How do you introduce culture to a kid that can barely spell his or her name?
The same way you teach them everything: by doing it. Be it the art center or out to eat, knowing when and how to go about it can make all the difference.
The best place to start is in the womb. My son’s first concert was Girl Talk, my daughter’s was Lorde. I’d like to think the excitement, energy, and emotion of a live show helped lay the foundation for expectations upon arrival, but that’s tough to say.
Culture and Kids
There are, however, easy opportunities to lay the groundwork for more cultural events with your little one, with minimal cost other than the anxiety of the activity. Attending events in the summer and fall that take place during all day parts and encourage it as a family affair are all good starts. Some of my favorites include the Des Moines Arts Festival, 80-35, and the Downtown Farmer’s Market.
These all offer free walkways. That means you have no expense for the cultural experiment, music, and enough runway to allow little legs to explore. Just as important is the ability to turn on your heels and be done. There is no time table (unless you’re waiting in line for a burrito), no expectations, and no aisle to climb out of. You simply know it’s time to leave and you’re gone.
An easy way to tackle the farmer’s market is on dad’s shoulders.
Exposing Kids to Fine Arts
There are so many fantastic ways to introduce children to the arts and there are so many opportunities in Des Moines when you’re ready to tackle it.
One of my favorite first theater experiences with my son was taking him to the Des Moines Community Playhouse. They offer a variety of productions throughout the year with classic, age-appropriate performances. Tickets are affordable and showtimes are family-friendly.
Ballet Des Moines hosts several pop-up performances each year, in addition to their three professional productions. A pop-up performance means you’re in a neutral setting, with generally no expense and are allowed to test the toddler waters. They’ll be at the Botanical Center for story hour on April 6. A bonus to this kind of ballet experience is that kids get to interact with the dancers in costume, which creates unique connectivity to the art and the artists. Ballet Des Moines will also be producing A Princess Mermaid at the Civic Center on Easter weekend, April 19.
The Wellmark Family Series through the Des Moines Performing Arts has an incredible line-up of family-friendly productions. The benefit to attending these performances is that you’re outnumbered. The crowd is made up (almost) entirely of children, which means you’ll feel less anxiety about having to scoot out from the middle of the aisle for a potty break.
On that note: take all the potty breaks. The only other golden rule I try to abide by is to be strategic about seating, particularly in very long rows. Sitting closer to the door means less disruptions when you have to grab your things and leave for a moment or leave the show entirely.
In many cases, performers are more than happy to add to the experience by taking a photo with your child. Added bonus: Throw a sharpie in your purse and have them sign the program.
Taking kids to a fancy restaurant
Looking to level it up a notch or ten? Enter: the fancy restaurant.
I still remember the first time I took my three-year-old to Centro. It was just the two of us and we were seated at a table for no more than two. In most settings, this would mean we’d each sit on opposing ends of the small table, but one look at how far he seemed away from me — and the side glances I was immediately receiving from the tables to our sides, and I knew what I needed to do. We sat side-by-side on one end, thank goodness that side had a bench. It was crammed, but we were close. And proximity, in this case, meant we were safe in numbers, even if that number was only two.
The unplanned for key at a nice restaurant is a waiter or waitress that gets it. Unfortunately, you can’t plan for this ahead of time. But you can pick a place that has killer pizza, as Centro does, and at the very least can whip up some buttered noodles, french fries or provide a pre-meal package of crackers.
You can also be strategic about picking a time that’s earlier than the crowd. Also: get the dessert. After all, if you made it to that point, you both deserve a treat.
Not quite ready for fancy napkins? Find a fancy restaurant with a patio. Sunshine makes everything better (also makes spills less anxiety-ridden).
Experiencing culture is not a “you must be this tall to ride” schtick. It’s more of an “enter at your own risk” kinda thing while being judged by anyone not there with a miniature version of themselves in tow.
What it takes to introduce kids to culture:
- Bravery. You’re not brave for taking your son or daughter there. You’re brave for not caring about how other patrons will look at you.
- Flexibility. Sometimes it’s easier to go it alone. In theory, outnumbering a child seems like a great idea and in most cases, this is ideal. But not always. Sometimes two parent-sized frustrations create a unique sense of stress — while managing your pint-sized problem one-on-one can even out the energy exchange. It’s okay to plan trips as a family and trips for just two — your little and you.
- Good timing. You might need to eat earlier or leave earlier and non-weekend nights provide a little less wait time.
- Patience. My three-year-old son ate sushi but at nine he only wants fries. What works this time might not work next time. But enough times and you’ll start to get it figured out.
There are unique waves to taking children outside society’s standard guide rails of soft plastic playgrounds and into worlds that include proper dining etiquette and ballet shoes. It’s trial and error but starting early means you’ve got a head start on making art matter and cultural events stick.
How do you expose your kids to culture?
Jami is the mom of Finn (9) and Margaux (3) and splits her time between Happy Medium as the Director of Connection Strategy, her photography studio at Mainframe and with her family in the woods of Greenwood Park. A Pennsylvania native, Jami grew up in northern Iowa before moving to Des Moines in 2004.
An artist, photographer, and muralist, you can find a handful of her street murals on the sides of buildings throughout the city. Jami is an active volunteer within the community. She serves on the board for Ballet Des Moines and Skate DSM — a newly formed organization promoting Lauridsen Skatepark.
Jami lives with her husband, children and their Dalmatian named Juneau and pet rabbit Penelope.