“Wow Mom, this is, like, where people meditate,” says my six-year-old as we walk through an exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery. This is interesting, because the paintings are very large, colourful and loud, more like a wake-up call than an oasis. But our family is the only one there at the moment, so the air holding them is dead quiet.

We’ve come for the family Sundays art program, which offers families different drop-in art projects each week. From artist trading cards to painted plates, the projects are fun, interesting and conveniently set up for you when you get there and cleaned up after you go. What you get to take home, however, is just the icing on the cake. It’s the hour or so you actually spend in the gallery that makes the difference.

You might think your kids have creative stuff to play with at home, or they do arts and crafty things at school, so why spend your weekend doing it too? Well, let me paint a picture of why an afternoon here is about more than just making art.

When we arrive we’re greeted by the lady who’s running the program today. She floats up behind us and speaks so gently I wonder if she sometimes plays a small harp for patrons too. “Are you here to join us in making art today?” she says to the children. The project is to do a painting inspired by the exhibition, so we head back to check it out first. As my kids politely lead the way, I struggle with not being able to bring my extra large mocha in with me. I inform the receptionist that it’s well-known that drinking coffee while looking at art actually enhances the experience and is how they do it in France. There’s an espresso bar next to the Mona Lisa I tell her, with baristas who only sort of smile when they hand you your coffee. She doesn’t bite. I leave it behind.

The abstract paintings are huge and filled with shapes and colour. I tell the kids they have each won one to take home to their imaginary house and they have two minutes to decide which painting they want. Each picks a different one for varying reasons, one because of the colour, one because of the shapes that remind her of the ocean, one because, looking at the patch of white across the bottom, it has “a nice blob of snow.” I choose one because of the patterns and my husband’s selection “draws him in” (arguably, its blobs represent the female anatomy, so I am not surprised).

Happy with our choices, we head to the hands-on art room and put on smocks and gather paints. The kids pull suggestions of what to add to their paintings from cups marked shapes, colours and patterns. They don’t need them, but they like surprises and so each pick a handful of ideas to make their own. The room fills, pictures evolve, remarks are shared, no pressure, nothing to measure the outcomes except our own impressions.

A high school art show is set up around the room and when they are done their pieces, the kids look it over. There are photos of dog close-ups and girls with tattoos claiming their self worth, sculptures of boots and awakening ammonites. A table holds a Facebook “book” that is made up of profiles of face parts instead of people. We read the description of Harry Brow on our way out.

“We were just at the art gallery for a whole hour,” says my 11-year-old, very matter-of-factly. Time is a big deal at this age, where whole days can be made or destroyed on the number of hours given to a young boy’s free time. I check his face to see which way we are headed. Smiling, he runs ahead, holding his painting by the corner, a yellow spotted kite lifting on the wind. I smile and think about how for a little more than the price of my mocha, and in the time it took me to drink it, we shared so much more than an art class. –Gillianne Richards