Seven Tips for a Successful Trip to the Art Museum with Kids

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.

Two Little Girls - Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c.1890. Image attributed to WikiPaintings

Two Little Girls – Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c.1890. Image attributed to WikiPaintings.

Perhaps pose the following questions:

  1. What do you think the girls are talking about?
  2. If you could enter the scene, what would you want to play with the girls?
  3. What do you think those flowers smell like? What season does this painting represent?

Other fun ideas:

  1. Role play by having your children pose like the figures in the works of art.
  2. 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.


Bonus Tip:
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.

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  1. Kelly beck says:

    Hi there-enjoyed your “Tips” article. We have 6 children who are inveterate museum
    goers (sometimes willing, sometimes not-but practice makes perfect;-)). We have traipsef the halls of museums all over the world, and in the process have picked up a few of our own museum-going tricks to enhance our visits:

    1) Assume the Position.. The Museum Position, that is, hands clasped behind the back, Professor style. Not only does it help fight the temptation of those little hands touching priceless art, but it always seems to make the gallery guards more receptive to our small gallery-goers. I tell the kids “the Position” makes them look more grown-up (it does!) and smarter (well, maybe, maybe not, but thats my excuse and Im sticking to it lol);

    2) if you dont habe the time ornopportunity to print out pictures ahead of time, make a bee-line to the Museum Store FIRST and let uour hildren pick out a half dozen postvards of art. They then are assigned the task of finding “their” selections in the collections.

    3) take advantage of museum store puzzles and memory games. Great way to get the kids to focus on the artwork. We also downloaded an art jigsaw puzzle on our ipad, and the kids really enjoy doin the puzzles at increasin levelnof difficulty, to the tune of beautiful music. The apps are free (basic version)or $4.99 (expanded version)and worth it!

    4) let uour kids have a private art class with the Old Masters. Take good colored pencils -like prismacolor-and sketch books and habe your children pick a picture to sketch. If the piece is toodauntimg, let them focus on just one aspect of the artwork or one detail. Label and date. I have kept notebooks of these sketches over the years and its fun and rewsrding for us and our kids to see the children’s eye for detail and skill improve;

    5) Go on a treasure hunt-in the gallery. Ask your children to see how many dogs they can find in paintings in one room, or how many birds, or children, or bugs, or (for the older ones) examples of doric columns, or exames of dramatic contrast of light and shadow-chiaroscuro. You name it. And speaki g of light-always ask the children which way the light is shining in a painting. How artists employ light in their paintings is a key feature.

    Thanks again for your article-keep that blogcoming. Its always fun getting inpired to find new eays to teach art appreciation:-)

    • Kristen Nelson says:

      Kelly, thank you for the additional tips! These are a wonderful addition to the blogpost. I especially like the “assume the position” – so fun! And the idea of taking kids to the museum store ahead of time to pick out postcards for a treasure hunt is a good idea, too. Especially if you’re on vacation and don’t have time to do preliminary footwork. Thanks again for the helpful comment!

      • Kelly beck says:

        :-) yes the old “Postcards First” trick has saved my bacon in more than one museum-especially on long trips when ivei had no access to printers or room in my suitcase for lots of material. As an addrd plus, afterwards the kids have a visual momentos of the museums they visited if u want to keep a notebook or scrapbook. Using museum brochure is another-cheaper-alternative but foreign museums often have little to offer in that department and your selection will be limited.

        Also, the aforementioned art jigsaw puzzle app is fabulous-especially for Old Masters. After visiting the uffizi this summer, we were able to spend a lot of time messing around with botticelli puzzles at different levels o difficulty-likewise Rafaels, after visiting the vatican museum. An added benefit is the beautiful
        music that plays as you puzzle away.

        My eldest is now 23-still goes to art museums and still, laughingly, “assumes The Position” ;-)

        • Kristen Nelson says:

          Thank you for the information about the jigsaw puzzle app. I look forward to downloading it for my children. We haven’t explored any art history apps yet.

          How wonderful that you are able to travel with your family. My husband and I dream about visiting many different countries with our kids someday. It’s an excellent (and fun) way to learn.

  2. I can’t help but crack up when I think of taking my then five year old son to the Art Institute in Chicago a few summers ago. We learned right away, don’t leave the art museum trip for the last day of your vacation – do it first! Their bandwidth for appreciating art is pretty low on day 5 of vacation. He didn’t actually touch anything, but oh my goodness, he was in typical five year old boy mode – and that mode puts fear in the heart of art museum docents. I do have an amazing picture of him sitting like his own piece of art work, staring up at one of the Chagall stained glass panels with rapt adoration. It lasted for about 3 seconds before the docent was at his side pulling him away from the base of the panel. Anyway, here’s my two cents: Do the art museum first, and yes, let them buy a post card or small art related toy, let older ones carry their cameras and document their favorite pictures, and keep them well fed before and after the visit to the art museum. We all appreciate art more when our stomachs aren’t grumbling.

    I love the idea of finding one or two pictures you would want to take home and discussing why. What a great way to connect with the art.

    • Kristen Nelson says:

      Visiting a museum while on vacation can be a totally different experience than visiting your local museum where you might be a member. Maybe before next summer I’ll write another post sharing museum tips while on vacation and include your tip about going in the beginning of the trip instead of the end. Thank you!

  3. Assume the position! I wish I had read this article 22 years ago! I took my homeschooled girls, aged 7, 5 and 15 mos. to the art museum on the Indiana University campus (Go, IU!). I walked with the girls, holding the 15 month old and was enthusiastically pointing out various works when I leant forward to read the explanatory info by a wooden statue. Just as I was finishing, “15th century carving of Saint…” I looked down and saw my toddler grasping and pulling the arm held out so invitingly toward her. I quickly disentangled child and priceless artwork and made sure I stood well back from subsequent pieces! The docents were on us like white on rice for the rest of the visit…

  4. Dear Kristen,
    I only discovered your blog a few weeks ago and since then I always wanted to write you. Now that you posted the link to your “Tips for a Successful Trip” on facebook and I read the post, I have to tell you that I like your blog immensely. I’m writing from Germany, a journalist and mom of two daughters who are a little older than your kids (9 and 12). I have a blog about how to get children interested in art, design and cultural travel experiences – it’s in German, I’m afraid, but maybe you want to have a look at it:
    I’m looking forward to reading more inspiring Posts on!
    All the best, Maria

    • Kristen Nelson says:

      HI Maria-Bettina,

      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your wonderful blog. If only I read German! I’m happy to have a new art friend in Europe. Please keep in touch and let me know how your blog evolves and how your daughters respond to any Art History Mom posts you share with them. I love to hear about what speaks to different age groups.

      Oh, and is this photo from your house? If so, it looks amazing!

      All the best – Kristen

      • Dear Kristen,

        Thanks for your kind answer. I’ll be happy to keep in touch.
        And, no, this is not our house, although I’d love it to be! It’s a pretty arty café installation we came along in Turku, Finland. Environments like this are among the things my daughters love best if it comes to design!
        Have a nice day! Maria

  5. Excellent tips! My favorite is the very first one. We think about modeling appropriate behavior in terms of not running, not touching things, and inside voices, but also how to mentally and emotionally approach art is HUGE!! Great tip!!


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