Have you ever brought your kiddos to an art museum? It can be nerve-racking for sure. Priceless art and rambunctious toddlers don’t want to mix very well. However, maybe it’s the art teacher in me but I’ve always made it a priority to bring the kids regardless. Not just art museums but all museums (although art museums are my favorite). I feel like they have so much to offer even for small little ones. Plus it just teaches them to value that kind of thing. Maybe that’s not important to you (which is totally ok) but it’s something that I value a lot and want my girls to be able to appreciate.
Here are a few tips that have worked well for us over the years to make the experience more fun for everyone.
1. Start off with a “transition” type museum in your area.
These might be museums with a heavy emphasis on kids or kid exhibits. This let’s them get use to the whole museum setting. Near us we have the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This is a great museum for kids. Lots of fun things for them to do there but it’s also a real art gallery so we learn the “rules” of museums. No touching, no loud voices, no running. It’s one of our very favorite museums in the area.
2. Always explain the rules before you get in the museum.
Talk about what is expected of them there and why. Talk about how the art is (usually) very old and important and when we touch it, it can damage the art. Give some meaning to why they can’t do all the things you are saying. Talking about it before hand let’s it settle in a bit before you get there and are yelling “don’t touch!” all the sudden. Sure it’s probably still going to happen because duh! they’re kids but it does help a little. One time we were doing the little activity sheets the museum gave us when Rowan got so excited she saw the painting she was looking for, she went running both hands open to show me where it was. Let’s just say there were about 5 museum attendants running slow motion with that “Noooooooooooo” face on. hahah. Whoops. Lesson learned.
3. Make sure it’s not nap time and that they’ve just eaten.
I sure as heck don’t want to be walking around a museum tired and hungry so let’s assume our kids don’t want to either. There is usually no food allowed either- so no snacks in the purse like I usually have for any whim request of “I want a snack Mom”. Most museums have a little cafeteria area though- make it a break point if need be. And we all know how easy going a kid without a nap can be (wink, wink). Let’s just leave that one for common sense. hahahah
4. Call ahead and see what exhibits they recommend for children.
They may even have little activity packs for the kids related to the exhibit. At The Clark in the Berkshires they give the kids their very own sketch book and pencils when they arrive, as well as scavenger hunt cards for particular paintings. The cards have a little history lesson on the back and some good questions to ask your kids. So don’t be afraid to ask if they have anything for the kids.
5. Ask if they’re allowed to carry their own notebook and a pencil
If they don’t provide anything for the kids then bring your own! Have a little drawing session in the museum based on the artwork they are seeing. My kids love being able to sit on the museum floor and draw a copy of what they are seeing.
6. Play Eye Spy.
I’m telling you it works great! Rowan loves to play eye spy in the museum. There are so many paintings and so many things to pick out- it’s a game that could last the entire trip.
7. Talk about the art
Help your little ones understand what they are seeing. Ask if they can figure out what time of day it is in the painting? What do they think the artist was thinking of? What emotions does the painting give them? They can be simple but teach them how to start talking about art.
8. Beware of little eyes.
Rowan is super sensitive to things that she sees and hears. That girl is full of emotions. So we have to be very protective of that for her. We’ve never had a problem but I would definitely scan the room quick with each new gallery you enter. Especially at a modern art museum. Modern art museums can be the most fun with large engaging installations for the kids but can also hold some very bold, in your face images which might be scary or alarming to little eyes.
9. Have low expectations + move quickly
I never expect my 4 and 2 year to want to sit around and leisurely talk about art. We always head in with low expectations, just knowing we will make the most of whatever happens that day. I mean they’re kids right? I also know that it may be my favorite exhibit in the whole world but that they have the attention span of 5 seconds so I need to keep it moving. It will make the trip more enjoyable for all if you keep at their pace.
10. Mix it up.
If you bring them to a more adult museum, next time make it a science museum or kids museum, something more up their alley… it will give them a broad range of experiences and keep it fun.
12. Find museums with beautiful gardens/grounds.
This helps break up the trip. Spend sometime inside and then go run around and let off steam on the grounds of the museum. The Clark or The deCordova in Masschusetts have beautiful grounds to explore.
13. Create meaning and understanding at home before/afterwards.
Research the artists together. Create an art project based on what they saw/will see. Make it fun and memorable. We went to a Frida Kahlo exhibit in FL and when we got home we looked up some of her paintings and created our own self portraits based on them. It’s funny how many times Frida Kahlo has come up in regular life since then. Rowan always gets this cute little smile on her face because she knows who she is.
I love your approach to museums with your family!! I work in an art museum and it is so heartening to see how you can make a museum visit so thoughtful, meaningful and engaging for little ones. Especially numbers 8 and 13. 🙂 Thank you, Jen!! I’m saving this for always.
If you’ve never been, you should check out Hancock Shaker Village in MA. VERY kid-friendly. There is some Shaker art, little exhibits in the buildings on the grounds, an herb garden that has each plant labeled by its medicinal uses. There is a room for the kids where they can dress up as Shakers, play with some of their handmade toys, and make some things. The absolute favorite part for my kids was the Round stone barn. It’s a really cool building, and you are allowed to climb in the pens with most of the animals and pet/hold them. My husband was LOVING holding little lambs. It made for a great day trip 🙂
I loooove this! I worked at a children’s museum growing up (everything from guide to floor manager to art and science program teacher) and my husband is a curator at a history museum. I grew up where our art, science, and history museums were free (FREE) and my parents took us all the time. Art was never my thing when I was little because I was very, very active and not very artistic myself, but I always had so much fun making up stories about the people who had created the art. Even though I don’t know much about art and definitely cannot create it myself, I have a huge appreciation for it, thanks to all the fun museum visits!
I LOVE that you do this with your kids. I love museums so much, and you take such time to make the experience good for your kids. If I ever have any myself, I can see this being something I’d so love to do with them.
LOVE THIS. I don’t have kids yet but I always enjoyed going to musuems with my parents or on school trips. I cannot wait to share those types of experiences with my little one.
Just saying… but there a “Please Touch” museum here in Philadelphia 😉
ps – I really love the three Frida’s you guys painted, you should frame them in succession!
Jen, this is SO great – thanks for making me feel like I totally CAN bring my toddler to a museum! 🙂
I have an (almost) 2 and 4 yr old and we live very close to free art museums. It is a great thing to do with the kids. I love your advice and the idea to play i-spy. My main advice is to go with no expectations of how long you will stay and snacks! Get out there moms and let your kids be exposed to beautiful art. You are shaping these sponge like brains to have good aesthetics.
I love the way you create a museum for your family. You’re so creative. I will make one museum too
These are some really great tips for parents who want to be able to take their children to art museums! I’ve been worried since I had kids that I would have to cut back on things like museums, but these are some really helpful steps to help get my kids used to the setting. I agree completely that it’s important to be able to take children to things like art galleries and museums. Thank so much for writing!