Explorers in the gallery: Art Gallery of NSW with kids

Have you read “The Shape Game”? It’s another Anthony Browne picture book. (I already blogged on Browne’s “The Tunnel” in my post about Choosing books to engage kids in reading.) If you’re not familiar with Anthony Browne, it’s worth your time to find some of his work. He’s a prolific British author/illustrator, and the creator of many of our favourite picture books.

“The Shape Game” is about a family who visit an art gallery together, and have their hearts and minds opened by the experience. Browne’s message is about the transformative and restorative power of the imagination, and its ability to strengthen relationships.

shape game

Have you ever set about tracing the footsteps of a book you have read with your kids? If you haven’t, give it a go! It’s great fun. “We’re going on a bearhunt” is an obvious choice. We hunt bears all the time!

“The Shape Game” is also a great book to use. Not only are you linking kids’ literature to real life, but you get to go on an adventure to a gallery, broadening your children’s cultural experience even more. Kids get much more from the gallery, too, when they are already familiar with what it’s all about.

I brought “The Shape Game” home a few weeks ago, and Phoebe and Blake were hooked straight away, particularly Phoebe, who definitely has an affinity for the visual. Blake’s an auditory chap. He enjoys the sound of words, music and songs. He finds it easy to remember song lyrics, and wants us to repeat things to help him remember. Phoebe, on the other hand, learns visually. She is much better at drawing and writing, and can recall most of the alphabet visually. Ah, nature. I love the twins’ differences even more than their similarities!

As a parent and as a teacher, I have clearly seen how the deepest learning takes place when kids are engaged, when they can see the relevance of what they’re doing, and link it to what they already know. P and B enjoyed the gallery so much more after reading “The Shape Game” than if I’d taken them along with no prior learning about art, or the art gallery. When kids love what they are doing, and build on past experiences, learning is fun, and they don’t even realise they’re learning!

As a result of their interest in “The Shape Game”, I decided it was the right time to take Phoebe and Blake on their first expedition to the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney. At almost-four, they were very excited about taking the train into town, wandering through Hyde Park and across the Domain to the gallery. (Of course, the train ride is always a highlight). Entry to the Art Gallery of NSW is free for everyone, so it’s not an expensive day out.

We made the adventure even more fun by posing for photos that mimicked many of the images from the picture book. It was a blast! Here is my little collage of art and life.

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shape game

Look at how we bonded over art!


After the gallery (hunger drove us out into the welcoming autumnal sun), we ran free in The Domain:


We made an epic trek through the Botanic Gardens, around the foreshore, and ran up and down the Opera House steps. Blake was more interested in the cracks in the pavement than anything else:


Still smiling as we headed home, P and B are already too cool to sit with Mum:


And, to me, THAT is why literature is so important, even for preschoolers! Because it comments on the world in which we live, tells us about who we are, who we can be, where we can go, and what we can see, forever expanding our horizons. What a day!

So give it a go – live the book! And don’t forget to discuss what you’re reading with your kids. Ask them questions as you go, talk about the pictures, and you’ll do more than just read, you’ll bring books to life.

I’d love to know your favourite picture books, past and present. What do your kids enjoy reading?

  • Our Favorite (Fiction) Penguin Picture Books (thepicturebookreview.com) – this is not only an awesome site for picture book ideas and reviews, but this post is all about books about penguins, and features one of our other favourite books called “Lost and Found” by Oliver Jeffers, a beautiful story about a lonely penguin, and finding friendship.
  • Notes From the Kids Staff (bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com) – from a bookstore in Austin, Texas, come some suggestions for new picture books. The last one featured is a wordless picture book – have you read any?
  • Children’s Picture Books Better than Vocabulary Books, Study Reports (counselheal.com) – an interesting study suggesting that the discussion created between parents and children by wordless picture books is actually more conducive to learning than simply reading books.
Activities for Children Lessons Learnt Journal Kids Co-Op

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22 thoughts on “Explorers in the gallery: Art Gallery of NSW with kids

    • I remember that one! I think we might have it. Will have to get it out. I just borrowed a bunch from the school library today. Jeannie Baker’s “Window” is a fave with the kids and we haven’t read it for a while. 🙂

  1. I think I want you you to adopt me as one of your explorers, it all sounds like so much fun 🙂 JenJen

  2. Oh, Lisa. Another fantastic entry. Picture books are huge in my children’s childhood memories, and we had quite a collection of beach stories that we loved to enact on our holidays. Magic Beach remains the all time favourite, but Looking for Crabs is also beautiful and fondly remembered. Jeannie Baker’s newer book, Mirror, is spectacular, although for when the twins are a little older, I think. The Polar Express is our bedtime on Christmas Eve read… to this day. It’s illustrations are beautiful. And Bamboozled is a beautifully crazy book about a topsy turvy alternate reality and a very silly Grandad. If you have a particular interest in penguins… I hope you own Cuddly Dudley!

  3. I LOVE the shape game! We’re yet to explore the art gallery, but you’ve inspired me to look into it. LOL about the cracks in the pavement at the Sydney Opera House – priceless! xo P

  4. How cool. Those pics are gas. I spent a lot of time at the nsw gallery when my daughter was younger but never thought of doing anything so imaginative. I loved the bear hunt – my daughter was scared of it for a long time because the pics were so graphic in the book she had – we spend a lot of time outdoors so I guess without realizing it we have imitated this book, minus the bear 🙂

    • Haha thanks Kim! My kids love the bearhunt. They fight over who is going to be the bear in the cave and can’t wait to jump out and chase the rest of us home and under the covers. It’s hilarious!

      • Look forward to the read, we don’t travel very far due to my sons sensitivities to noise, so it is the big wide open spaces for us and not many trips to sydney, Im lucky I travelled a lot before kiddies. I am taking my daughter to see Taylor Swift in December and your post inspired me because I had not thought about the galleries and I know she would enjoy them…the mad artist that she is….thats my next post

  5. I just love how you used the picture book to inspire your visit. The photos that mimicked the images in the book are priceless! I’m so glad you linked this post to Discover and Explore. I’ll be featuring this post on Tuesday. Excited to see what you share for our Zoos and Wild Animals theme this week.

  6. Such a fun idea to mimic the artwork – love that hands-on exploration! Thanks for sharing at Discover & Explore — I too will be featuring your post this week (Shaunna & I sometimes overlap and do a dual feature when we find amazing ideas 😉

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