Art and the Young Brain: Engaging Children in the Arts

This week the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota is excited to be part of the very first Mankato Art Crawl! As we gear up for the creative activities we have planned for the day, we also wanted to take this opportunity to share the many benefits that the arts have on young minds. Keep reading to learn ways to engage children in the arts, and be sure to add both the Mankato Art Crawl and our weekly Art Explorers program to your calendar!

Mankato Art Crawl

The Mankato Art Crawl will tak place on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Here at the Children’s Museum, we will be making art in the afternoon with a special guest, Artist Dinah Langsjoen who will also be doing a live painting project for the Museum. Come and get creative with us and celebrate all the art in Mankato!

Dinah Langsjoen is a freelance artist at Dinah Langsjoen Artworks and mother in the Mankato area. She is passionate about beautifying the community with art and loves cultivating experiences for youth that encourage their own involvement in the arts. She is a painter, illustrator, window painter, and muralist. She will be demonstrating her approach to creating outdoor plywood decor and inviting children and their caregivers to watch and ask questions about her process.

Our stop on the Crawl is geared toward families with kids, but we encourage you to participate in as many stops as your schedule allows. The Mankato artistic community is very good at maximizing accessibility for all ages and all artists. The 410 Project and the Mankato Makerspace regularly hold events for young artists, for example, and other galleries and art spaces are welcoming to children. Exposure to and participation in art is very important for young minds. We are lucky to be in a community that values that.

Creating art at the Childrens Museum Art Explorers


In the book Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, co-author Ivy Ross says, “Creativity is making new connections, new synapses,” explaining art’s effect on the brain is most impactful in children. The neural pathways created while engaging in art better prepare the brain for learning new skills throughout life, and not just art skills–math and science, too. 

“Children who engage in the arts are better learners,” Ross says. “Students with access to art education are five times less likely to drop out of school and four times more likely to be recognized with high achievement.”

Finger Paint art at the Childrens Museum during the Mankato Art Crawl

The connection between arts and learning has been studied by teachers for many years. But it’s only recently that technology has allowed scientists to actually see some of the changes in the brain that explain why. 

Of course, there are tons of other benefits to the arts as well: 

  1. Encourages Creativity and Imagination: Art is a platform for children to unleash their boundless creativity and imagination. Through art, kids can express themselves freely and explore different ideas, concepts, and perspectives. They can experiment with colors, shapes, and textures, and come up with unique creations that are truly their own. This process of creative thinking nurtures their imagination and helps them develop problem-solving skills that can be applied in various areas of life.
  2. Enhances Fine Motor Skills: Engaging in art activities requires children to manipulate various art materials, such as brushes, pencils, and clay, which helps improve their fine motor skills. As they learn to grip, control, and manipulate these tools, their hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and finger strength are developed. These skills are not only important for creating art but also for performing everyday tasks, such as writing, tying shoelaces, and buttoning clothes.
  3. Boosts Self-Confidence: When children create art, they develop a sense of ownership and pride in their creations. Displaying their artwork in the form of a drawing, painting, or sculpture can boost their self-confidence and sense of accomplishment. Art provides children with a safe space to express themselves without fear of judgment, which helps build their self-esteem and encourages them to take risks and try new things.
  4. Fosters Emotional Expression and Self-Awareness: Art can serve as a powerful tool for children to express their emotions and thoughts in a healthy and constructive way. It provides an outlet for them to channel their feelings, whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, or confusion. Through art, children learn to identify and understand their emotions, which fosters emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Art can also be therapeutic, helping children process difficult emotions and experiences.
  5. Cultivates Cultural and Historical Understanding: Art is a reflection of culture and history. By engaging in artistic activities, children can learn about different art forms, styles, and techniques from various cultures and time periods. This exposure to diverse art forms can cultivate their appreciation for different perspectives and foster their understanding and respect for other cultures and traditions.
  6. Encourages Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Art involves making choices and decisions, such as selecting colors, arranging shapes, and creating compositions. Engaging in these artistic processes helps children develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They learn to analyze, evaluate, and make decisions based on their artistic goals and preferences. These skills can be transferred to other areas of life, such as academics and decision-making in daily activities.
  7. Promotes Social Skills and Collaboration: Art can be a social activity, involving collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Children can engage in group art projects, where they learn to work together, share ideas, and compromise. They also learn to appreciate and respect the creativity of others, which promotes social skills and empathy. Art can also be a means of connecting with peers and building friendships, as children share their artwork and engage in discussions about their creative process.
  8. Encourages Appreciation for the Beauty Around Them: Art exposes children to the beauty in the world. Through art, they learn to observe and appreciate the aesthetics of nature, people, and objects. They learn to pay attention to details, colors, patterns, and more!


As caregivers, there are numerous ways to engage children with art and foster their creativity. Here are some ideas:

  1. Provide Access to Art Supplies: Make sure to have a variety of art supplies readily available for children to use, such as crayons, markers, colored pencils, paints, clay, and paper. Having a designated art space with a table, chairs, and art materials can encourage children to explore and create art freely.
    Creating with clay at the Childrens Museum Art Explorers
  2. Encourage Open-Ended Art Activities: Provide opportunities for open-ended art activities where children can use their imagination and creativity freely. Avoid giving them specific instructions or templates, and instead encourage them to express themselves in their own unique way. For example, let them create their own paintings, drawings, or sculptures without any predetermined outcomes.
  3. Incorporate Art into Everyday Activities: Find ways to incorporate art into everyday activities. For instance, encourage children to draw or doodle during quiet time or while waiting for a meal. They can also create handmade cards for special occasions or decorate their own room with their artwork. Art can be integrated into various aspects of their daily routine.
  4. Provide Exposure to Different Art Forms: Introduce children to different forms of art, such as paintings, sculptures, music, dance, theater, and literature. Take them to art museums, galleries, performances, and cultural events to expose them to different styles, techniques, and artists. Discuss and appreciate different forms of art with them, and encourage them to express their thoughts and opinions about what they see and hear.
  5. Engage in Collaborative Art Projects: Plan collaborative art projects where children can work together with their peers or family members. This can be a fun and interactive way to encourage teamwork, communication, and creativity. For example, they can work on a mural, a collage, or a group painting, where each child contributes their own ideas and artistic skills.
  6. Encourage Art Appreciation: Help children develop an appreciation for art by discussing and analyzing different artworks with them. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What do you see in this painting?”, “How does this sculpture make you feel?”, or “What do you think the artist was trying to convey?” Encourage them to express their opinions and interpretations, and validate their perspectives.
  7. Provide Supportive Feedback: Offer positive and constructive feedback when children create art. Acknowledge their efforts, creativity, and unique perspectives. Avoid criticizing or comparing their artwork with others, as this can discourage their creativity and self-expression. Instead, focus on praising their creativity and effort, and provide gentle suggestions for improvement if desired.
  8. Be a Role Model: Lead by example and engage in your own art activities. When children see caregivers expressing themselves through art, they are more likely to be inspired and motivated to do the same. Set aside time for your own creative pursuits, and share your own artwork with them. This can create a positive and supportive environment for artistic expression.

Create art at the Childrens Museum during the Mankato Art Crawl

Engaging children with art can have numerous positive impacts on their overall development. By providing them with opportunities to explore their creativity, express themselves, and appreciate different art forms, caregivers can foster their artistic skills, imagination, self-confidence, and critical thinking abilities. So, let’s encourage and support children in their artistic endeavors, and watch them thrive! See you at the Art Crawl!

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