If you’re thinking of painting your baby’s nursery a calming blue or a pastel pink, think again.
Instead, consider lining the walls with bright contemporary artwork.
That’s Kathy Danko-McGhee’s advice. Director of education at the Toledo Museum of Art, she gave a tour of a collection involving two boldly colored paintings and one sculpture Friday afternoon to about 30 parents and their infants, all 18 months or younger.
Through her research on infants’ aesthetic preferences, she learned that bold colors and captivating visual stimuli promote early neuron connections in a baby’s brain and lay the groundwork for future learning.
Last summer, the museum began offering free, 30-minute tours to teach parents how to promote visual literacy for their children. A third painting in the museum is involved in the tours if time allows.
Babies kicked their legs, babbled, and pointed at French artist Henri Matisse’s Apollo, the first piece on the tour. Ms. Danko-McGhee encouraged parents to talk to their children about the colors and shapes in the monumental ceramic tile work.
“Look at these blue hearts,” she said and then pointed out a baby also wearing blue. “Make connections to your child if you or they have the same color in their clothing.”
Looking at the face of the Greek god Apollo the hunter at the center of the work, 5-month-old Haumaka Nui Hitorangi-Reams began to kick his feet excitedly. “He loves looking at colors and pictures,” said his mother, Christina Reams of Toledo. “This is a great way to see arts with the family.”
Ms. Danko-McGhee expects these reactions. She knows that the visual cortex is one of the first regions in the brain to develop, and the more exposure a baby has to vibrant stimuli, the better. “We know for a fact that babies in deprived environments will have smaller brains,” she said.
By learning to differentiate one color or shape from another in a piece of art, infants hone the skill set they will use later to read and write, she said.
“That doesn’t mean this tour will cause your babies to be able to read tonight,” Ms. Danko-McGhee said, “but doing this sort of thing with them is extremely important.”
Frank Stella’s La penna di hu captivated 4-month-old Logan Fox of Temperance. His mother, Connie Fox, carried him around the three-dimensional assemblage, and, entranced, his wide eyes locked onto the vibrant colors and geometric shapes.
“He is just really looking at it,” Ms. Fox said.
The tour finished before the babies could get fussy.
Ms. Danko-McGhee hopes to start offering the tours on weekends to better accommodate working parents. The next tour is at 6 p.m. Aug. 16.
Before the tour ended, museum docent Jone Catchings emphasized how important it is for children to have early experiences with art. Wearing an orange cardigan and hot pink dress that caught every baby’s eye, she said she hoped to see artworks by the babies hanging on the museum’s walls one day.
But for now, they are simply wide-eyed explorers soaking up the bright colors and bold shapes of contemporary art.
Contact Arielle Stambler at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.