A Great Way to Start Having Meaningful Conversations with Kids
In the wake of the recent tragedies in the US and abroad, I thought I'd share something that's helped me broach tough topics and encourage all-important conversations with children, both my students (I'm in the art-teaching biz) and my own kids.
Looking at and talking about... ART.
Ever since my son, Teddy, was a teeny tiny babe, we've hauled him around the city to see art. He's 4 now, and just starting to get interested, or maybe he's just reached that inquisitive age. Regardless, we've been having the greatest talks about everything under the sun, all prompted by weird and cool stuff we see at museums.
Art is the perfect tool for starting discussions about any topic (war, romantic love, beauty, greed, justice, you name it). Why? Because art, by nature, is compelling. Kids WANT to look at it. That's how you hook them.
Here's how to make it happen:
1. Go to a museum or cultural institution. It's important that you actually see the real thing. In Chicago, my favorites are:
The Art Institute, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chicago Cultural Center (free), Intuit, The National Museum of Mexican Art, The Smart Museum, The DePaul Art Museum, and The Museum of Contemporary Photography.
When you get there, let your children lead the way! You don't need to look at every artwork in the place. Encourage them to stop for a little longer at pieces that interest them. If they linger, ask them one or all of these questions.
1. What do you see? (Play "I spy" if that's easier)
2. Does it tell a story? What story does it tell?
3. Why do you think the artist made it?
Mom, you don't have to know the answers to #2 and #3!!! Seriously! Most of the time, nobody really knows the answers.
Let the conversation flow from there. If you think there's more to be addressed, go for it.
If you're wanting to go REALLY deep convo, you can always get "facts" from the label next to the art.
Try not to get frustrated if a) the conversation stinks 2) they want to touch everything 3) they get bored after 5 minutes. If they're little, they're going to need some coaching to get familiar with the expectations of a museum (you can go over this on the car ride/bus ride/walk there). Visit by visit, they will start to make progress and the conversations won't need to much prompting. If all else fails, take them to the children's area (most museums have these) or any variation of the snack shop.
You might naysay...
"Yeah, but what about the snob factor?" My response? Yes, there may be snobs who will shush your children and/or give you death stares. I've never encountered one.
"Yeah, but it's easier to take them to My Gym." My response? Yes, it is. BUT 1) you're supporting culture and encouraging your kids to do the same!!!! 2) I guarantee you won't have laughter-stifling convos about nudity or, seriously, the meaning of life, at My Gym. Go to My Gym after.
"Yeah, but museums are fraught with embedded racism, sexism, and cultural biases!" My response? Yes, true. Another great conversation in the making!
Let it be spontaneous and imperfect. The point is that you get your kids thinking about life's big ideas, or "essential questions," as they're called in education speak. There are no right answers. No wrong ones either.
I hope you try it! Three simple questions, that's it!!
Let me know how it goes!
What else do you do to get good convos going with your kids?
p.s. Almost all of these museums have free days. Also, your local Chicago Public Library has free passes you can "check out."
Cover photo is Teddy, age 4, Museum of Contemporary Photography