Crafting, painting, and drawing are relaxing ways to spend a chilly afternoon with your kids. But don't set art aside for occasional rainy day entertainment. Integrate it into your family's day-to-day life. As long as your child is old enough to hold a crayon, she can participate in art.

Art is a playful way to learn. While that may sound frivolous, play is one of the most important ways a child explores her world, innovates, and strengthens her creative muscles. According to Americans for the Arts, children who have access to art education are more likely to succeed academically and develop stronger problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, more schools devote less time for art education — or have eliminated it altogether. Here are a few ways to connect with your child through art while helping him reap the benefits of art education.

Art classes.

Many fine art programs geared for kids are popping up around the country, independently run businesses, community centers, and local museums. Check online and around your community to find one near you. Incredibleart.org also features art resources and links to educational art activities for kids.

Sculpt

Build 3-D structures with play-dough, modeling clay and foam boards.

Talk about their art.

When your child shows you her drawing, ask her open ended questions about it. Tell me about your picture. What do you like best about your picture? I like the colors you used. Are these your favorite colors? Why? What did you use to make this picture (for example, the tool or medium used)? What do you plan to make next?

Hang out at a pottery cafe.

Take a couple of hours to paint pottery together. Pottery cafes provide all of the materials. Simply choose a small vase or coffee cup and enjoy the process with your kids.

Head to a museum.

Explore your local museum with your children. Before going, choose two or three of the pieces that will be on display to discuss ahead of time with your kids. Learn a few interesting facts about the artist. And check out the National Gallery of Art website, which features a children's video tour of art.

Imitate the masters.

Research a particular artist online, at your local library, or museum. Purchase a few small canvases at the craft store and challenge your children to copy a painting like Van Gogh's Sunflowers or paint shapes reminiscent of Matisse.

Plan a paint and pizza night.

Choose an evening when your whole family is home. Spread butcher paper across your table or pass around watercolor paper. Order in a pizza and spend the evening painting together. Even if you aren't much of a painter, kids will get a kick out of creating artwork with you and admiring (or giggling) at your results.

Draw comics.

Does your child love the Sunday funnies or comic books? Encourage him to try writing and drawing his own comic strip. Either draw out boxes on a page or purchase a comic book-making kit. Online comic strip creators for kids are also available.

Display family art.

In addition to your kids' art hanging on the refrigerator, you probably have examples around your house of items that were made by family members, whether embroidery, blankets, paintings, or photographs. Share these items with your children and talk about the effort that went into creating them. This is a valuable way to help your children see how visual art is a link to the past and to their family heritage.

Art will help your children grow, and keep them busy. Carve out some time this week to let them get creative.