Thursday, May 17, 2012

how to visit art museums with kids








My background is in art history, so when I had kids, I thought they would be little art historians - enthralled with the stories of the great masters and highly sensitive to the formal elements of art. They would certainly be able to have conversations with me about how line affects mood. And they would never giggle at naked bodies in art.  Yeah, so anyway - I had kids and of course our relationship with art turned out not to be so tidy. BUT, I have discovered how to enjoy experiencing art with children and we (usually) love spending an afternoon in a museum together. 

Here are some ideas that have made it all a bit more manageable.



1. Be prepared. Well, of course. It should go with out saying that kids should be well rested with full bellies. I have tried it otherwise and it was not worth it. It is good to remind them of the rules in a positive way (no running, yelling or touching). And it might be useful for you to brush up on the artist and time period, however that leads to the next point. Which is...

2. Lower your expectations. Do not expect to lecture your kids on what you know about the art. Do not expect to get to read each didactic label or even to see every piece of art. When museum going with kids, it is much better to have an open ended agenda. Wandering through the exhibits with out a definite plan allows for surprises and more immediate reactions and connections to the art work. Instead of looking for the famous pieces, adopt an attitude of adventure and discovery. Tell your kids (and yourself), "Let's see what we find."

3. But you can still check out any kid resources the museum has to offer. Sometimes they are simply awful - like worksheets that the kid would be so busy filling out they would not even get to interact with the art. Or, they lead the child around from piece to piece, not allowing the viewer to discover anything on their own. But every once in awhile you might just run across a real gem. 

For several summers, the Orlando Museum of Art has exhibited some great children's book illustrators and has set up a reading center with couches and bean bags and books right in the middle of the gallery. It encouraged us to look at the art, hangout, and look at the art some more. It was a great concept that served families well. 

Two summers ago, while in Washington, D.C. we visited the National Gallery Art. I thought my kids would not last long, but I really wanted to try to at least stroll through. The guard offered us some automated phone device guides. I was reluctant - because usually they are too wordy and work against the group dynamic by separating each person with their electronic device. But he insisted, saying they were new and really good for kids. So, we tried them and they were amazing. We were all so impressed we ended up staying for hours and it was one of the best museum trips of the entire vacation. (The short recordings would play the instruments that were featured in an art work or recreate the scene with background noise and a simple narrative. My kids were drawn in immediately.)

4. Learn how to ask big, open ended questions to get a conversation flowing. 

Which is your favorite? Why? (especially good in a room full of abstract art)

What do you see?

What story/feeling/idea do you think the artist is trying to communicate/tell us?

How do you think this was made? (my kids love this question - especially with sculpture).

Play ISPY to encourage close looking (my youngest son loves this and it works well with both abstract and representational art)

How does this painting/sculpture make you feel?

And do not be silent about sharing your feelings and thoughts on what you like or are confused about. Kids really benefit from listening to adults "think out loud" and demonstrate the process of figuring out complicated material.

5. To seal the deal of this great art adventure, if at all possible, have a drink or snack in the museum cafe. This is an important part of museum going. It allows your mind to soak in all you have seen, and very often in a nice surrounding. I usually have small journals with me, because my kids always want to draw immediately after they have been through an exhibition. Also, if you can, enjoy the museum store.  You can buy cool little trinkets or postcards to remember the visit by. 


*bonus idea

A membership to a local museum makes it easier to stop in for short visits so that going to see art becomes a normal part of your routine. Besides supporting the arts, usually a membership gives reciprocal benefits to other museums. We recently realized that when we upped our museum membership to a higher level, the reciprocals were amazing and paid for the membership quickly. It is definitely worth investigating.  





Do you go to museums with your kids? Any other tricks you have to make the experience fun for everyone?




28 comments:

  1. We have yet to go to the main art museum in our hometown. We have visited contemporary museum and other displays, but I have been put off by stories of docents and guards following children. While in D.C. we are planning to hit a few. We have a few books as intro. Thanks for the Nat'l Gallery tip. I would have turned them down too. Yesterday was spent in the Scupture Garden. So much insight from my small people. I definitely agree to let them lead. You will usually be pleasantly surprised when you let go of your plan and just follow as the day unfolds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather - I have had the worst experiences at the smallest museums. I think the guards must be bored. I will be interested to hear if you guys like the National Art Gallery. They even had little stroller carts for younger kids. And yes, letting them lead has changed everything!

      Delete
    2. This is great! As a mama and an employee at a large museum, I think it is so important to prepare the kids so their experience is enjoyable. Our museum has maps geared to kids at the front and educational programs in spades. I enroll my girl in a class and then we visit the art afterwards. We also hold family art days once a month with activities geared to children all day and linked to the art. Check with your local museum and they might too.

      As for the security guards' and docents being "bored", it is their job and the security guards'job to protect the art which can be extremely fragile and valuble so it is up to us as parents to instruct our children on proper art museum behavior: no touching, no running, no gum and subdued voices are actually a necessity. Just keep in mind the folks that work at the museum have been entrusted with a huge responsibility and they understand that children visiting an art museum is an essential part of their education but that doesn't mean they will let certain things slide.

      Delete
  2. I love this post - and museums of all types. Great points to prepare a child.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Such good reminders. We are planning a trip to the Seattle Art Museum in a few weeks to see a new exhibit on Aboriginal art. My eight year old has been studying Australia and I figured this would be a great finale. I'll remember to keep the expectations low and keep the conversation light.... and maybe find a sitter for the two year old. I could spend all day in a museum, hopefully my son will feel the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that sounds great! i do not think i have ever seen aboriginal art. i bet he will love it!

      Delete
  4. I have yet to take my kids to an art museum because, honestly, I've been a little afraid of having them being totally uninterested and getting through the museum in only 10 minutes. I'm thankful for your tips and we are going to try it out this summer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it might be only 10 minutes - but is still a good experience. just walking through and letting them know that there are such places is great, i think.

      Delete
  5. Definitely short visits! With a 2 and 4 year old - we max out after one hour. But the visits are so worth it! The kids recognize the art in the museum when they see it in books and then they TALK about it! I'd go to an art museum over a children's museum any day with my kids! Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes, i love an art museum so much more than a children's museum! and i am always amazed at what they recognize and know. sometimes, i do not even know where they learned it!

      Delete
  6. Yes, I have taken them to a few art museums in Washington, DC. I find that smaller art museums are great for kids. Princeton University has a fabulous art museum that is small in scale and is perfect for spending just an hour there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. an hour in a small, excellent museum is the best. we just spent time at the Tampa Museum of Art and it was great. Just the perfect size for families.

      Delete
  7. Oh, and doing some artist studies before you go helps too. Recently we saw a Picasso to Warhol exhibit that included a Mondrian, so we read a few picture books about Picasso, and did a painting in the style of Mondrian, and the visit was much more exciting to the kids because they had some background knowledge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes, some study ahead of time is a great idea. even just hanging some images around the house peaks interest too!

      Delete
  8. We have, of course, went to a few discovery museums, but I've been wanting to take my little guy to a different type soon! He's only 21 mo., but he loves looking at pictures and really anything that is new to him. He's quite the observer (although I sometimes call him nosey!) Thanks for the great list of tips!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sure, i love strolling through a museum with a toddler - even if just to get my art fix. and the snack at the end is key!

      Delete
  9. Really great tips and information, thanks! So glad I found this on Pinterest!

    Dorothy Birch
    Examiner.com
    NOLANature

    ReplyDelete
  10. We haven't tried this with an art museum, but whenever we go to the zoo, I have flashcards with different animals on them that I know are in the zoo. I put these in a small photo album for my two-year-old, and he spends his time hunting for the real-life animals that match. It would be really easy to print out some small prints from the museum's website and have your kids hunt for the matching pieces.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. an art hunt is a great idea. we never do that for some reason, but i might give it a try next time.

      Delete
  11. I lived in DC with my little one for some time (just moved away and I am really missing it) and we would frequently go to the Nat'l Gallery or the Portrait gallery or the Phillips. I would always remind myself to let her lead and look at what she wants to. The things that are the most interesting to kids at art museums are not the things most interesting to us simply because of the different perspective. One afternoon my little girl and I spent more than three hours in the tunnel between the East and West galleries of the Nat'l Gallery. Because she loved watching the water flowing down the rocks so much. Letting her lead took a lot of getting used to and now its a skill that I can use in any museum.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Being art and photography lovers our daughter had no choice in the matter! We took her to NYC first when she was 5 months old and now at six years of age, she's a veteran.

    Great tips - kids "get" art and setting it up for a successful visit isn't difficult. Here's an additional tip - give them a bb or iPhone or digital camera to take photos of the art.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent post. We made 2 visits to ARt Museums the past year and they were successful. One trip we used a scavenger hunt
    which worked well. The other museum was smaller and easier to view for my 5 year old.

    ReplyDelete
  14. What a great post! A friend sent me a link to this for our upcoming visit to DC and lo and behold it seems as if we live in the same town so I'm very excited to start following your blog. :O) My 4 year old (at the time) and I had a surprisingly fantastic visit to the Phillips Collection on our last visit or so to DC (my husband travels there every other week for work). We took their scavenger hunt type cards and had a long, leisurely visit finding the paintings, looking at the Degas exhibit, snacking in the cafe and riding the elevator up and down a whole bunch of times. :o) She's already excited to go find the Da Vinci at the NGA and I think those audio tours will be very exciting for her - can't wait! There is also a Close Up art game/painting hunt I've heard of from Birdcage Press that I'm hoping the NGA gift shop will have when we get there. I'll have to keep my eyes open for the next children's illustrator exhibit at OMA.

    ReplyDelete
  15. These are GREAT ideas. I really love your idea of taking along a journal. A while ago we took our son to a Van Gogh exhibition. They had a kid's room set up with paper and coloured pencils. My son produced such wonderful pics with lots of colour and great energy and movement in them. He was obviously inspired by what he'd seen and being able to create right there and then meant he could express that inspiration perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I also found the paintings we'd see in books to show them in advance. Also, when we have been waiting at the hospital to be seen, they have a wall of (not-so-exciting) paintings. I made up stories for each and they loved it. I would do the same at a museum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks! i love talking about whatever bad art we are around too.

      Delete

Please leave a comment! I love to hear from you!

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...