“That’s Vincent Van Gogh!”
Max, my 3 year old, exclaimed.
He spotted a picture of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, with my 6 year old sitting in front of it, while we were riffling through the pictures on my phone yesterday. My heart burst with pride.
It was two weeks ago we embarked on a wonderful week-long roadtrip across the province of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands. We visited some significant places along the Van Gogh trail.
The trip was an obviously success, in my mind, if my 3 year old recognises the painter and his works. After school I asked Angelina (8) and Hugo (7) what they remember of the trip and the artist. Some of the details they relayed were impressive. This is the sort of learning that’s difficult to achieve from a books and just the internet; this is hands on, experiential learning. It will stick with them and grow with them. My hope is that these sorts of visits sow the seeds for appreciation of art, history and heritage in them.
But lets rewind and consider:
Just how does one take young children on a journey of art and culture?
…And keep them engaged and interested?
1. Pick a theme
Try to find a personal connection; maybe pinpoint your passion and your children will pick up on that.
Ours was easy: it was the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death. Angelina learnt about his works in school already and for my children- being half Dutch- Van Gogh is part of their heritage. The choice was made easier by the fact that he is one of my favourite painters too.
My own preparation was a little more involved: I brushed up my art history (flicking back to things I’d learnt in high school). The key, I find, is to have an idea of the era and the influences. These make it easier to answer questions the kids may have and give them context. Most important, have stories to tell of the times the artist lived in and link it to things the children can relate to.
3. Less is more
On your trip, keep a balance. However much you, as the adult, want to see EVERYTHING, the kids will be a pain in the backside and ruin it for you unless you go at their speed and patience. In practice, for us this meant:
– We took longer in museums, building in interactive time with the kids and skipping sections (kids trails and activities are usually good for this);
– Apply the “divide and rule” principle if you have more than one adult. During some parts of the trip I took Max and their dad took Angelina and Hugo, then we’d swap. Sometimes Angelina, still keen to learn more, read more, went with her dad and I did something more hands on with the boys who were getting restless and unruly.
– We “translated” history into stories the kids could understand and relate, we asked them questions of how they interpreted the history;
It’s all about:
Stories, stories and more stories.
– We found playgrounds or market squares and made sure there was time to run and scoot around for 20 minutes or so;
– We resisted the temptation to see it all and only did the highlights of walking trails;
– We stuck to meal times and always had snacks and drinks at hand;
– An afternoon downtime was built in to our agenda, usually with a drive or boat trip.
Our actual trip was a little back to front- we started in Nuenen, then visited ‘s-Hertogenbosch, then onto Tilburg and finally Zundert.
The two other places that I would’ve loved to have featured on our trip, but would’ve been too much for us, at this stage: Amsterdam Van Gogh museum and the Kröller-Müller museum and park (a place that totally blow me away as a teenager and made me fall in love with Van Gogh and post-impressionists. I remember just standing in front of the works of art as if my feet were rooted there and then cycling through the park and sculpture gardens).
These go on our bucketlist, as I know we will be back in the Netherlands.
If you are coming from further afield I would recommend scheduling at least a day at the Kröller-Müller museum. It will be brilliant with kids, giving the perfect mix of outdoor activities and indoor inspiration.
To start in Amsterdam, I wrote my top tips for Amsterdam with kids. If you wanted to make your journey purely a Van Gogh journey, then swap the maritime museum with the Van Gogh museum, otherwise for a better understand of Dutch history and impact on the world, leave the Maritime museum in and go to the Van Gogh museum on the morning of Day 3. Then catch a train to Tilburg to the drawing rooms. Stay the night in Tilburg and hire a car to go to Zundert, Nuenen and the Kröller-Müller museum, counting a day at each. Return your car and spend 2 days in ‘s-Hertogenbosch before catching a train back to Schiphol airport (just an hour train ride).
4. Follow up
Like any good learning experience, it’s not enough to just visit and learn, but through revising and refreshing the memory later, we cement the learning. Since getting home, the kids have talked about their trip at school and we’ve encouraged them to create a little scrapbook of the trip. I’ve printed some of the pictures they’ve selected and put those on our fridge. These will migrate to their scrapbook too.
I have 2 little art projects planned for the coming weeks to try some of Van Gogh’s techniques.
We also have a book on order: I spotted a book during our trip with all of Van Gogh’s works. This hefty book will be join our coffee table books for them to go through.
Next time we are in London, I will also make a point to go to the National Gallery and find the famous sunflowers painting there.