When my son was two years old, the High Museum of Art here in Atlanta featured an exhibition showcasing ultra-exquisite cars: Ferraris, Bugattis, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, among others. Anders adores anything on four wheels so we thought this would make for a fun weekend outing. And it might have been, if we had been better prepared.
Upon spotting the first shiny automobile, our son frantically ran towards it, almost tripping on the ropes which barricaded the car in an attempt to “drive” it. We rushed towards him and calmly explained that he couldn’t touch the cars, but only look at them. Anders wasn’t exactly receptive to this caution and we ended up leaving with him kicking and screaming as he hung over my husband’s shoulder.
Luckily, you can benefit from our mistakes. Here are a few tips to help in what will hopefully stimulate a life-long love of museum-going in children.
Tip #1: Model Enthusiasm
It almost sounds too obvious to mention, but this one is important. We as parents know that our children imitate our actions and attitudes (don’t you hate that sometimes?). If we are excited about visiting the museum and seeing great works of art, our kids will be, too.
Tip #2: Keep it Short and Sweet
Museums can be visually overwhelming even for adults. You are bringing your kids to the museum in order to instill in them an appreciation for art. Your goal is for them to leave having had a positive experience and wanting to return. This is why I recommend keeping it short and sweet. Take your kids’ ages into consideration and plan accordingly. For example, if you have a toddler, you may want to look at only one piece of art and talk about the colors and shapes you see. Older kids can obviously stay longer. It’s better to have a great time visiting one room in the museum, than to drag your kids around all afternoon and have them bored and begging you to leave. I’ve also found that mornings are preferable to afternoons. Oh, and make sure their little tummies are full.
Tip #3: Join the Local Art Museum
When joining the local art museum you generally pay one yearly fee and can space out your visits. Why not make it a monthly outing? Most museums have family-friendly programming and events. The High Museum of Art, for example, features Toddler Thursdays, with engaging activities specifically designed for this age group. Explore your museum’s family programs and then simply show up; they’ve done all the work for you. And be sure to take advantage of audio guides made for children.
Tip #4: Museum Manners
It’s important to let your kids know ahead of time what behavior is expected of them at the museum, especially if it is their first visit. On the way to the museum, tell them they’ll need to walk, not run, use their inside voices, and that in most cases they won’t be allowed to touch the artwork.
Tip #5: Make it Fun
I highly recommend doing a little footwork ahead of time. Twenty minutes reviewing the museum’s website can go a long way in making the trip successful and fun. Most museums have their entire collection online, or at least the highlights. I suggest perusing the collection and choosing five to ten works of art you think will interest your children. Print them out and make one booklet per child by stapling the pages together. On the way to the museum, pass out the booklets and tell you kids they are going to play a game. Once inside, their job is to find the work of art and write down the name of the artist, the name of the work, and one sentence describing it (if they are writing, of course). After they’ve completed this task allow each child to choose a work of art they’d like to revisit.
Okay, so now you’re in front of a piece of art your child wants to discuss. How might you talk to your kids about art?
Tip #6: Engage their Imaginations
When talking to kids about art, ask leading questions that get them thinking and help them truly observe the work. For example, suppose you’re looking at a painting of two girls sitting in a field, like this one.
Perhaps pose the following questions:
- What do you think the girls are talking about?
- If you could enter the scene, what would you want to play with the girls?
- What do you think those flowers smell like? What season does this painting represent?
Other fun ideas:
- Role play by having your children pose like the figures in the works of art.
- Enter a room of the museum and ask: “If you could take one of these paintings or sculptures home, which one would it be and why? Where would you place it?
Tip #7: Pick a Postcard
On the way out, stop at the museum shop and let you child pick out a postcard featuring their favorite work of art. Once home, place it in their room or on the refrigerator. Then when you see it together, you can talk about the artwork or artist and what a great time you had that day at the museum.
I usually take my kids to the museum café after our visit and allow them to choose a treat. It makes for a sweet ending to the outing.
I recently took my kids back to the High Museum of Art. As we were exiting the parking lot, my son, now five, was in the backseat talking excitedly to his sister about one of the paintings we had seen. What a difference from the negative experience three years back. If only I knew then what I know now.
So, do you have any other museum tips to add? I’d love to hear them in the comment section below, along with any fun experiences you’ve had at the museum with children.