Building confidence and skills engaging with artwork can happen at an early age. Young children’s creativity and imagination are clearly apparent when making art, and strengthening communication skills through interpreting artwork both draws from the creativity and gives it room to grow. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) are discussion tools developed to help facilitate discussion about art- VTS can be adapted to meet the learner (child, adolescent, or adult) developmentally to best support them through analytical engagement with art, but will probably work best with slightly older children.
The first step of VTS is to ask the learner to observe a work of art carefully- these times might vary as your child becomes more interested in observing and confident in their observation skills. Then, ask the learner, “What do you see going on here?”. Next ask "Why do you say that?" and encourage the learner to articulate their observation. Then, continue to ask “What else do you see?” and repeat the process.
Throughout the process, paraphrase what the learner is saying and point to the area they’re referring to, to ensure you correctly understand what they’re saying. If you’re in a classroom or looking at art with siblings or friends, this is an opportunity to make sure everyone understands the observation. Engaging in VTS with a group can be a wonderful collaborative experience where learners can work together to understand each other’s perspectives and gain new insight from their comments.
By remaining neutral and refraining from adding context or your interpretations, the learner can feel confident in their own interpretations and begin to allow themselves to make and share more connections. As the learner becomes more confident with their observations, their analysis will become more complex as well.
Wangechi Mutu’s compelling fantastical images in What Do You See? provide a perfect opportunity to using VTS. The prompt is even right there in the title! Spend some time on each page carefully observing the images and encourage your little one to verbalize their thoughts and perceptions.
Each of the booklets on available on the site would work well with VTS- particularly Please Don't Touch!, Planet, and anything in the Adventuring Book Pack, as they provide a lot of room for interpretation and beautiful, engaging images you could look at endlessly.
Try VTS in your home or classroom to start building communication skills and confidence engaging with art.