30+ Ways To Immerse Kids in the Arts

how to immerse your kids in the arts

Experience Music Project CC by 2.0 Nicola

Artistic passion is second nature for young children. They draw and paint eagerly, sing unselfconsciously, choreograph their own dances, and act out dramas using whatever is nearby as props. Unless they have models of creative expression and time for artful play,  kids tend to shut down in the early elementary years.

It helps when we include the arts in our conversations as naturally as we talk about what to eat for dinner. It also helps when kids see us pursue our own creative endeavors. As with anything, it’s what we pay attention to that we magnify.

There are endless ways to keep the arts alive in our children’s lives. Here are a few suggestions.


Sketching & Painting

make art fun and accessible

~Keep open-ended art supplies available. Make it easy to grab colored pencils, paints, and other materials. Try to stay relaxed about clean-up. It reduces stress if you can set up designed bins for supplies, plus a shelf or tabletop where projects can wait to be finished.

~Take a sketchbook along on outings. Our perceptions are awakened by new places. Try materials such as pastels, watercolor pencils, and charcoal. Use them on different papers against surfaces like tree bark or stone. Notice how texture, form and color abound in the natural world. Draw your impressions of light and shadow through trees, on the water, and along the street. It’s also fun to collect leaves and flowers, pounding them with a rock to release color onto the paper.

~Learn together. We’ve enjoyed Mona Brookes’ books, Drawing with Children and Drawing for Older Children and Teens. We also got plenty of mileage out of Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad

~Draw rebus pictures.  Rebus pictures inject light-hearted personality to lists, notes, and stories in a cartoonish way. Rebuses, if you don’t remember from preschool, are simple pictures used to replace the occasional word. Even a quickly rendered image is pretty easy to recognize. On the rare occasions my dad and his brother wrote cards to each other, they injected some levity with rebus images.

~Ask others to contribute a drawing. A friend of mine enjoys asking people she meets to add a quick drawing of an imaginary creature to her sketchbook. She’s been collecting these sketches for years, keeping them between the pages of her own drawings. They provide a glimpse into friends as well as strangers, inspire her art, and help her family recognize imaginative powers in people of all ages.

~Encourage studies of the same area over a period of months. Lie on the living room rug or sit on a park bench. Look at this place from many angles, in different light, and then express that viewpoint in pencil, clay, collage or other media.  The study can be expanded. Draw the scene as it might have looked thousands of years ago, or to a creature that sees only temperature, or from a worm’s eye view.

~Draw the same thing repeatedly. You might choose to draw faces, or lamps, or shoes. Draw the tree in your back yard as it appears in different seasons and times of day. DaVinci did all sorts of studies of this sort. He drew page after page of noses, bird’s wings, and running water. This is a daydream-y exercise that invites you to find all sorts of nuances in your subject. You may not only become proficient at drawing salt shakers, but may notice salt shakers wherever you go.

 ~Doodle. This non-directed activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge.

 ~Let art serve as a diversion. Keep different art resources reserved for travel or situations with long wait times. The Anti-Coloring Book series and Klutz series as well as anything by Keri Smith are marvelous diversions. Keep a few on hand for variety.

~Pair art with writing. Encourage young children to dictate the story behind their artwork. They’ll love to hear you read it back. Offer to do this even after kids are old enough to write well — often you can print or type faster than they can, allowing their imaginations to fly more freely. Put together homemade books (or books using photo sharing sites) along with a memory or story. Take a nature journal outside. (Here’s more on keeping a nature notebook.)  Illustrate a funny saying, quote, or family joke. Make postcards and greeting cards to send (grandparents love these). Write about a dream and draw an impression of it.

~Share art.  Share paintings and drawings on social media. Frame and hang them on your walls in an ever-changing gallery. Or go big, setting up a children’s art exhibition at a local coffee shop, church, store, or recreation center.

 ~Express your feelings. We don’t have a lot of creative outlets to express our reactions to bad news, personal disappointments, fear, excitement, or anticipation. Channel them into art. This is downright therapeutic, whether you’re four or ninety-four.

 ~Get abstract. Take away the burden of recreating representational images. Paint a favorite smell, a new idea, a mood, a strong impression left when waking from a dream nearly forgotten, a taste, a laugh.

~Let kids explore art museums their own way. These institutions are meant to be enjoyed. Rather than make a museum trip an ordeal, stop by often to take in a new exhibit and don’t stay long. Let your children stroll along as interest leads them. You might decide to look for something specific on the way (one of my sons liked to spot animals, another son made it his quest to find anything airborne—birds, planes, angels, flying carpets). Making galleries places for discovery makes the collections more accessible and allows our children to feel comfortable there. Especially as kids get older, museum visits are more enjoyable when friends are along, We were often surprised to find that our 10th trip to a museum, where my kids clamored to see favorite sculptures and new exhibits, was the first trip for their friends. Teens are more likely to go for their own reasons, perhaps to sketch a particular work or to volunteer as docents.



let the arts come alive for kids

~Start early. Listen to music as you nurse your babies to sleep, imagining the wonderful association that child is making between sound and comfort (whether Bach or the blues). Make music paired with storytelling available to kids for bedtime listening, quiet time, or travel — especially those by storytellers such as Odds Bodkin (who started my kids’ love of Homer’s Odyssey) and Jim Weiss. A great selection is available at Gentle WindChinaberry, and your local library.

~Sing. Singing is wonderful for the mood as well as the body. When adults and older kids sing  here and there through the day, young children are empowered to make singing a more natural part of their lives. Sing silly songs about your daily activities, make up lyrics together, sing whatever song is in your head at the moment. (Yes, my teenagers were embarrassed by my singing tendencies. I just tried to sing more quietly.)

~Show wholehearted enthusiasm for sing-songy names, rhymes, and clapping games. These are timeless introductions to the arts and invaluable for early childhood learning.

~Dance. Turn up the tunes and move. There may be no more powerful incentive to get kids dancing. To expose kids to all sorts of dance, don’t forget dance videos, dance performances at fairs and art-in-the-park programs, and movies that incorporate dance from old musicals to the newest Bollywood releases. Several colleges and arts organizations near us offer student dance performances several times during the academic year with cheap (or free!) tickets for kids.

~Play for your own enjoyment. Drag out your old violin, teach yourself to play the harmonica, heck, learn to play an instrument that’s entirely free — spoons! Do it for yourself and the background sound of your home changes, instantly, to music played live. Once kids get accustomed to your playing they may not seem to pay much attention, but you’re building memories that they’ll later cherish.

~Gather musicians together. Combine instruments, however unlikely, for improvisation and fun. Get together a jam session, choir, or band with people in your family, neighborhood, church, or arts group. Help your community set up an annual Porchfest. Or just get together with your guitar-playing neighbor to share some tunes. Collaboration really does amp up the playfulness.

~Consider hosting house concerts. This is something we’ve started doing in our humble living room. For more information,  look to the folks at Concerts in Your Home.

~Get young kids involved in music and movement programs. Around us, most music-movement programs are prohibitively expense. We found a music therapy practice near us in Ohio that also offers active programs for kids of all ages at a very reasonable price. Widen your search terms to find one near you. Or find a musician or new music  grad interesting in hosting such a program.

~Check out music that sparks learning in a variety of subjects. Musicians United for Songs in the Classroom shares all sorts of songs as teaching tools to engage the learner.

~Take in live music whenever possible. If you live near a college town or urban area your choices will be larger. Often you can find free or low cost performances at festivals, ethnic fairs, period music celebrations, student and faculty recitals, and brown bag lunch concerts. It will likely help younger children if you talk beforehand about what to watch for and listen for. Young children may enjoy a concert more if they are allowed to bring along a small stuffed animal or toy that can dance on their laps, draw their impressions of the performance on a small sketchpad, or enjoy a normally illicit lollipop.

~Incorporate music into all areas of learning. Talk about the meaning of song lyrics, notice how musical style historically reflects the culture from which it emerged, look for the links between music and math, read about musicians, and watch some of the many extraordinary movies about the lives of musicians.


fun with the arts

CC by 2.0 Barbara Hobbs

~One word, puppets. Whether your characters are socks or fancy puppets, young kids have all sorts of fun putting on puppet shows. Doing so, they’re  also teaching themselves the elements of performance.

~Attend plays.  Children’s theater performances are cued to a short attention span, as kids get closer to the preteen years they’re more likely to enjoy longer performances. Many kids enjoy a play more if, beforehand, you read a synopsis or a picture book based on the play.

~Start a playwright’s club. We did this with young children while their older siblings took part in a book club. The kids made up stories together, then acted them out. We usually did this outdoors where trees and park benches served as scenery, scarves and sticks served as props. Older kids in a playwright’s club may be eager to write scripts, build sets, make costumes, and put on performances. They can also script and perform puppet shows, videos, animations, or other productions.

~Take part in community theater. Encourage interested kids to take theater workshop classes and, as they get older, try out for roles onstage or behind the scenes.

~Check into apprenticeships and mentoring experiences with musicians, artists, actors, costumers, stagehands, dancers, vocalists and others in the arts field. Simply ask people involved in the arts if they have considered taking individual students, offering a workshop, or allowing young people to shadow them for a day. You’d be surprised how many people are eager to share what they know with the next generation.


Arts in general

~Balance arts adventures. When you journey any distance to see a music performance, attend a play, or ramble through galleries make that stop one of several anticipated events.   Try to spot murals or other public art on the way. (When they were little my kids knew we’d arrived when they waved at the Guardians of Traffic pylons as we drove over the bridge to Cleveland.) Take a break in an ornate big city library, eat a packed lunch in a park, stroll through an open air market, pick up unusual snacks at an ethnic grocery, and let your child’s curiosity help guide the day’s events.  If part of the day incorporates a lot of sit down time (including the ride to and fro) be sure to balance that with movement, exploration, and sensory adventure.

~Take art walks. Identify a theme of interest. An architecture walk may focus on particular structures such as houses of worship and the meaning reflected in different styles of buildings you encounter. A sculpture walk may follow a map of the city’s historical district, but pay attention to unexpected things your children identify as sculpture. Try a “found art” walk with a camera or sketchbook, capturing what each person on the walk finds interesting. Or take a collage walk, where you and your children pick up objects to use later in an assemblage. If you are going with a group on an art walk you may want to find an expert to lead the walk.

~Use the brain-building tool of compare and contrast. Casually use it every now and then. Compare favorite TV shows to plays, puppet shows, and dance performances. Contrast an ethnic festival where one is exposed to the games, food, dances and music of a culture to the presentation of that culture in the media. When discussing any aspect of the arts it can be valuable to look at it from other viewpoints.

~Arts opportunities can be surprisingly cost-effective.  There are free and reduced price admissions, workshops, and programs in many areas. As kids approach their teen years it helps to get beyond age-narrowing classes to find (or create) collaborative arts engagement where teens paint murals, play music, put on shows, plan festivals, and more with other members of the community. Learning about culture takes place best in the midst of culture.

Somewhere not far from you there are plays in rehearsal, movies being filming, musicians practicing, sculptures being shaped, and dances being choreographed. Art is alive even in the most remote communities, although sometimes it takes people interested in energizing cultural affairs to get people connected. You may be one of those people.

involve kids in the arts early on

Keep the arts fun!

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning

Keeping Creativity Alive



“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”—Henry David Thoreau

Imagination springs from nowhere and brings something new to the world—games, art, inventions, stories, solutions. Childhood is particularly identified with this state, perhaps because creativity in adults is considered to be a trait possessed only by the artistic few.



Nurturing creativity in all its forms recognizes that humans are by nature generative beings. We need to create. The best approach may be to get out of one another’s way and welcome creativity as a life force.



If we are familiar with the process that takes us from vision to expression, we have the tools to use creativity throughout our lives. When we welcome the exuberance young children demonstrate as they dance around the room, talk to invisible friends, sing in the bathtub, and play made-up games we validate the importance of imagination.



When we encourage teens to leave room in their schedules for music or game design or skateboarding or whatever calls to them, we honor their need for self-expression. Young people who are comfortable with creativity can apply the same innovative mindset to their adult lives.



Creativity is necessary when dealing with an architectural dilemma, new recipe, marketing campaign, environmental solution, or personal relationship. In fact, it’s essential.



Imagination and inspiration have fueled human progress throughout time. Creative powers have brought us marvels and continue to expand the boundaries. The energy underlying the creative act is life-sustaining and honors the work of others.



But there’s a caveat. Creativity isn’t always positive, visionaries aren’t always compassionate, and progress isn’t always beneficial. After all, a clever mind is required to craft a conspiracy as well as to negotiate a peace accord.



Creativity is a life force when it arises as a healing impulse, as a truth-telling impulse, as an impulse to approach mystery.



Tomorrow’s possibilities call out to our inventive, imaginative selves. Let’s answer.



Portions of this post were excerpted from Free Range Learning.

Feeding Creativity With Constraints

Learning to Love You More, creativity thrives on constraints, innovation fueled by challenges, be odd, try something new,

Maybe an unusual assignment will amp up your creativity. Perhaps:

~make a poster of shadows

~write the phone call you wish you could have

~compose the saddest song

~describe your ideal government

~plant a surprise garden

~make a documentary video of a small child

These assignments were devised by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. Their work called them to be original every day, but they realized that their most enlivening experiences came when they worked under constraints. An assignment, a challenge, even an annoyance spurred them to different, sometimes more profoundly joyous productivity.

Although we set creative people off in a special category, being creative is simply part of the human experience. You’re creative all the time. You might change your approach to a difficult neighbor, tackle a work problem from a new angle, adapt a recipe to suit ingredients on hand, make up a game to amuse a fretful child, figure out another way to do your errands when a road is closed. We have to come up with new ideas and different tactics constantly. Often they’re imposed on us by obstacles. Annoying as constraints might be, as something original comes forth in response we’re likely to feel that zing of aliveness that creativity sparks.

Constraints can actually promote creativity. A study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, titled “Stepping back to see the big picture: when obstacles elicit global processing” explains that obstacles blow open the approach we ordinarily take. This even has a spill-over effect into the way we approach other challenges. As the researchers explain,

These studies show that encountering an obstacle in one task can elicit a more global, Gestalt-like processing style that automatically carries over to unrelated tasks, leading people to broaden their perception, open up mental categories, and improve at integrating seemingly unrelated concepts.

That’s why artists July and Fletcher developed a project, called Learning to Love You More, back in 2002. The idea was to encourage the general public to take on assignments, then post the results on the project’s site. The assignments are themselves a sort of constraint, forcing us to do something within new boundaries, thereby provoking a shift in perception of ourselves and the world around us. Creativity has a way of doing that.

A few years ago I wrote an article about Learning to Love You More for the Canadian magazine Geez. To prepare for the piece I did about ten of the projects; some with friends, some with my kids, some alone. Each one felt entirely odd and yet liberating. And because they were so unusual, they stand out in my memory, as we want the moments of our lives to do. Some assignments felt delightfully silly, like drawing constellations made of freckles (#9). Some felt radical, like making a public information plaque to hang at the door of City Hall (#62). Some felt fun, like creating a wind chime from a coat hanger and old kitchen utensils to hang on a parking lot tree (#15). Some felt wrenchingly poignant as I carried out the assignment, like this one.

All Holy

Assignment #63:  Make an encouraging banner. I cut a worn blanket into squares and shaped felt into letters to create a banner reading, “It’s All Holy.” The blanket was once my mother’s. The project not only re-purposed a ripped blanket but also satisfied my restlessness, as the day I spent creating the banner was the first anniversary of her death.

I hiked through the snow to hang the message outside between winter-bare trees. Beyond the banner lay our land where carefully tended free-range cows and chickens live.  On the other side, the banner’s words faced a conventional farm where animals are confined and raised on unnatural feed. I believe it’s all holy, but faith isn’t easily applied to real life. Standing there on a bright cold day with those words lifting in the breeze I could almost imagine what it would mean to live beyond concepts of good and bad, sorrow and joy, ordinary and sacred.

Somehow creativity thrives on the limitations found within the constraints of a particular challenge. One family, captivated by the Learning to Love You More project, did every assignment together. They ended up showing their work at a local gallery, giving talks titled “Art is Where You Find It and Everyone Can Do Art.”

The site is no longer listing new assignments, although previous submissions can be viewed. And the founders have put out a Learning to Love You More book. But we carry it on as long as we recognize just how enlivening challenges can be for ourselves, our kids, our creative lives.  Constraints, annoying as they may be, can push us to engage in new ways of seeing and being.

A Few Creativity Generators

16 Ways to Spark Creativity

Don’t Say It, Draw It

Throw Strangely Amusing Parties

38 Unexpected Ways to Revel in Snail Mail

7 Ways to Make Your Day More Magical

Have some ideas for quirky, fun, or heart-expanding Learning To Love You More type assignments? Share them in the comments.

Throw Strangely Amusing Parties

throw an art party,

We used to throw strangely amusing parties on a more regular basis. Box parties where kids made forts and mazes and castles out of huge boxes. Tie dye and batik parties that were a messy extravaganza of color. Science-y gatherings where everyone worked on the same ridiculous experiment with vastly different results. Even an election commiseration event where everyone had to bring a few jokes about a certain president whose name rhymed with “tush.”

The longest lasting tradition? Our summer pig pen parties. These were grand messy BYOB affairs, as in bring your own bucket—of dirt. It was dumped in a backyard kiddie pool and mixed by all children in attendance into perfectly creamy mud, which they used to coat themselves until they were recognizable only by bathing suit outlines. We put a garden hose at the top of our slide and the kids careened down in glorious streaks of mud. We handed out cans of shaving cream for use as body décor (with firm instructions to avoid faces because it’s not fun in the eyes). We brought out ample water balloon supplies. And we insisted the kids eat without utensils or hands, just direct face to plate. Like pigs. Of course these parties got out of hand once the grown-ups refused to sit in lawn chairs watching their kids have all the fun. Some neighbors showed up in pig masks, others showed up with water balloons sneakily hidden in baby strollers and red wagons, others brought massive auxiliary supplies of shaving cream. Normally well-behaved men used hoses to fill garbage cans with water, which they dumped over the heads of the few civilized mommies who thought they’d keep their hair looking nice. One year the entire assemblage of pig pen partiers were incensed that a regular pig pen attendee decided to stay home to repair a fence. All of us walked down to the street in wet, muddy, shaving cream streaked glory to drag him to the party. His police chief father who was there helping him make the repairs looked seriously alarmed. We dragged him anyway.

I’ve been fantasizing about a backyard Jackson Pollack party where everyone brings leftover paint to fling at canvases, maybe even using the giant trebuchet our kids built for some super-charged paint tossing. I can just see us all in splattered clothes, posing for a group picture with candy cigarettes hanging out of our mouths. What’s stopping me? I live with practical people who wonder if paint will get tracked in the house because partygoers are human and will eventually need to use the bathroom.

My recent event was a quietly civilized affair: a collage party for some artful cutting and pasting. I have all sorts of glue-able stuff here. Old sheet music, sewing patterns, stockbooks, wallpaper, tiny do-dads, lace, game pieces. All I asked people to bring were their own scissors, marked with their names (because scissors are migratory beasts) and a potluck offering. They brought a lot more glue-able stuff to share. I thought we’d stick down some background, let it dry while we ate and drank, then finish and move on to a second or third one each. But my friends ate and drank and talked while collaging. They didn’t want to stop cutting and arranging. It’s as if we all have too little time for something as simply satisfying as placing a scrap of paper on a page exactly as it pleases us. The event was less lively than the average pig pen party, that’s for sure. But it was restorative. No phones. No screens. Nothing else to do but indulge in the kind of play we call creating. I guess that doesn’t happen unless we make time for it.

Here’s a sample of collage party creations. (Some are backgrounds awaiting finishing touches.)

And let me know your ideas for strangely amusing events. I plan to steal them.

turn junk into collage,

art party,

make a collage, throw a collage party,

science collage,

16 Ways To Spark Creativity

how to be creative,

1. Get out of your head and back to your senses. Touch, smell, and taste. Reach out and feel the texture of bricks as you walk by a building. Forgo utensils to eat with your hands. Notice the sensation of cool water sliding down your throat as you drink. Be in your body.

2. Avoid your playlist. Listen to music from a genre or part of the world completely unfamiliar to you. Music is a language more evocative than speech.

spark your creativity,

3. Better yet, try silence. The constant presence of media playing in our homes, cars, and public places dulls the essential connection we have to our inner selves.

eliminate blocks to productivity,

4. List your aggravations. Highlight the ones you have control over. Cross out the ones you don’t have control over. It’s a smaller list now isn’t it? Once you stop fretting so much you have energy for more generative pursuits.

why you should doodle,

5. Doodle. What seems like an aimless activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge. And the doodles themselves may tell you something.

fun is good for your brain,

6. Play. We function best mentally and physically when we indulge in the free form fun sort of play that calls on us to improvise, move, and laugh. If you’ve forgotten how, consult a three-year-old.

Mateo Inurria: Daydream

7. Welcome daydreams, they fuel our creative lives.


8. Seek metaphors. Challenge yourself to discern a “message” in the first billboard you see, first sentence you hear when you turn on music, or first visual that appears when you flick on the TV.

Margret Hofheinz-Döring/ Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen

9. Listen to your dreams. Before falling asleep, ask for a dream message. Remind yourself to remember the dream. As you waken, pull the threads of your dream into your conscious awareness and let it inform your day.

“Sprich! Ich höre Dir zu”

10. Imagine your own burning questions are being asked of you by someone you love dearly. Then answer as if you’re talking to that person. Your responses tend to be more wide open, innovative, and kind when responding to someone you love, much narrower within your own “self-talk.”

spark your creativity,

11. Keep creative thinking notebooks, as da Vinci did. Use them to make quick sketches and doodles, note ideas, write observations, free associate, draw mindmaps, and keep track of your inspirations.

creativity exercises,

Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

12. View issues from all angles. Don’t accept what you’re told or think what you’re expected to think.

Danny Gregory

13. Don’t wait till you have more time or life gets easier. Cultivate a passion that has been dormant too long. Pick up that paintbrush, practice your guitar, try out for that play, take those glassblowing classes, learn to sail. For inspiration, take a look at Everyday Matters. Author Danny Gregory’s wife became paralyzed in an accident. While caring for her and their infant son, Gregory decided to start drawing. His study of color, value, and ordinary beauty helped to heal their family too. And you don’t want to miss his extraordinary new book, Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are.

teach yourself to be more creative,

14. Make an effort to connect regularly with something in nature. Watch the same tree as it changes throughout the seasons, pay attention to a body of water in different weather conditions, take an evening walk (no matter the temperature) each time there’s full moon.

Mary Barnes

15. Cultivate flow, what’s also called being “in the zone.” That’s the feeling of being fully absorbed in your activity. Time is irrelevant, in fact you may feel at one with the project whether it’s sailing, gardening, sculpting, composing, or welding.

16. Do something unusual (for you) every day. Try an unfamiliar food, drive a different route, make up your own lyrics to a song, compliment a stranger, make a unique board game out of an old one, laugh off an irritation, use a new word three different times, lie in the grass, write affirmations on your underwear, leave encouraging notes in books, compose an anti-thank you letter, go on a media fast, use binoculars, chew every bite ten times, do somersaults.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.       -Martha Graham