I know it is not easy to visit art museums with kids, especially young kids. We visit natural history and science museums a lot more often than art museums but I love art and have wanted to instill an appreciation for not only making art at home but also for looking at art.
“Take Time to Look” – Georgia O’Keeffe
2015 Visit to the Phoenix Art Museum
A few years ago the Phoenix Art Museum had a Pop Art Exhibit. I assumed that because Pop Art is colorful and fun my kids would enjoy the exhibit. Nope! They absolutely dislike Pop Art with a passion. They complained, loudly, inside the museum. It took me by surprise. We had to leave the exhibit ASAP. What did they enjoy? They enjoyed looking at the optical illusion art being shown next to the Pop Art exhibit and we spent a time in The Thorne Miniature Room. The miniature room has replicas of actual rooms found in the US and Europe. The models accurately show the architecture and interior design of each period and country. I had no idea they would enjoy that.
The Pop Art museum visit showed me that young kids have their opinions and preferences about the kind of art they find interesting. I cannot make assumptions. I’ve learned a few more things about looking at art with kids over the years so here are some tips for visiting art museum with kids.
Tips for Visiting Museums with Kids
1. Find out what your kids are interested in. A year after the Pop Art exhibit, the Phoenix Art Museum had an interactive video game exhibit. My son loves playing video games. I read some of the information about the exhibit beforehand to see if it was something they would enjoy. It was a fantastic experience for all of us.
2. Visit the museum website together before your visit. Most museums have excellent websites with images of collections and information about current exhibits. The Google Art & Culture site can take you to museums all over the world. We used Google Arts & Culture to preview the Galileo Museum in Florence before we visited.
3. Take time to learn about an artist or an art style before your visit. Art museum visits are much more enjoyable when you know what you are looking at and you know about the artist. The kids will feel more invested in going to an art museum when they have background information and they have been part of the learning process.
4. Choose an artist’s work or 5 works of art to see. You don’t have to visit the entire museum. At the Louvre, we literally ran in to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. That’s it. It was hot and crowded anyway. We had a 3-day Paris Museum pass so we did not feel pressured to spend the entire day there. At the Musee d’Orsay, I was excited to see Van Gogh’s work. My family knew it, they wanted to see it as well, but they got antsy. My husband and the boys went off to see the five worst paintings in the museum. They found the list in a tourist guide and had fun looking at bad art.
5. Take a break At the Uffizi we all got hungry after 45 minutes. We took a break at the lovely cafe. The kids had the best peach juice they had ever tasted while my husband and I enjoyed a nice coffee. No one got hangry and we were able to enjoy more time at the museum after having a snack.
6. Provide the kids with an opportunity to create. Invite your kids to explore tools and techniques that artists use or create art inspired by the work they see. The will appreciate the effort involved in making art and this process allows them to make sense of the work for themselves. In the photo below, we took oil pastels with us to the Desert Botanical Garden. We walked around looking at the beautiful Chihuly glass sculptures, had a snack and enjoyed making some pictures.
At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, they have clipboards and a pencil for kids to use as they go through the museum. My daughter loved this! She loved being invited to sketch visiting the museum. She sat in each room and took time to look and draw. She said this was her favorite museum of all.
7. Go early or go late. Famous museums get crowded pretty quickly and no one enjoys looking at art while being shoved aside in crowded rooms or hungry. The best times to visit are right when the museum opens or in the evening hours after dinner. We enjoy early morning visits because we are able to see the works of art we are interested in and we can get around the museum quickly and easily. Going to the museum early allows you to take a break, have a snack and choose to see more or call it day.
We went to the Centre Pompidou after dinner one night. It was not crowded and we were able to move around the museum quite easily. The evening visit allowed us to see a live Modern art performance. The kids had quite a lot to say about the Modern art they saw and the performance. It was one of our most memorable museum visits. (They still don’t like Pop Art.)
8. Get the Audio Guide It is helpful to have individual audio guides. The kids enjoy using them and choosing which art pieces they wanted to hear about. I found that we listen and learn about different artwork when we have our own audio guides. It frees me from feeling like I have to be the tour guide.
9. Talk about what you see. I like to ask the kids questions about the art we are looking at. Talking about art with my kids often helps me see a work in a new way or to notice details I ignored. I will ask just a few questions about an artwork just to get us started talking about the piece. They often have very strong opinions about what they see.
- What do you see?
- What did the artist paint?
- What kinds of colors do you see?
- Can you see the brush strokes?
- What does this make you think of or remind you of?
- What do you think the artist wanted to show?
- How does it make you feel?
- What do you think about this work?
- Do you like it? Why or Why not?
10. Make time for art at home year round. Invite your kids to create, make, look at and talk about art. I try to encourage my kids to make and create. They have a space and materials to use in our home. As toddlers, I allowed them to use markers, crayons, and tempera paints. I have paintings they created from about 18 months old and I cherish them. I have wonderful memories of little chubby hands moving with purpose.
I found the video below a few months ago. It cracks me up to hear the music and to see my little guy painting but it also warms my heart. I am sure that this brief scene probably lasted only the few seconds I caught on video but I hope it helps you see that art making with young children is doable and it doesn’t have to result in some masterpiece.
For me, art appreciation is about sharing an interest with my kids and spending time together looking at art or exploring art materials and processes. I hope you found the tips helpful in planning your next art museum visit together with your kids.