Soon after writing my recent “Think pink” post, I realized my homage to all things pink failed to include perhaps the finest pink thing the world has ever known—the newborn baby.
A masterpiece named Justin Anthony Henry
I was reminded when I opened an e-mail from a longtime friend that included a slide show of sorts featuring her first grandson, Justin Anthony (J.J.) Henry, born June 12 to proud parents Justin and Jessica Henry of Phoenix (and big sister Crystal).
My own firstborn, Christopher, turns 21 this summer, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our early years as a family. It never occurred to me in 1989 to ponder the role of art in his young life, but I feel older and wiser now—and recognize that even babies can benefit from exposure to the arts.
It’s hard to pick an age when arts are best introduced to children, but I’m certain one can’t start too soon assuming it’s within a safe, age-appropriate setting. Plenty of parents introduce art in utero by treating bulging bellies to a bit of Beethoven or Bach (though Mozart has managed to corner this market).
What is an artist if not curious, open-minded and engaged in some way with community? The best artists experience and reflect the world through a variety of senses, balance fine details with a bigger picture, and constantly hone their sensitivity to self and others.
All are qualities parents can cultivate in their babies almost from birth.
Once you’ve mastered the fine art of umbilical cord care and survived that first trimming of the tiniest of nails, settled the cloth v. disposable diaper debate, and learned the fine points of breast or bottle feeding your baby, give some thought to creating an arts-friendly environment.
There’s a lot you can do to both cultivate the artist within your own child and equip your child to fully appreciate the artwork of others. The following tips may help you get started.
Read good books aloud. Your baby loves the sound of your voice and will learn over time that reading (a gateway to the world’s finest literature) can be relaxing and fun.
Listen to diverse forms of music from a wide variety of cultures. Your baby will develop a taste for a rich musical menu much like the child who enjoys diverse types of food after experiencing them from a young age.
Take baby along to museums you enjoy. As your child grows, he’ll be more aware of what mom and dad do with their free time. Strolling though the mall or racing through the drive-through tell them you embrace consumerism and calories more than creativity.
Get to know kid-friendly museums. Places like the Arizona Museum for Youth and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix offer programs for the remarkably young, so be sure to partake early and often.
Create an art-friendly home. Babies are too young for glue and glitter, but they’ll benefit from homes that are safe to explore. Worry more about developing your child’s sense of wonderment than your white carpet or couches.
Think art for play time. Many of the toys my children enjoyed most were art-related. Think basket of percussion instruments. Fold-out puppet theater. Costume trunk of dress-up clothing. Sturdy painting easel. For babies, look for chunky books with art-related themes or original art illustrations.
Explore the great outdoors. Time spent with nature has inspired many fine painting, poems and more. Taking outdoor adventures together will heighten the many senses, including smell and touch, so essential to creating great photographs, sculpture and other works of art.
Consider the role of arts in education. Add an arts-rich environment to your list of things to look for in child-care and early education settings. Look for people and places that encourage your child to be active rather than passive, so he learns the joy of exploring and creating.
Support local artists. Buying diverse works of local artists—and enjoying the performance art of area dancers, musicians and actors—helps assure your child will grow up in an arts scene that’s rich and vibrant. That culture will continue to nurture your child long past infancy and into adulthood.
Finally, enjoy a lot of libraries together. We once invited a teenage friend to join us at the Burton Barr Central Library, one of many libraries we enjoy on a near-weekly basis. While doing homework alongside one of our daughters, she shared that it was the first time she’d ever been inside a library. I felt incredibly sad.
Libraries, like museums, only seem boring and stuffy to those who explore them too rarely or too late in life to feel their welcoming embrace. Public libraries are full of enchanting children’s spaces, rotating exhibits of intriguing art and vast collections of appealing literature.
Many libraries, as well as bookstores, offer a wealth of children’s programming for the very young—from storytimes and demonstations by local dancers to author meet and greets and puppet shows. While babies can’t read books, our children are always watching.
The way we spend our time, and the things we introduce them to during those first few years, tell our children of all ages what we value. Whether you’re parenting a baby or beyond, make time to explore the rich world of the arts. Sing, dance and pretend play with your baby.
For a time, our children see the world through our eyes. Show them the beautiful, the inspiring—and they’ll mirror it back to you.