The DAM Introducing Tours for Children Under 5

The DAM Introducing Tours for Children Under 5

After over a year of research and development, the Denver Art Museum is excited to introduce Creative Explorers, an engaging set of field trip activities for our youngest students—children under 5. Throughout the tour, students are actively engaged through a variety of hands-on, minds-on strategies, including tactile, storytelling, artmaking, and movement.

It is our hope that every tour drives young children and their grown-ups to look more closely, slow down, and attend to works of art in new ways. We consider our art collection to be a catalyst for fresh experiences that lead to creative thinking and expanded cultural awareness.

We believe:

  • art can make a difference for young children.
  • our spaces provide a place for imagination, curiosity and innovative thought to grow and thrive during these early years. Our spaces also provide a place for adults with young children to interact with each other in ways that broaden their perspective, add to their own learning about themselves and their children, and provide the possibility of building community among families.
  • the experiences we provide empower young children, building their confidence and their understanding of self and others, and their willingness to try new things and take ownership of their own learning.
  • our programming gives adults the opportunity to see their children in new ways and to interact with their children in ways that differ from other settings.

It has been an immense time of growth for our school tour program. This past school year we prototyped this new tour with 494 three-, four-, and five-year-olds from across the Denver metro area. We incorporated feedback from teachers, parents, docents, and staff. What has struck me the most about our youngest visitors is their vivid imaginations and unrelenting curiosity. I have told my colleagues that touring a group of four-year-olds allows you to look at the DAM’s collection through completely fresh eyes.

Some of my favorite observations and experiences include:

  • Kids noticing all the belly buttons on level 5 of the North Building.
  • A child confidently declaring: “I’m already an artist…I’m the BEST artist!”
  • Kids wondering what size shoes “Mud Lady” (in the artwork Mud Woman Rolls On) would wear.
  • A child saying that Nick Cave’s sculpture was a portrait of Chewbacca wearing a costume.

Mud Woman Rolls On, 2011. Roxanne Swentzell, Santa Clara. Unfired clay and plant fiber, 10 feet tall by 6.75 feet wide by 11 feet long. Denver Art Museum; Native Arts acquisition funds.

Over the summer we will be refining the tour activities and materials and preparing to train a dedicated corps of skilled docents who will begin leading these tours starting in November. I already can’t wait to notice new things, to ask new questions, to imagine new possibilities—all thanks to the fresh eyes of our youngest visitors.

Ellen Spangler is the school tour specialist in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. Ellen has been at the DAM since 2008 and her favorite artwork at the DAM is Mud Woman Rolls On, for which she gained a new appreciation after having a daughter in 2012. She is in constant awe of the fresh perspective that young children bring when experiencing art together.