Susan Riley | November 2013

Parent/Child Exhibits

As arts educators, we are constantly concerned with providing opportunities for our students to not only learn critical skills and processes in the arts, but also to showcase their work.  Often, this takes place through a winter and spring concert, rotating student artwork in the hallways or a gallery viewing.  Occasionally, we also might have the ability to share arts experiences through a culminating assembly with a visiting teaching artist or combine our artistic efforts with an “arts night”.

These are all tremendous endeavors and definitely provide distinct times when the community can come into our schools and see the exciting accomplishments of our students.  Yet, while attendance is heightened and we see the parents and grandparents all clapping and smiling as their children share their artistic talents, they are only half-engaged.

They are proud of their children and are excited to support their work.  But they haven’t been involved in the work from the beginning, so it is with the limited understanding that they participate.

Here’s the problem: parents become the endpoint, rather than the collaborators.

One of the ways that’s helpful in garnering deep parental support for the arts and to help them connect with their child is by offering parent and child exhibits opportunities.  There are a few ways that you can approach this strategy, but the impact on parents and their children is immediate.  The idea behind this approach is that parents and children create a project and child exhibits the work together.  This allows parents to participate in the artistic process, to be invested in the work, to celebrate and recognize their child’s unique abilities and to share in the presentation together.  This makes performance art a family affair and encourages a deeper desire to make the arts a priority in the lives of their children.

Family And Child Exhibits Tips

Here are a few examples of ways you can start this fantastic community event in your school:

1. Select-a-Project.

Send home an invitation to families to work on an art project together that they would like to exhibit in the winter or spring art night.  You can provide a selection of mediums, such as watercolor, drawing, clay, or weaving and a few sample ideas.  All of this should fit onto one page – keep it short and simple so that you don’t intimidate parents from giving it a try.  Parents can send in an artist’s statement that they create with their child about 3 weeks prior to the event.  Choose an area of the school (such as the library or cafeteria) to host the exhibit as part of your arts night and let everyone know in your monthly newsletter.

2. Host a weekly family arts class.

If you’d like to help foster more detailed work, try hosting a weekly family arts class after school.  Families who participate can have their work displayed in the family gallery during your scheduled arts night, or as part of a local arts organization child exhibits.  If pairing with a local arts organization, you may even be able to procure funding or additional space/teachers for the class.

3. Start a family choir.

You could either run it like the family arts class above, or you could record one song and distribute CDs/MP3s to your students and their families.  Families can rehearse together at home and you can have 1 or 2 rehearsals to pull everyone together before the performance at your winter or spring concert.

By offering these simple opportunities to your school families, you’re providing a valuable resource and experience that your students (and their parents!) will never forget.  Plus, you may walk away with stronger bonds and advocates for your program in the future.  This is truly integrated work that moves your classroom beyond your school and into the homes and hearts of your community!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan