Engaging children in the arts

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“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

As a parent or caregiver, you’ve no doubt heard about the value of art (including all forms of creative expression, such as music, theater and dance) exposure for children: the development of fine motor skills, creativity, self-confidence and self-awareness, cultural awareness and cognitive, social-emotional and multisensory skills.

If the kids in your life are already engaged in artistic expression, great! Keep it up. But for those who may be a bit hesitant—or simply uninterested—there are ways to encourage their exploration. Below are some strategies for getting started.

Art is a process, not a product

The process of creating—art, music, a story or a dance sequence—holds the greatest developmental value for children. Talking with children about their creative process not only helps them articulate their creative vision, but also aids in the development of language skills, as they describe their process and choices.

1. Follow their lead: If your child expresses interest in something, pursue it and if it wanes, let it go. Try to expose them to everything they want to explore.

2. Ask open-ended questions about why they made the artistic choices they made.

3. Offer vocabulary for them to learn and use about their endeavor.

4. Look for art everywhere as inspiration: museums, plays, concerts, street fairs, public art installations—all of these can inspire a young artist and offer opportunities for discussion.

5. Make it fun and interactive: children learn best when they are engaged and having fun.

6. Give them an art space at home: If you have room, it’s great to create a space in your home for artistic expression. If your child is a visual artist, stocking the space with craft supplies is an incentive to get creative. For musical kids, a variety of sound makers. For actors, dancers and singers, a large mirror, costumes and props will encourage creative expression.

7. Honor your child’s work. Display your child’s artwork in your home or office—letting them select the pieces of which they are most proud—or share photos or videos of their performances with family and friends.

Low-cost arts opportunities at UW

Looking for low-cost opportunities to engage with the arts on the UW campus? Look no further than The UW Arts and Creativity Initiative (ArtsUW), a program that brings together students, artists, scholars and audiences in state-of-the-art facilities to catalyze creative discovery.

The Whole U offers discounted tickets to UW employees for a variety of local arts organizations, including the Seattle Symphony, Broadway at the Paramount, Creative Hands Art Studio, Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, among others.

Find arts classes and camps through Elevate Washington, a state-wide directory of camps, after-school classes, services and supports that help build lifelong skills, improve academic performance, provide safe spaces outside the school day and inspire young people to discover their passions.

University of Washington Youth and Teen Programs are for students who love to learn year-round. From coding and writing to everything in between, explore a variety of interesting classes and experiences throughout the year. Programs are available for students from pre-school through high school. Don’t miss Family Nature Classes at the Botanic Gardens!

UW’s KUOW, Seattle’s NPR news station, produces the youth program RadioActive to inspire and educate young people on the importance and impact of radio journalism. Since being permanently established in 2013, the program has served over 6,000 youth and has evolved into the vibrant, fast-paced and competitive radio journalism program it is today.

Additional resources

4 easy art projects inspired by a visit to Seattle Art Museum (Seattle’s Child)

Looking at art can change your perspective (The Whole U)