What's the best school holiday escape?

Canberra's art world is the perfect creative getaway for children, writes Karen Hardy.

From the moment a toddler first bangs a wooden spoon on a saucepan or finger paints with some spaghetti sauce, they are involved in the arts. Perhaps even before that, as we play music to them in the womb, or months later, play it to lull them to sleep. When we read stories, or give them a glue stick and some leaves, a piece of paper and a crayon or chalk and the pavement, we are exposing them to something vital for their development.

Dr David Sudmalis, acting director of community partnerships with the Australia Council for the Arts, says Australia has adopted a view of the arts where children are at the centre of the making process. Rather than simply viewing art at a gallery, for example, children are making paintings. Rather than watching performances, they are performing themselves.

Open canvas: Exposing children to art is rewarding.
Open canvas: Exposing children to art is rewarding. Photo: Thinkstock

''We're recognising the child as being an agent in their own creativity, being an active participant,'' he says.

''It's about expression, about being given the ability to be able to communicate in a variety of ways.''

Inspirational: The National Gallery of Australia at Parkes Place, Canberra.
Inspirational: The National Gallery of Australia at Parkes Place, Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

Sudmalis says the research is showing that children who more frequently participated in the arts, be it music, art, drama or dance, also tended to be more academically engaged, academically motivated in other subjects, had higher self esteem and a greater sense of meaning in life.

''What's coming to the fore in the terms of the research is the way a whole suite of other skills are being developed

as well,'' he says. ''We talk about communication, we talk about analysis, a student's ability to be flexible, to unlearn and to relearn and to be able to be critical of their own endeavours.

''That suite of skills is always at the heart of getting on with the world.''

Framework: Canberra has ample avenues for children to absorb the art world.
Framework: Canberra has ample avenues for children to absorb the art world. Photo: Thinkstock

Here in Canberra, there is ample opportunity for children and their parents to have access to the arts. Whether or not your child's school has a sufficient art program, and many don't, as a parent it is easy to take responsibility yourself. With the school holidays upon us, what better opportunity to take everyone outside their comfort zone and experience the arts?

Rose Marin, a mother of two, moved to Canberra with her family a year ago and can't believe the access children and families have to creative places.

"We're just so incredibly lucky here in Canberra to have access to such incredible facilities and they all run really amazing programs," Marin says.

Which is something, given that Marin is the family program co-ordinator in the Learning and Access team at the National Gallery of Australia; she's speaking from both a personal and professional perspective. A qualified visual art teacher, she has worked as an educator in schools, aged-care facilities, disabilities services and tertiary institutions and earned national recognition for the programs she has run.

She believes the engagement of children in the arts is no less important than the engagement of adults and says institutions worldwide are recognising that they have to have programs specifically for children.

The Family Room at the NGA first opened in 2008 for the Degas: Master of French Art exhibition. Children of all ages were exposed to ballerinas and horses and dance halls. Other major exhibitions to incorporate the room include Masterpieces from Paris, Ballets Russes, Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons, Renaissance, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge, Turner from the Tate and now Gold and the Incas.

"From the beginning, the response to the Family Room has been so overwhelmingly positive," says Marin.

"We recognise people are understanding that children and families need to be catered for. The idea of the room, this space, where they can go, which allows them to explore their own ideas,'' she says.

If the idea of institutions scares you, one of the simplest things you can do is read to your child, according to author Jackie French.

In her role as Australian Children's Laureate, she is tasked with promoting the transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians and says literature plays a crucial role.

"If you want your kid to be intelligent, give them books," she says.

"Each work of fiction literally helps create new neurones as kids build up their mental muscles. If a child reads 100 books they'll have become every character within them, they'll have seen 100 worlds more deeply than they ever could on television.

''The more depth and complexity the book has, the more 'mind building' it will engender."

She says while "this is all very worthy", the real reason to give children literature is for the same reason adults read it, write it and love it.

"It's fun, even when it stretches our minds and lives or makes us cry."

What's on for the children

National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra
Phone: 6240 6411; nga.gov.au

Gold and the Incas: Lost worlds of Peru (family activity room)
Open during exhibition hours until April 21. Children ages 2-12, to be accompanied.
Discover the amazing cultures of South America through creativity and exploration. Enter the underworld in the treasure-filled tunnel. Trade goods along the Alpaca trail before adding to the gold and silver garden. Spin alpaca fibre as you watch the sun and moon trace across the sky. Transform into a god-like being in the many costumes available and decorate ceramics with fantastic creatures. Entry is included in exhibition ticket.

A little look at art
Wednesday, April 16, 10am-noon
Ages 0-2 and parents/carers
Join a voluntary guide for an informal tour of the gallery for parents and babies. Followed by coffee and muffins. $12, $10 members/concession. Bookings essential.  

Foiled! A metal embossing workshop
Wednesday, April 16, 10am-noon
Ages 8-12
Using brass and copper sheeting, emboss and stamp metal tiles in the style of precious metalwork of the ancient Incans. $25, $20 child members,  numbers limited to 10.
Creative meditation for children
Wednesday, April 23, 10.30am-11am ages 5-7
Repeated 2-2.45pm, ages 8-12
Spending a quiet time in the presence of evocative artworks   inspires children and their sense of wonder and delight in the world. Led by Dianne Bourke, child meditation facilitator and guided imagery specialist,  these sessions enable children to spend quiet time reflecting on the art, explore their emotional responses, reflect through  meditation and then share their experiences. Free. Places limited. Bookings essential.

Australian National Botanical Gardens
Clunies Ross Street, Acton
Phone: 6250 9540; anbg.gov.au

Easter craft
Friday, April 18-Monday, April 21, daily 9.30am-4.30pm
All ages
Celebrate Easter in the gardens and make your own Bilby mask or other Easter masterpiece. Drop by the visitor centre and let your creativity go wild, then wander the gardens with your creation.

Canberra Museum and Gallery
176 London Circuit, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: 6207 3968; museumsandgalleries.act.gov.au/

Move me!
Tuesday, April 15, 10am-2pm (5-8 years)
Wednesday, April 16,  10am-2pm (9-12 years)
Sidney Nolan’s painted narrative is like a series of still frames from a movie. Children will engage with the paintings and stories in The Nolan Collection, and then make  movies using low-tech and hi-tech methods in the CMAG studio. $20 (ACT M&G members $15). Bring  own snacks, lunch and a drink. Bookings essential.

Mugga-Mugga Cottage
129 Narrabundah Lane, Symonston
Phone: 6207 3968; museumsandgalleries.act.gov.au

Who’s nesting at Mugga-Mugga?
Tuesday, April 15, 10am-12pm, children aged 5-7
Wednesday,  April 16, 10am-2pm, children 9-12
Learn to make nests just like the birds in this school holiday program at Mugga-Mugga Cottage. Watch for birds in the cottage garden and then gather materials to weave your own nest. Bring snacks, lunch and a drink. Cost: $10. Bookings essential by 4pm tomorrow.

National Portrait Gallery
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Phone: 6102 7170; portrait.gov.au

Story time
Tuesday, April 15, 11am-12.30pm
All ages and abilities
Listen to children’s stories about Ned Kelly and James Cook and create your own visual response. All children must be accompanied. $5 a  child (materials included). Bookings essential.

Drawn in
Sunday, April 20, 1-3pm
All ages and abilities
Draw while listening to Matt Withers. All materials provided. Withers is a PhD candidate and head of guitar at the University of Canberra Music as well as a director of the Canberra Classical Guitar Society.

Belconnen Arts Centre
118 Emu Bank, Belconnen
Phone: 6173 3300; belconnenartscentre.com.au

Brilliant Bookmaking and cover design with Mimi King
Tuesday, April 15, 10am-noon
All ages

Participants will look at the processes involved in producing a book. You will write an outline for your own story and design a cover for the book.

Rainbows Galore with Holly Edworthy
Wednesday, April 16, 10am-noon. All ages

Wrap yourself in a rainbow! Explore easy marbling, painting, oil pastels, and more as you make your own amazing rainbow.

Ted in Jeans! with Nicolette Black
Thursday, April 17, 10am-noon. Ages 5-12 (Accompanying adult for under 7s.)

Make your very own unique Ted. Turn a bit of recycled denim into a cuddly teddy bear in this fun workshop. Please wear old clothes in preparation for some serious splattering. $15 per workshop plus booking fee, includes materials, accompanying adults free.

Women's Business - Intensive Weave with Ann McMahon
Tuesday, April 15 and Thursday, April 17, 1-4pm. All ages.

School-age participants must be accompanied by an adult. Unaccompanied adults also welcome.

Textile artist Ann McMahon will lead an intensive weave workshop, designed as an inclusive shared experience for mothers (or grandmas, aunties etc) and their daughters. The workshop will introduce string making and basketry techniques using natural (plant) fibre materials. All materials are provided, please bring scissors. $20 per workshop (for two participants) plus booking fee, includes material.

King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Phone: (02) 6270 2800; questacon.edu.au

3D Design
Monday, April 14
Recommended for children aged 10-15.

Join us these holidays for a full-day workshop of fun and creativity. Can you design and print your own object in three dimensions? Each workshop has a stand-alone activity and runs for a single day. Questacon also has a full program of science-related activities not to be missed either.

Canberra Glassworks
11 Wentworth Ave, Kingston
Phone: 6260 7005; canberraglassworks.com

Make Your Own
April 16-27, 10.30am-1pm. Ages 8+

Try your hand at creating a glass tile using eggs and chocolate as your inspiration. Using your imagination, think about what the taste of chocolate would look like and then make it in glass. A glass artist will guide you through the process and in just 20 minutes your unique piece of art will be ready to be kiln formed. $40.

Growing a Forest
April 16, 17, 23, 24, 9.30-12.30 (extra class on April 16, 1-4pm). Ages 8-14

This class will start in The Tree exhibition and then move upstairs to the Engine Room. Students will be taught how to cut glass and construct a coloured glass tile that will be fused in the kiln. We will, through discussion, "pull The Tree apart" and participants will make two to three small free-fused glass forms based on the tree. Fused glass and kiln firings will be explained during this class. $120 for a three-hour class. Bookings essential.

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent, Acton
Phone: 6208 5000; nma.gov.au

Museum maestros
April 14-17, April 22-25, 10am-1pm. All ages

The National Museum of Australia continues its popular school holiday program this autumn with the theme ''Museum maestros'', inspired by the musical instruments made out of everyday materials in its Journeys gallery. Discovery Space: Museum maestros invites children to create their own musical instrument using recycled and surprising materials. Drums, maracas, trumpets, panpipes, tambourines and chimes are some of the instruments children can make during the workshops. Families can also experience a musical trail in the Garden of Australian Dreams to ignite their musical curiosity through a range of specially created interactive exhibits.

Treloar Crescent, Campbell
Phone: 6243 4211; awm.gov.au

Drop-in craft
Thursday, April 17 and 24, 11.30am-12.30pm and 2.30-3.30pm. All ages

Make your own animal puppet, bookmark, or poppy to take home. Education space, lower galleries, free.

Women in war
April 11-14, 18, 19, 21, 24, 26, 27, 11.40 am, 12.40pm, and 1.40pm. All ages

See actor Leith Arundel in two moving performances, Last letters and Radio silence, relating to the experiences of women during wartime. ANZAC Hall, free.

Drawn from the collection
Monday, April 14 10.30am-12.30pm. Suitable for children aged 6 and over

Explore the Memorial's extensive collection of paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures, and artefacts. Using these items as inspiration, children will participate in drawing activities aimed at extending their observation and interpretation skills. $15 a child, $10 for Friends of the Memorial. Bookings essential.

Model-making workshop
Wednesday, April 16, 10.30am-12.30pm. Suitable for children aged 12 and over.

Scale Modellers Society. Children will explore the Dam Busters' missions and aircraft before building their own model aircraft to take home. $20 a child, $15 for Friends of the Memorial. Bookings essential.

National Library of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra
Phone: 6262 1111; nla.gov.au

Children and Families: Autumn Storytime
Tuesday, April 15, 11.30am-12.30pm. All ages

Come and share your love of reading. Listen to stories by children's authors whose work is held in the library's collection. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Bring lunch and stay for a movie. Conference Room.

Children and Families: Dreaming Animated Short Films
Thursday, April 17, 1pm-2.15pm. All ages

Enjoy animated short films exploring Dreaming stories. Includes Lurujarri Dreaming (2013, 30mins, G), a beautiful exploration of Goolarabooloo song lines from Western Australia, and (2011, 40mins, G), where three Flinders Ranges children tell tales of the ancient creatures of their country.

Children and Families: Creative Meditation Workshops
Thursday, April 17, 10.30-11.30am. Ages 5-7

Explore the Luminous World exhibition through discussion, meditation and creative responses. Children can reflect on artworks, music and objects in a conversation about light.

Children and Families: Creative Meditation Workshops
Thursday, April 17, 2-3.30pm. Ages 8-12

Explore the Luminous World exhibition through discussion, meditation and creative responses. Children can reflect on artworks, music and objects in a conversation about light.