Seven gallery-hosted art sessions for under-fives

Messy-play art sessions are 10 a penny across the capital, and probably the entire developed world. Depressingly though, considering the wealth of world-class galleries we enjoy as Londoners, there seem to be surprisingly few children’s art sessions that take place in an actual gallery setting, in the presence of actual art – as opposed to local community and children’s centres, which obviously have their place but are not really known for being beacons of high culture.

Rest assured though, while few in number such sessions do exist in various forms and formats; from immersive experiences that invite children to become part of the installation to studio painting sessions preceded by an inspiration-gathering gallery trawl. Of course the artistic merit of Rembrandts and Vermeers is probably going to be somewhat lost on the under-fives (unless they’re incredibly precocious) but it’s never too early to introduce them to art and, with any luck, prepare them for a life spent devouring Dalis and poring over Pollocks. And even if your promising little painters turn out to be bank managers and accountants, at the very least it’s reassuring to know that culture is available to you post-partum and that there is life beyond the One O’Clock Club.

  1. Ever wondered how to get the most out of a visit to the gallery with a toddler in tow? Tate Britain’s playful Under Fives Explore the Gallery sessions show you how to do just that, by encouraging you to use your children’s unpredictability to discover new ways of enjoying the gallery together. Sessions are run by artist Rosemary Cronin and held from 2-4pm on the first Saturday of every month.
  2. Hoxton’s Parasol Unit for Contemporary Art is the backdrop for Project Light, an interactive workshop that draws inspiration from the gallery’s current temporary exhibition. Created and led by artist and educator Natalie Zervou, the studio-based session revolves around a specially created immersive art installation that 0-5s and their carers are encouraged to explore and adapt as they see fit.
  3. The Whitechapel Gallery’s sporadic Crib Notes events are a godsend for art-starved parents and carers, affording them two blissful, culture-packed hours in the company of their under-4s. Coinciding with the unveiling of major exhibitions and taking place every 2-3 months, these £5 sessions begin with a relaxed, curator-led tour and conclude with refreshments and a chat in the gallery’s lush refectory.
  4. Designed for under-fives, The National Gallery’s varied Messy Mondays sessions combine a brainstorming gallery tour with a creative studio session that includes a variety of sensory stations for all age groups and plenty of opportunity to get covered in paint. These free, colour-themed drop-in classes run from 10.30-12pm and 12.30-3pm every Monday during the school holidays.
  5. Dulwich’s 200-year-old Picture Gallery is the setting for Mini Masterpieces, an immersive biweekly art class for under-twos. These one-hour workshops cost £12 and combine an inspiring toddle around the gallery armed with a list of paintings to find, with a terrifyingly hands-on pens-and-paints session. Coffee is included and you even get your own giant mess mini masterpiece to take home.
  6. Running from 2-4.30pm every Sunday while exhibitions are showing, Camden Arts Centre’s free Studio Takeovers allow families with children of all ages take part in free, creative activities led by the gallery’s family artist-in-residence. Sessions take inspiration from current exhibitions and attendees are encouraged to engage in a series of experiments and activities to create immersive abstract environments.
  7. Zabludowicz Collection’s varied Families Create sessions draw inspiration from this Kentish Town gallery’s current exhibitions, with creative activities ranging from movement classes to costume-making to digital design . These free, often artist-led drop-in events run from 2-5pm every Saturday and are aimed at children aged one and above and their carers.

Bab pre-mess at Messy Mondays, The National Gallery.