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Visiting Museums with Children

November 2014

Tips for Museum Trips with Kids * Related books for children

I was a rambunctious, strong-willed, independent child, and my mother was determined this would not stop her from pursuing one of her passions: museums. She devised ways to keep me interested. I probably raced down the museum galleries yelling my head off, but somehow she kept me amused.

We played treasure hunt games, where she would direct me to find something. "Look for the hidden dog in a painting in this room," which I proudly pointed out once discovered. I never forgot the "Three Musicians" by Picasso, with a wagging tail keeping time and the rest of the large dog sitting in shadow under their legs. You can see it at MoMA. At the Metropolitan Museum you can pick up treasure hunt guides developed by curators just for kids. Browse the Greek galleries for animals or gods and goddesses mentioned in the Percy Jackson books. Find scenes and objects From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Search the African galleries or the arms and armor collection, or look for games of chess. You can download the guide before you go or pick it up at the information counter.

We played Talking Statues. Sitting on a bench for a much-needed break in a sculpture garden or indoor courtyard, my mother would keep me still by whispering in my ear. We pretend to be the statues we were looking at, talking to each other. What would this one say to that one? She whispered to me, and I whispered back.

Choose your favorite. This was not an order, but an invitation with a possible reward. If I could pick one favorite from all the paintings and sculpture and objects of art, then we would search for it among the postcards and reproductions in the gift shop. For a mere 25 or 50 cents, my mother purchased my attention. I scrutinized one painting after another. My favorites changed a great deal over the years, from brightly colored geometric art at age 6 or 8 to dark moody paintings in my teens. For quite a while the Impressionists were my favorites. The purchased postcards adorned my bedroom wall, tiny enough to be placed at eye level above my desk or bed. I still like putting up postcards, tiny reproductions that can surprise and inspire.

From when I could speak sentences, my mother would ask for my opinions and I would answer. "How do you know that it's a Michelangelo?" was a question given to me at a preschool age. "Because the women look like men and the skies are angry," I answered. Years later, taking my 4-year-old son to MoMA on their "free" (pay-what-you-wish) evening, he told me that he loved Van Gogh's paintings because of "the dancing trees." We each have our own way of interpreting art. I loved the rows of dark green cypress trees with swirling branches above a golden wind-blown field, and thought that my young son had described them perfectly.

A museum visit is a multi-disciplinary educational experience. Regardless of the exhibition topic, you will probably encounter history, geography, reading, art, phys. ed., science, and more. We learn map reading by using the museum map; we tell time and follow a schedule when we get to a workshop on time; we study maps to see where the art came from and timelines to see how long ago it was made; and we do phys. ed. every time we walk through galleries for hours. You are probably touching on every subject with a single museum visit.

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Tips for Museum Trips with Kids

  1. Make your visit short - no more than two hours, maybe even one. Young children don't have long attention spans, so less is more. Try to anticipate when your kid has had enough and leave for the park or home.
  2. Don't try to see everything. Choose one collection or one treasure hunt guide, or maybe one special exhibit.
  3. Get a map of the museum at the information counter. Ask if they have a kids' map. Eacon can have their own map.
  4. Check the website before you go for children's activities or special workshops that might engage your child. Download any kids' guides or maps, to jksave time at the museum. Plan your trip to take advantage of free family art workshops.
  5. Talk to your child while you look at the art. Engage them with questions and memories. Does a painting remind you of a place you have been or something you have done? Is there a feeling in it that you can relate to? Are there invisible sounds or tastes or textures that you could point out? Some paintings are funny, some are historic; they all tell stories. Ask your children for their opinions. Encourage them to tell the story in a work of art.
  6. Play Games. I Spy (a good way to notice a detail that might have gone ignored); Talking Statues (makes sculpture come to life), Comparisons (That looks like… or That reminds me of…).
  7. Choose a favorite work of art that you saw on your visit. Stop by the gift shop, where you will probably find children's books and toys you can browse. An affordable postcard or a free brochure will give you a souvenir of your visit.
  8. Later that week, do an activity to build on the experience. Fill a scrapbook or diary page, create a work of art inspired by what you saw, write a poem, read about the artist, talk about your visit, and perhaps plan another trip.

Above all, have fun!

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Related books for kids

  • Museum A B C, published by the Metropolitan Museum, an alphabet book that introduces children to works of art in the museum's collections.
  • I Spy: An Alphabet in Art, by Lucy Micklethwait, an alphabet book using famous works of art.
  • Museum 1 2 3, published by the Metropolitan Museum, an early counting book that introduces children to works of art in the museum's collections.
  • Museum Shapes, published by the Metropolitan Museum, introduces shapes found in works of art in the museum's collections.
  • Museum Colors, published by the Metropolitan Museum, introduces works of art in the museum's collections through color.
  • Lullabies: An Illustrated Songbook, published by the Metropolitan Museum, 37 lullabies with lyrics and music illustrated by works in the museum's collections.
  • Go in and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook for Children, published by the Metropolitan Museum.
  • You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, by Jacqueline Preiss Weizman, a wordless picture story (one in a series).
  • Van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt's Artists Books for Children), by Laurence Anholt (more titles in this series introduce famous artists to children, as well as Anholt's Artists Activity Book)
  • Vincent's Colors, published by the Metropolitan Museum.
  • Metropolitan Museum and its Magic Stories: A Year in the Metropolitan Museum (Museum Adventure Guide for Children and Adults), by Anna Krayn
  • How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland, history of the Hatshepsut sphinx's journey from ancient Egypt to the Metropolitan Museum (part of a series).
  • Fun with Hieroglyphs, by Catherine Roehrig, published by the Metropolitan Museum, includes an alphabet chart, rubber stamps of Egypitan hieroglyphs and an ink pad.
  • Monet and the Impressionists for Kids: Their Lives and Ideas, 21 Activities (For Kids Series), by Carol Sabbeth (also Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids, and more in the series).
  • Katie Meets the Impressionists, by James Mayhew (one in a series where Katie meets the works of great artists)
  • Off the Wall Museum Guides for Kids: Impressionist Art, by Ruthie Knapp (one in a series of Off the Wall Guides)
  • Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters, by Mary Ann Kohl and Kim Solga, with 75 artists from the Renaissance to the present, and 110 hands-on activities.
  • When Pigasso Met Mootisse, by Nina Laden, an amusing homage to Picasso and Matisse that will entertain young children.
  • Matisse's Garden, by Samantha Friedman, an homage to Matisse's papercuts.
  • Cut-Out Fun with Matisse, by Max Hollein and Nina Hollein, includes Matisse-inspired colored paper for children to cut out.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg, a classic children's book about a brother and sister who run away and stay in the Metropolitan Museum. After you read the book you can tour the museum with the companion children's guide.

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