Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Visiting Art Museums with Children

For many parents, art museums often aren't the first places that come to mind as kid-friendly destinations. After all, there's no touching, no running, and no snacking allowed in the galleries (even I get upset about that last one sometimes). On the other hand, there are limitless opportunities to let your imagination run wild, and incredible worlds of color and shape to explore. To help enrich your family's experience, we asked education professionals at a number of art museums to give advice for how to ensure children get the most out of their visit. Here's what they had to say:

"Help your child focus on the artworks by asking questions that lead to critical viewing, such as: What title would you give this work, and why? And, If this artwork could talk, what would it say? The idea is to keep the conversation fun and engaging, and the child should feel that his or her ideas are accepted. Through discussions such as these, children will learn to see art as a visual language." ---Laura Hales, Associate Curator of Education, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

"Take your time and look closely at just a few things during your visit. Don’t feel like you need to see the whole museum in one day. Ask your child what they would like to see and let them lead your adventure. Bring along some paper and colored pencils for a drawing break at their favorite piece." ---Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, Head of Gallery Learning, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"Art museums enrich all of our lives, and this is especially true for children. Encourage children to explore their own interpretations and reactions to the artwork, and allow them to gravitate toward what interests them. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Children take cues from their parents and caregivers; when they see that you value museums and the artistic experience, they are empowered to make their own meaningful connections." ---Education staff, Mississippi Museum of Art

"Take a seat! Sitting on the floor in front of a work of art is a great strategy for families. By grounding themselves they can focus on looking at the art. And, it is hard to touch or accidentally run into a work of art while sitting! Expect some fidgeting with the feet, but that's OK! Sitting on the ground also encourages spending more time with each work of art. (Just be sure not to block walkways or exits.)

Don't try to see it all! Twenty minutes to one hour, depending on your family, is a good amount of time to look at art in the galleries. If your museum has an outdoor space, break up your visit by looking at art in the galleries then running off some of that wiggly energy outside then returning refreshed to the galleries." ---Karen Satzman, Education Manager, Los Angeles County Museum of Art 

"First of all, try not to overwhelm your child with too many objects. Less is definitely more in an art museum visit. Try for seven to nine objects at the most.

Let your child drive the conversation and this can be done by avoiding directed questions where there is only one correct answer or a yes or no answer.

• Ask the child what he or she thinks is going on in the painting/work of art? Let him or her describe what they see and ask them what makes them say that? See where their imagination takes them. Your discussion can be about their interpretation rather than reading the label and lecturing to them.  Explore the work together as a team.

• Bring a pencil and a small sketchbook. This is a wonderful technique for you and your child to process what you see. Sketch what you see or imagine you see or ask your child to jot down adjectives that describe the work of art.

• Act it out! Ask your child to act out the character illustrated in the work of art of ask them to use their body to mimic the lines and shapes if it is an abstract piece. This helps a child move from observation to truly understanding or engaging with the work.

Remember to approach the museum as a place of family-centered learning and explore together."  ---Lisa Abia-Smith, Director of Education, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon

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