Our first visit to Christchurch Art Gallery, when Naya was 15 months old, was a delight. She toddled around the almost empty gallery, enjoying the wooden floor under her feet. Every now and then, she’d stop and point at a painting, saying “da”. I’d take this as a prompt to lift her up to see the painting at her eye level and start ‘discussing’ it with her. We did this 5 or 6 times on that visit – that was enough to make the visit a pleasure to be repeated, with both of us enjoying our interaction.
We paced ourselves in a rhythm of physical activity and talk, led by the child’s attention:
walk – stop – lift to look – talk – walk
I chose the gallery but Naya then wandered at her own speed. As adults we find some pictures more interesting than others, and there’s no rule that says we have to look at each in turn. It is the adult’s job is to notice when a particular painting catches the child’s eye, and then follow their interest, going deeper through talking.
By lifting Naya up from the floor, I was doing two important things. First, her eye level came to middle of the painting so she could look at the whole of it as the artist intended. If she had looked up from the floor, she would have seen a distorted version – try sitting on the floor and looking up at one of the pictures on the walls in your house to get a toddler’s-eye view. Second, by gently holding her and talking quietly, I was supporting her attention and her looking, for longer than she could have maintained it herself.