Chicago art scene can introduce kids to culture

A walk through the Art Institute of Chicago, a Tony Award-winning play at Goodman Theatre or a special concert at Symphony Center-for as long as you can remember, you’ve taken pleasure in them. They are occasions that still resonate and may even be bound up in important personal histories. It is where you first discovered you loved Modigliani or Mozart, or where your husband took you on your first date.

Programs to try

Museum of Contemporary

MCA Family Days (free)
Hands-on art activities;
Age 12 and under

The Art Institute of

Mini-Masters (free)
Gallery visits feature stories
and games; Age 3-5

Artist’s Studio (free)
Draw and explore the
Modern Wing; Age 6-12

Hubbard Street Dance

Discover Dance Family Workshops

Movement workshops led by
HSDC teaching artists; Age 3-8*

HS2 Family Matinee (free)
Performances and activities
are featured; Age 3-12

Chicago Symphony

Civic Orchestra of Chicago Concerts
The training orchestra of the
CSO, the Civic showcases the
most promising classical
musicians; Age: 8 and older

Tips from the pros

  • Take it easy. Don’t overdo it.
  • Follow the lead and interests of your child. Let them be the
  • Talk with your child about what they see, like and
  • Encourage children to question and express their thoughts.
  • Listen and let your children know their opinions matter.
  • Let your child react authentically, which may mean laughing
    when no one else is.
  • Leave while your child is still having fun and come back for

Now as your children grow, you want to instill in them an appreciation for the arts as part of your legacy. With your family’s full schedule and the economy challenging many household budgets, not to mention the seemingly limitless activities vying for your youngster’s attention, what is the best way to begin engaging your child in the city’s cultural landscape? Educators at some of Chicago’s leading arts organizations weighed in with practical advice about cultivating children’s interest in one of the world’s ultimate urban classrooms.

“Limit your focus. The biggest mistake is trying to do a whole museum. Three objects and lunch is a nice introduction,” advises Jean Sousa, director of interpretive exhibitions and family programs at the Art Institute. “Many children have collections, so talk about the museum as a collection.”

Goodman’s director of Education and Community Engagement, Willa Taylor, says children are natural arts patrons. “Kids do theater and performance all the time. They have imaginary friends. They have vivid internal scenes happening and you just have to tap into that.” Active engagement is key. After seeing a play, Taylor recommends reading the story at home and acting out the scenes. “If your child says the table is a castle, go with it.”

Steppenwolf Theatre’s Young Adult Artistic and Educational Director Hallie Gordon suggests attending performances that allow kids to talk to the actors or go backstage.

But arts educators also emphasize the importance of not underestimating what your child might enjoy.

Mark Riggleman, director of education at Lyric Opera, proposes this season’s “The Mikado” (which ends Jan. 21) as an ideal introduction to opera for children because it’s comical and performed in English.

In addition to numerous children’s books about opera and music, the Web can be a useful tool for parents. The webisode, “There’s Nothing Like Lyric,” gives young viewers an idea of what happens at the opera house.

Beyond the concert hall, parents can create a conducive environment at home by playing music, says Charles Grode, vice president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Institute for Learning, Access and Training.

The payoff shouldn’t be overlooked. Playing an instrument, for example, can help young children master mathematical concepts. Performing music with other kids can develop strong teamwork skills.

“Exposure to the arts allows children to explore other ways of communicating. It allows them to see multiple perspectives,” says Kathryn Humphreys, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s director of Education and Community Programs.

“Art changes how we see the world,” says Sousa.

Taylor believes the biggest advantage is that “the arts encourage children to see the beauty in the everyday.”

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