Many larger cities have several sites to see, including art museums.
Now wait, I can already hear the groans – who would take a kid to an art museum?!? But trust me, your kids will love an art museum if you prepare them for it!
Besides remembering to go over the basic rules of a museum (be on your best behavior, use quiet voices, do not touch the art), here are some tips that will help make a trip to an art museum a fantastic one.
Before you go:
- Check out the museum website. Before you step foot in a museum, you should know the major works featured there. You would never go to a professional baseball game without know which teams are playing, right? In that same vein, you should know the artists before you take your family to an art exhibit. Most museums have a list of their most important works or highlights from their permanent collection listed on their website. These are the ones you should focus on with your kids. Show them pictures on the Internet and talk about what you are going to see.
- Learn about artists. There’s a fantastic series of children’s books called Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists by Mike Venezia. Each short book covers the life and major works of one artist. Choose a few to read with your kids before you get to the art exhibit. Focus on some of the artists whose work you will encounter. It’s important for art viewers to understand that art was painted for different reasons throughout history – art from the middle ages was done for the wealthy or the church, whereas the Impressionists were painting after the invention of the camera and had the freedom to express themselves more creatively. Share these insights with your kids.
- Color pictures. There are several coloring books that have outlines of famous works that your kids can color. Let them either use the colors the artist used by looking at the original or let them use their imaginations and choose the colors they would put together. Our two favorite books are Art Masterpieces to Color and Masterpieces: A Fact-Filled Coloring Book.
By talking about the art beforehand, kids are more excited about seeing it in person.
Once you’re there:
- Look for the children’s itinerary. Most major museums have itineraries or maps specifically for children or families that you can pick up at the information desk. If not, ask a curator for suggestions on pieces your kids might enjoy. My kids like being in control of the museum map. They look specifically for the pieces that they are anticipating, using the map or asking curators for assistance. There is nothing that warms this momma’s heart more than watching my kids be confident enough to ask a stranger for help finding the Matisse that they are looking for.
- Get choosy. Turn your children loose in a room, a section, or a wing of the museum and let them find their favorite piece. For older children, ask them to articulate what they like about the work – is it the subject matter? The colors used? The style of painting? If the museum allows, take a picture of your child in front of the work they chose.
- Play I Spy. With smaller children, a game of I Spy is a great way to look at art. From something as simple as, “I spy a hat,” to something more complicated like, “I spy someone who is scared,” this game is a great way to get kids to really look at the paintings and sculptures around them.
- Sketch it out. If time is on your side, bring a sketchbook and let your child try his or her hand at copying a masterpiece. Set a time limit and give them the freedom to be inspired.
- Bring it home. The best souvenir from an art museum is, in my opinion, a postcard. Let your kids each choose a postcard depicting their favorite piece from the works you admired on your visit. They can bring it home, tack it to their bulletin board, and look back at it over time. My dad bought me a small print of my favorite painting from my first visit to the Louvre. I remember how much the painting resonated with me when I looked at it in the gallery. When we got it home, he put it in a frame and hung it on my wall. Over the (many) years since I first saw that piece, it’s significance has changed for me and it no longer resonates the same way, but it still is hanging on my wall.
Art should not be exclusively for adults. By exposing children to art at a young age, you are able to start conversations about almost anything – from history to religion; from beauty to what makes art “art”. These kinds of conversations can serve them well in all areas of their education.
There is something magical about the moment your child understands pointillism because he’s standing in front of a work by Seurat and he sees the thousands of individual dots turn into a beautiful picture. Or, when she stands in front of a Van Eyck noticing every detail and wanting to talk about the symbolism of why the artist included various elements.
Which art museums have you taken your kids to?