Building Family Culture: The Arts

June 19, 2014 in Education

Ezra, painting, al fresco in Guatemala

Ezra, painting, al fresco in Guatemala

It is a great sadness to me that the Arts are being pulled from public schools.

With budget crunches, faced with the choice of fire a math teacher or let go an art teacher, when funding is dependent on test scores… tests in which art and music do not appear, it’s easy to understand why the choices are made. Still, it makes me sad, as a teacher, as a parent, and as a member of the larger community who believes that it’s the arts that give the sciences meaning, and form, much of the time.

As with most things, children pick up a love for the arts because it’s modeled for them. One of my husband’s most precious memories as a child was his Dad taking him to see the opera, Carmen. We took our kids to the Sydney Opera House to see their first opera: La Traviata, last year. I remember my parents spending the big bucks to take us to see stage productions and ballets, and cultural dance performances in Mexico. I’ll never forget seeing Guys and Dolls, starring Liza Minelli, at the Pantageous Theater in Los Angeles. I felt so cosmopolitan.

We’re fortunate, in our family, to have a rich heritage of arts on both sides, in both artists and those who appreciate the value. One of the things I love about my father-in-law is the way he works to sow that into his grandchildren. Elisha discovered his passion for cello as a result. It was Christmastime and Steve had arranged to take our entire family and all of his grandchildren to the orchestra for a performance. In the middle of a stunning cello solo by a homeschooled prodigy, my five year old leaned over and whispered, “I can play cello like that in my heart, Mama!” It was a very special evening, indeed.

We can sit around and despair the crumbling of society, and the sad state of affairs in schools, or, we can take it in hand to cultivate the things that call to a persons higher self and are the building blocks of greatness at home. We can create a Family Culture that is rich in the arts.

“But, how do we do that?”

As with most things, it’s just a matter of intention, and habit. It needn’t be a big production, in fact, it’s generally the sum total of a thousand tiny moments that form the bulk of a Family Culture. Where the Arts are concerned, the effort is two-fold, towards appreciation and experience. Let’s take a look at some broad categories and specific strategies, shall we?


Music is all around us, from commercial jingles to sweeping movie scores, to church choirs to radio pop. Everyone has their preferences for casual listening, and that’s a good start! However, why not work to stretch your child’s capacity to understand and enjoy a broad range of music throughout history and from around the world?


Play a different type of music for an hour every afternoon. Alternate between classical composers, music from around the world, and different genres.

Discuss the music, introduce the language of music, tone, beat, meter, chords, melody, harmony, soprano, tenor, base.

Borrow child friendly classics from the library, like The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, or Peter and the Wolf.

Watch the old classic musicals.

Take your kids to performances, even if they’re squirmy. Search for free performances through local churches or community centers, these are often good child-friendly beginnings.


Don’t just let them bang on the pots and pans, bang with them and play with rhythms together.

Provide child friendly instruments, from shakers, to drums, to simple stringed instruments, teach them to “play” not “bang.”

Take lessons, or go to mommy & me music classes if you can afford to. If not, check out music experience videos together at the library.

Suffer through the beginning years of instrument practice together, the results of diligence are worth it.

Who do you know who plays? Invite them (and their instrument) for dinner!

Attend an open mic night with your kids, encourage them to share what they can and appreciate the efforts of others

Graphic Arts

Drawing, painting, mosaics, and all sorts of other graphic arts are a wonderful way to introduce children to the world of wordless communication and visual storytelling. Children tend to be naturally drawn to the graphic arts, and we need to encourage them!


Go to the art museum! Many of them have “free” days, take advantage of them!

Read art centered books, like Linnea in Monet’s Garden.

Pick up old calendars with art prints at garage sales and in resale shops, cut them apart and make art posters.

Invest in some of the Art Cards by Bird Cage Press and play games!

Check out books from the library, the great big, coffee table style art print books, and thumb through together.

Cut apart calendar photos of great art and create puzzles for your child.

Laminate art prints and punch holes in them and make sewing cards.


Have an art center available at all times for your kids. Stock it with paper, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, water colour paints, and anything else you think will inspire their creativity.

Take art classes! If there aren’t any, organize some and let the moms take turns teaching an art!

Make it a habit to have a crafternoon each week. Go beyond crayons and markers and dive into something bigger, like print making, or acrylic painting, or mosaic making.

Imitate the greats. Work hard to faithfully reproduce a famous piece together. Then, take the same famous piece and do a completely new work that is only inspired by it.

Take advantage of any artists in your family, come right out and ask if they’ll teach your child about what they love.

Poetry & Literature

When we think of the arts, we sometimes overlook poetry and literature, that is a mistake. You might explain to your child that poetry is like the combination of music and graphic art, a poet paints pictures with words and sings them to the reader.


Read a poem every morning at breakfast. Famous Poems Old and New is a great anthology for a family.

Find a good classic literature list and begin working your way through.

Take your child to a poetry reading if you can find one.

Memorize poetry together.

Host a recitation evening for friends and family, everyone, young and old, should come prepared to share a poem, or a literature selection.


Write poetry together! The silly stuff, and introduce the ideas of meter and rhyme.

Get a workbook and learn about the different types and forms of poetry, try them together.

Have a haiku contest.

Get a set of magnetic poetry tiles and keep them on the fridge.

Read one of Aesop’s Fables every day before lunch, discuss the lesson.

Read children’s books that are also poems: Paul Revere’s Ride and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening are two we loved.


Sculpture is one of the Arts that gets less attention. It can be big, messy and it’s hard to check out a copy of Michelangelo’s David at the library! Nonetheless, it’s an important Art to cultivate because it gives physical form to the graphic drawings, and it is the intersection of math and science in physical form.


Stop and look at the sculptures in your town and neighbourhood. Learn about the people they represent.

Visit a sculpture garden or gallery if you can find one.

Visit the local art museum and head to the sculpture gallery first, instead of last.

Learn some Greek mythology so that you can tell those stories to your children when you encounter the sculptures.

Learn together about the secret language of sculptures, and what it means when a horse is on all fours, has one leg lifted, or is reared up under his rider.

Go to Paris, fall in love with Rodin.


Playdough is a good start. Make your own, the edible kind, just for fun!

Make plaster casts of each other’s faces

Hand each kid a package of straws and tape

Use toothpicks and marshmallows

Use air drying clay and then paint the creations

Go visit a potter and try using a wheel

Make snow men, or animals

Explore papier mâché


I am the first to admit that I am not particularly bent toward the dramatic. I enjoyed the drama class I took in high school, particularly the opportunity to play Antigone. My friend Jen has inspired me to try harder to incorporate liberal amounts of drama as an Art in my children’s lives, I’m always reaching to do better, and to do more!


Attend performances, from puppet shows at the library, to Christmas plays, to local school productions, to the touring company doing Swan Lake. GO!

Watch old movies, and discuss how acting and drama has changed.

Find youtube videos of the old silent shorts and laugh together.

Watch Shakespeare plays, I’m particularly fond of the Zeffirelli versions.

Better yet, see one live! We were lucky enough to see the children’s first in Stratford!


Act things out and pretend together.

Interpret music through your bodies, not dancing necessarily, but grow out of a seed to Verdi’s Spring, or pretend to sculpt the music of Bach.

Create your own plays, for friends and family, or just each other.

Get involved in local theater or children’s theater together.

Play charades.

Study the art of mime.


Here’s a little tip and a secret:

Make use of the home school classes and deals in your area. Sometimes museums have special rates for home educators. There are often special performances through your local arts council for home schooled kids and families that are dirt cheap or free. You could go to these! Your kids can take the “home school” classes, even if they are going to school. There’s no home schooling secret handshake or membership card being checked at the door! Everyone who is educating their kids in any capacity outside of the institutional organization we call school can come! You and your kids will be welcome!

Hopefully you’re coming away inspired, and with a few ideas of how you might create a culture of the Arts in your family. We can’t do much about what’s happening (or not) in the schools, but we certainly can work within our own homes to make sure that the children within our sphere of influence grow up with a rich Family Culture that includes the Arts.

Won’t you share your best ideas for building Arts appreciation and experience at home?