Toledo Museum of Art expands visual literacy campaign to toddlersWritten by Kevin Moore | | email@example.com
The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library have partnered together for ToddlerTime Tours, a multi-sensory experience designed to develop visual and textual literacy in children ages 18 to 36 months. ToddlerTime, which will have its first tour in February, is the latest in the museum’s efforts to encourage visual literacy.
What is visual literacy? The museum defines visual literacy as “the ability to derive meaning from images of everything that we see.” It is the ability for someone to look at something — a piece of art, a sculpture, a billboard, or even the pictures that come across Facebook and Twitter– and understand what it is he or she is looking at. Visual literacy sharpens the skills people use in everything from birdwatching to selecting produce at the grocery store.
“Visual literacy is a lost art form,” said TMA Director of Communications Kelly Garrow. “We don’t count on visual signals the way we used to. For example, paintings said a lot to the people living in the time they were created. By using colors and symbols an artist could convey concepts like love, lust, greed or innocence. But we lost these skills as textual literacy became more common and we focused on text-based learning.”
The museum’s director, Brian Kennedy, has been a champion of visual literacy since joining TMA in 2010. He has stated that visual literacy is the key sensory literacy and that it must be taught. In the museum’s view, we live in a world that has, rather quickly, become “supersaturated” with images due to digital media and the Internet. While traditional education tends to focus on textual and computer literacy, the future demands an educational shift towards sensory literacy as a form of critical thinking.
“The Lucas County Children’s Library had a very interesting workshop where they gave children picture books written in a foreign language, and they were asked to interpret the stories just from the pictures,” said Kathy Danko-McGhee, TMA’s Emma Leah Bippus director of education and head of visual literacy. “The children were able to read the stories through the pictures. It is important that children learn to read well, but visual literacy enhances textual literacy. The same skills are used.”
ToddlerTime Tours is a free, monthly program in two parts that begins either at the Maumee Branch or Main Library and then resumes at the museum the following week. At the library, toddlers and their parents will enjoy a librarian-led story hour themed around a work in the museum’s collection. A week later at the museum, they will participate in a hand-on, docent-led tour that focuses on that work. Children will be given a bag of manipulatives, objects such as feathers, fabrics, color swatches and bells that match the work of art
“The docent will ask questions like ‘Where is this color in the painting?’ or ‘What does this material feel like?’ The docent will also have a word list designed to broaden the children’s vocabulary and help their reading comprehension. Before they leave, parents will be given a take-home activity so that their educational experience continues at home as a family,” said Danko-McGhee. “We want to nurture a relationship between parent, child and museum. We want them to know they’re welcome here, and the museum isn’t just a place where you can’t touch things. It’s a fun place where you can see, touch and learn.”
A children’s librarian will be on-hand at the museum to bookend the two-part series with a storybook reading.
The museum has rolled out its visual literacy program gradually over the last few years, and the TMA staff is excited to be moving from the testing phase to implementation of many of its programs which target visual literacy in children as well as adults. One of the museum’s first developments was the production of The Art of Seeing Art, a free brochure for adults that instructs patrons in such concepts as shape, space and texture and prompts them to ask questions like “Is this work realistic or abstract?” TMA has also installed interactive stations throughout the museum, such as a magnetic sculpture-building station in the sculpture gallery, which reinforces the visual element of viewing art with the learning experience of tactile contact. The program even extends to the digital realm through its website www.vislit.org, which features videos, reading material and resources for teachers K-12.
To encourage visual literacy from the earliest ages, TMA began hosting its free 30-minute Baby Tours on a monthly basis in 2012. In this program, designed by Danko-McGhee, parents may bring their infants up to 18 months for a docent-guided tour of some of the museum’s most visually stimulating art where babies often respond by staring, smiling or reaching for the art. Parents attending the Baby Tours are sent home with The Art of Seeing Art for Babies, a board book that presents some of the concepts found in the adult brochure at their most basic level.
For families with young children, TMA offers tote bags known as Gallery Gear which can be checked out for a hour and are filled with visual literacy resources and hands-on objects related to notable pieces of art in the collection. In 2013, the museum released The Art of Seeing Art: A, B & See, a book that pairs letters of the alphabet with objects found in TMA artwork. The book is available in the museum store and reference library.
Finally, as the center for visual literacy in Northwest Ohio, TMA is scheduled to host the 2014 International Visual Literacy Association Conference on Nov. 5-8. Usually held at an institution of higher learning, this is the first year the conference will be held at a museum. The event is open to professors, K-12 teachers, students and working artists.
“Our goal for the entire visual literacy campaign at the Toledo Museum of Art is to reach as diverse an audience as we can and train them to be more observant and to view art more knowledgeably,” said Danko-McGhee.
The first ToddlerTime Tour will feature paintings and stories with the theme of puppies. The library portion will be held Feb. 3 at the Maumee Branch and Feb. 6 at the Main Library, both at 10:30 a.m. The museum portion will begin at 6 p.m. on Feb. 13. Pre-registration is required, and parents may choose to attend one or both programs. Space is limited, but efforts will be made to accommodate everyone interested in participating.
For more information, call TMA at 419-255-8000, the Lucas County Library at 419-259-5200 or visit www.toledomuseum.org/learn/toddler-time-tours or catalog.toledolibrary.org/programs (enter keyword “toddlertime”).
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