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Making Art Accessible for Children

I first met primary school teacher and Cultural Education Developer Ruud van Ooij at our November 2014 Visible Thinking workshop. Since then we have met up again recently to discuss his inspiring art project which selects artworks and then pairs them with thinking routines and open-ended questions for use in the classroom by primary school teachers.  I asked him to write a guest blog post to explain more about the project which aims to make art more accessible to young children.  

The goal at the Nicolaasschool in Oss, where I work as a teacher, is to make children citizens of the planet. We want them to look at the world with an open mind and to develop social awareness. Therefore, we find the ability to reflect very important.

To make it as easy as possible for teachers to reflect with children, I am currently developing a set of cards with which teachers can look at and discuss art with their students. This project is being carried out with help from the Stedelijk Museum in Den Bosch and Kunstbalie. The front of each card will show the artwork and on the back there will be questions and information about the artwork and the artist. The questions will be based on Visible Thinking. It is a great way to structure thinking, and of course… make it visible! To learn more about Visible Thinking I followed a workshop with Claire Bown after having reading the book ‘Making Thinking Visible’ by Ron Ritchhart et al.

ruud blog post 1


Through using the routines in conversations, children learn to form their own opinions and at the same time are also confronted with other opinions. This will help them to listen and have respect for other views. With this way of looking at art there is no right or wrong, as long as you are able to explain yourself. Children become more aware of how to look without immediately giving an interpretation. I find this very refreshing

The artworks used in this project are from various sources. Working together with a few museums, some of the works can be viewed in real life. Some can be viewed around the corner from our school at Museum Jan Cunen, others for example are in the Stedelijk Museum in Den Bosch. This will hopefully help children find their way into museums!

To bring the art even closer to home, the project will also feature artwork that can be seen in the in Oss’ public space. What I notice myself is that you become so much more aware of the art you actually see every day, the artworks you don’t really ‘see’ anymore. By discussing these artworks in class you raise awareness of the art that’s out there, what details you can see and what the meaning is or might be. The connections between school and its cultural surroundings are strengthened.

Ruud blog post 3


Another way to make art more accessible is by including local artists next to other Dutch and international artists. The selected artworks focus most on modern art but covers a wide range of art disciplines, like paintings, sculptures, photography, street art and fashion and so on. The artworks also include a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. By selecting works children (and teachers) will be talking about, works or disciplines they  might otherwise not have looked at can be brought to their attention. This is done to make sure we teach our students to keep an open mind and introduce them to a lot of different art forms.

Visible thinking gives you great structures for conversations. With just one piece of art you can easily talk for half an hour. Because the routines slow you down, time flies by. It is fascinating to see how children can pick up thinking routines so quickly. They learn really fast to just ‘look’ first before giving their own meaning to the subject. I noticed how it is really important to use conditional language. There is so much difference in the feel of the questions “What is this?” opposed to “What do you think this might be?” It is exciting to see children becoming really enthusiastic about looking at art after only discussing a few works . With Visible thinking being used I’m positive that they will never look at art in the same way as they did before.