Visting an Art Museum with Young Children

Having worked as an art teacher with a focus on museum education, I want to expose my children to museums from an early age.  This weekend, we took a trip to a local art museum, where I used to work and teach.
The museum has recently reopened after nearly a year of renovations, so it was fun for me to see the big changes in the galleries, and even view some of the "new" works brought out from the collection.

If you're a parent, particularly of small children, you're probably cringing at the thought of bringing your kids to an art museum.  Don't be!  To me, a museum is not some sacred, silent space of contemplation and dead air.  Instead, its treasures can be great teaching tools for children and a way for you to model appreciation of the arts to your kids.
Many museums, like the one I worked at, have activities for kids, whether in the form of activity backpacks you can check out at the front desk, or even a children's gallery
which has interactive exhibits and hands-on activities like this felt board below.
I like that our children's gallery is so colorful and includes stations with a variety of DIY craft projects (I used to love coming up with those activities, when I used to work in the Ed Department).
However if your museum does not have kid-friendly areas, you can still enjoy looking at and talking about art together. 

When possible, let your children guide you through the museum.  Take a cue from their interests, whether it's in the colorful abstract paintings or a weird chair made from wagon wheels, as seen below.
Engaging their senses is also a great way to help children connect to artworks.  Questions like "what might this artwork sound like, or smell like or taste or feel like?" can lead to interesting discussions.  Keep prodding kids to dig deeper, like asking "why does it make you feel like that?" or "why do you think the artist wanted you to feel that way?" can help them make sense out of a work.  And please don't worry that you don't have the "right" answer.  You're there to experience the work, not to try and interpret what you think the artist was trying to say. 
Another way to engage kids is to bring along drawing materials.  Most museums allow for pencil sketching in the galleries, though stick to pencils, not markers or crayons.  A clipboard and extra paper is helpful too.  Though be sure to explain why one cannot touch the artworks in a museum.  Oddly, when I used to give tours, it was mostly adults that I had to remind about not touching the work.

In addition to sketching, you could even plan a little treasure hunt in the galleries.  This is best done by first previewing or becoming familiar with the collection.  At home, collect some objects that represent some of the works in the galleries, like subject matter (little people, buildings, or items from a still life) or the materials (wire for a wire sculpture, a piece of metal, etc.).  Have your children walk around looking for the artwork(s) represented by the objects.

Rather than just a quick scramble to find artworks, be sure to stop and talk about each work once you find it.  At the end of the hunt, you might treat your kiddos to some hot cocoa in the museum cafe, or pick out some postcards in the gift shop.

Don't let the experience end at the museum door.  Bring the experience home by creating a mini museum using a box and art materials.  Let the kids decorate a cardboard box with paper or paints, then fill the museum with sculptures made of wire or play dough and paper paintings on the walls.  At our museum, we used to make these with school groups with huge success.  The kids really enjoyed this activity, especially personalizing the space.

However you choose to enjoy a museum, the important thing is getting there!  The sooner you start, the sooner your children will become familiar and comfortable in museums.  Who knows, you just might have a little curator blossoming in your home.


Bonnie said...

Kathleen, those are some really great ideas for visiting an art museum! I need to get the kids back to the Pittsburgh Museum of Art and Natural History. It is huge. Last year we visited and only got through the natural history part...need to go back for the art. It's a great museum. I remember going there on field trips as a child with my school.

Laurie Harrison said...

ZLike Bonnie, I have been to the Pittsburgh museum. I never got to see the whole thing either. This is a great post and I enjoyed reading it. I like museums. I worked at one for 3 summers. I was the landscaper/cleaner/whatever-needs-done gal. My favorite times were when the school groups would come.

Ammie said...

I love the idea of making a mini museum after the visit. What a great way to give the child creative ownership.

•´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Mrs. Cox.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

We've yet to go to the Seattle Art Museum with Charlie... I may have to plan a trip soon. She loves arts & crafts, I'd love to see her reaction to museum art.

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