Museums, Galleries Let Kids Be the Artists

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By Jessica McFadden
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 31, 2008

In this era of standardized testing, student achievement targets and presidential candidates' dueling plans to raise students' competence in math and science, it is tempting to play down the importance of art education. But art teachers say that increasing children's opportunities to paint, draw and make art strengthens their critical thinking and academic performance.

"There are so many types of learners: some visual, some applied, each unique," says Karen O. Brown, an arts educator at the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian and area schools. "When you teach art, you have a better chance of getting through to a child. No matter what concept you're teaching, the child will think about the content in a new way, and art is the conduit."

But beyond just learning through art to get ahead, let's not forget: Getting messy with art is also good clean fun. As Alyssa Davis, 11, of Leesburg says of KidzArt, a national after-school arts program she attends at Tolbert Elementary, "I liked the different projects and being able to see something develop from nothing. We learned how to use watercolors, pencils, markers, charcoal, pastels. I love art, and this was a fun way to learn."

Here are a few fun opportunities in the area to create art, and maybe a few messes, with the kids.

Kennedy Center Multicultural Children's Book Festival

Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4700. All ages. Free.

For the 13th year, books of diverse cultures are brought to life for kids through interactive stations, performances and workshops at the Multicultural Children's Book Festival. (The bonus? It's a perfect opportunity to introduce your child to the Kennedy Center.) Kids can make books with Brown and learn to create collages with children's author and illustrator Adjoa Burrowes.

Artist, author and illustrator Edwin Fontánez will help children write and illustrate their own picture books. "The Kennedy Center brings in the best authors for this event especially for the children, and I am thrilled to be a part of it," Fontánez says. "I say I write for children, but I often feel about 5 years old myself. I can't wait."

The festival also includes storytelling, live music and dance performances. Free bookmarks and other small gifts will be distributed, and more than 400 titles for children will be on sale; a portion of book sale proceeds benefit the Kennedy Center's education programs.

ImaginAsia at the Freer Gallery Of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 7, 2-3 p.m. 1050 Independence Ave. SW, Sackler Gallery second-level classroom. . Ages 8-14 accompanied by an adult; no reservations required for groups of fewer than eight , but arrive on time; space is limited. Free.

The Freer and Sackler galleries strive to make visits to the museums exciting for adults and children. In the ImaginAsia programs, families explore Asian art exhibits at their own pace with age-appropriate guidebooks. After surveying the works, kids get to be the artists themselves. The ImaginAsia staff members encourage children to make a direct connection between the art in front of them and their own ability to create.

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