to introduce my kids to anything was the early years - when all the windows of opportunity were wide open.

All this by way of saying - It's never too early to turn your kids on to the arts, and it's never too late for you!


In 1998, Georgia, South Dakota, and Tennessee hospitals began sending parents of newborns home not only with disposable diapers - but also with Mozart CDs. In Florida, legislation was introduced requiring government-funded child care centers to play classical music.

These innovations were spurred by studies showing that classical music improves academic performance. Now, just a couple years later, parents and teachers can buy background Bach for study time. And the studies continue: one shows that three-to-five-year-olds improve in spatial-temporal reasoning (the basis for engineering and math) after six months of piano lessons.

Above and beyond these fringe benefits, though, classical music is a rich addition to any child's life. And the earlier it's introduced, the better.

At Home

Try a little Mozart in the morning, a little Brahms at night. You'll find that a background of calm classical music will even out the tone at those cranky times of day - like when you're getting dinner ready. And if you've always thought of classical music as something for older folks, you'll be surprised at how even the youngest family members will prick up their ears at the first strains.

If you're not sure where to start, check the music store's children's section for many new classical CDs featuring works which hold the most kid appeal. There are even opera selections bundled especially with children in mind.

An added blessing for believing parents - some of the most inspired classical works are part of our Christian heritage. Handel's Messiah, for example, is a major work (three CDs) consisting solely of prophecies about Jesus and scriptures from his life, death, and resurrection. Listening to these verses set to rich music and sung by the world's greatest voices can be a powerful reinforcement of your family's faith - especially at Christmas and Easter.

Out and About

Check your local symphony box office for concerts aimed at children - sometimes called Lollipop Concerts. These feature short, compelling works that paint a picture or tell a story, often with commentary to help reveal what to listen for.

Look also for performances by young musicians. And help your children make the most of their symphony experience by an advance trip to the library for books with pictures of the various instruments, and tapes which teach how to recognize their sounds. If you know the concert program beforehand, listen to the selections a few times with your kids to familiarize them.

And don't forget dance. The Nutcracker at Christmas is a wonderful way to introduce your children to classical music. The vivid visual impressions will draw them into the music not just the first time, but each time they hear it and remember.


If pictures are worth a thousand words to us, they're worth a million to children. Perhaps especially to those with not-yet-extensive vocabularies.

Keep in mind how children's thinking develops. Little ones' minds dwell strictly in the concrete. The capacity to understand abstract concepts develops gradually and is grounded in examples they've encountered earlier. So, for instance, a child does not understand the word bravery, but he can see it in a soldier going into battle; does not understand the word devotion, but can see it in the way a mother looks at a child.

So along with exposure to lots of picture books, little children thrive on exposure to art.

At Home

For children, art education begins quite simply - by seeing art in his own environment. As a Montessori teacher, I was taught to think of the environment through a child's eyes. Imagine taking a tour of your house on your knees - what surrounds your child at his eye level? Even if you have some interesting art on your walls, at your eye-level it will be years before your children enjoy it.

One easy and inexpensive way to surround your child with art is to collect note cards with famous works, especially those that have a lot of kid-appeal, like Renoir's Girl with Watering Can or Winslow Homer's Crack the Whip. Buy small, ready-made frames, and then group your mini works of art here and there where your child is apt to spend time. If you have a reading nook, for example, hang pictures of people reading; by the coat rack, pictures of children playing outdoors.

Now and then, talk about the pictures and ask your child questions: "What are the boys doing? Why are they smiling? Does it look like it will rain?"

There are many exciting resources to expand your child's awareness of art at home. And if you, like I, find yourself discovering things right along with them - well, that's just all the more fun.

Out and About

If you're not familiar with nearby art museums, now's a good time to get to know them better. If you are familiar, just rethink them through your children's eyes.

When you make plans to visit an art museum together, prepare your child. Explain why you need to wear comfortable, quiet shoes, to use quiet voices, to look and not touch. Don't plan on seeing the whole museum in one visit, and be sure to take a break for lunch or a snack. Let your child set the pace (unless you need to help her slow down). When she is interested in a particular picture or sculpture, read the label nearby for the title, the artist's name, the date, and the medium.

If there's a gift shop, let your child pick out a few postcards of the works she likes. These will be the ones she'll never forget, the first items in her own art collection.

And as with music, much of our Christian heritage is represented in classical art. There's something very gratifying about having your child instantly recognizing the subject matter of a painting straight out of the Bible.


I'll never forget the year five of my kids - Josh, Matt, Ben, Zach, and Sophia - put on The Wizard of Oz for our family - their own production from the first idea to the last bow. Our family's big, so it lends itself to encouraging a flair for drama in our kids.

For smaller families who want to expose their kids to drama, you'll need to seek out opportunities. Check the phone book's yellow pages or your newspaper's weekly events pages for children's theater - classes, auditions, or current productions. If your children like drama, they'll probably enjoy a high school production of Sound of Music as much as a professional version.

Whatever you do, don't underestimate your kids' capacity. I've found children as young as nine to be very receptive to Shakespeare. Even if they don't understand every word, they understand the action and emotions.

Final Thoughts

Parents know that while most of us can learn more than one language, those who feel most comfortable with two languages were exposed to both from the earliest years. The same principle works in the area of the fine arts.

Early exposure - even the most casual - will enrich your children's lives now and as they grow. They'll be comfortable in the arts - and who knows? You may discover - because God doesn't limit our kids to the same gifts He's given us - a budding Picasso or Pavarotti living right under your roof.

Barbara and husband Tripp live in Waterford, Virginia, with 10 of their 12 children. Their two oldest daughters live nearby, homeschooling eight grandchildren. Barbara began homeschooling six children in 1993, but after six years began taking a year-by-year approach, seeking God's direction for each child to complete his/her education.

Visit Barbara's Web site at

Used by permission

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