Tuesday, July 24, 2012

10 Tips for Taking Children to the Art Museum

Viewing a photography exhibit of Ron Rosenstock
at the Worcester Art Museum

Growing up, my sister and I were frequently brought to art museum exhibits.  I still remember trips to Boston and Philadelphia.  I love art history, and want my kids to have positive experiences of going to the museum.  There is so much you can learn about history and other cultures through the art made by different people.  Many pieces can inspire my little ones to go home and dabble in their paints and play dough. 

Earlier this summer we took my five year old to the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts.  There was an exhibit of photography that we thought he would like since he loves taking snapshots with his own little digital camera. 

The idea of bringing a child into an art museum can be daunting.  It’s a place that is mostly quiet, sometimes silent, where no snacks are allowed, nothing can be touched, and there’s lots of open space where you cannot run!  But, I have ventured out with my little ones and have comprised a list of ten tips I have found to be helpful.  I am sharing them with you in hopes that it will make your trip to the art museum, with children, a successful one.

1. Hone into your child's interest.  Finding an exhibit that taps into to your child’s interests will help them be more likely to engage in the exhibit.  They will be less likely to be bored and more likely to make connections with their life experience if it’s something they’ve read about or learned about in school.

2. Do your homework.  There may be special galleries at the museum geared toward younger patrons or hours set aside where children are especially welcome.  It’s always good to check out their website to double check their hours of operation, where to park, and other important information before you venture out.
Medieval architecture, originally from the
Benedictine Priory of Saint John in France. 

3. Take advantage of summer time specials and reciprocal memberships.  If you are visiting another city, check to see if your membership at a museum in your hometown is accepted at other museums.  Many museums accept memberships from other museums that are accredited by the same organizations.  We happened to be at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts where they have free general admission for the months of July and August.  Take advantage of any specials that are available.  They are offering these because they want you to come!

4. Explain what the museum will be like and how you expect your child to act.  Before the day of the trip to the museum be sure and explain what the museum will be like.  I try to emphasize that there will be other people looking at the art and it is important to be respectful so they don’t disturb anyone.  In most cases learning to act respectful is the best way to avoid embarrassing behavior.  I also try to spin it so I’m not giving a list of rules and things they cannot do, but rather things they need to do, like be quiet, have walking feet, and keep their hands to themselves (rather than saying: no yelling, no running, no touching).  And explain why: just like at the library people are thinking and reading and you will break their concentration if you are too loud, you could knock someone or something down if you run, your fingers will leave damaging oils on the artwork if you touch it, and probably set off an alarm.

5. Engage in conversation with your kids and bond with them.  Talk about what you like about a piece of artwork: the colors, the subject, the way the light and shadows look.  You don’t have to know a lot about the art, just tell them your gut feeling about what makes it interesting to you.  Point out how incredibly old something is or what part of the world it comes from. 

6. Make it fun!  I like to stand in front of a wall of artwork or in the center of the gallery and on the count of three have my family (discretely) point at their favorite piece.  It’s fun to see who likes the same piece or find out how different your taste is.  Older kids might enjoy doing a scavenger hunt.  One that doesn’t require a lot of planning on your part is to give them a piece of paper with the alphabet on it and have them fill in names of artists, titles, art movements, countries etc that they find during their journey through the exhibit.  Reward them with a quarter for every letter they fill in and let them buy a small souvenir or some postcards in the gift shop on your way out.

7. Take advantage of kid friendly amenities that the museum offers.  If there is a hands-on gallery, you want to know about it.  If there is a headset tour geared towards kids, they might enjoy it more than reading plaques on the wall.  Check their website and ask the front desk what they might recommend for your little one.

8.  Let your child set the pace.  Just because you want to linger in your favorite gallery doesn’t mean they will.  If you are truly there to give your child a positive experience let them move from piece to piece when they want to. 

9. Leave the museum with your child wanting more.  Dragging them through an entire museum to get your money’s worth or because you’ve planned to be there for the day can be too much for your child.  Pay attention to them and leave before they are overly exhausted and hungry.

10.  Pack a snack for the walk back to the car or ride home.  Just because snacks aren’t permitted in the museum doesn’t mean you can’t keep a secret snack that you bring out as you leave the building. (By secret I mean: don’t tell your child you have a snack or they will whine for it before you can actually give it to them.) Having something to munch on helps tired legs and feet make it back to the car without a piggy back ride and makes the ride home more pleasant too.  Oh, and pack a snack for yourself too.

What things do you do to make visits to a museum more successful and enjoyable for you and your children?

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