When you envision a trip to an art museum with your kids, does your blood pressure rise, imagining their little hands touching the precious, priceless art objects? Taking your kids to an art museum doesn’t have to end with the museum guards kicking your family out the door! I’ve taken my babies, toddlers, kids, and now teens to museums, and these family museum trips are a special part of our family culture. With a little preparation and a few proactive strategies in the galleries, your visit can be a success!
Planning a museum visit for the entire family:Buy tickets online, and for especially large collections, view a map and see if the museum has multiple entrances. You can avoid long lines by finding the lesser-known side or back entryway.
Pay close attention to the days and hours of operation. Many museums close on Mondays or Tuesdays. If you can go midmorning during the week, crowds are often much lighter.
Check out the museum’s education site online. Often, museum educators will post games, blogs, podcasts, and videos made for families. These resources can help your kids get excited about the art they will see. Also, museum family events are usually free and often unforgettable. Whether it’s the Unicornfest at the Cloisters Museum in New York, the Pirates and Mermaids Party at the Yale British Art Center, or the Percy Jackson Audio Tour at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, I haven’t met a kids’ museum program that I didn’t love!
Having a conversation with your kids about what kinds of art they are interested in can help guide your museum route. Egyptian art, Near-Eastern art, medieval collections, fancy furniture, and colorful contemporary art are popular types of art for many kids.
If you and your kids aren’t sure what kind of art you like, head to the library and check out art books about a variety of different art movements. Reading about art and artists can build anticipation for your whole family!
Planning a museum visit with a baby:Be sure to pack a baby carrier. Strollers can be cumbersome and make the guards nervous! Also, bring a small diaper bag; many museums do not allow bags larger than a small backpack in the galleries.
Planning a museum visit with a teen:Ask your teen to research and plan part of your museum tour. They love having the freedom to choose what to see and the responsibility to teach your family something new. I also throw in a journal in case my teens are interested in sketching or writing during their visit.
At the museum:Once you are at the museum, grab a map and look at it with your kids. Many museums have maps specifically for kids.
If you haven’t had a chance to see what is there, stop into the gift shop and let your child pick out a postcard with an object that catches his/her eye. Later, find the art object in the museum.
Keep in mind that this is an experience for your child. This may be the hardest but most important suggestion of all. As much as you might want to detour to something else, surrender your interests to focus on making this meaningful for your kids. When we visit the museum with our entire family, including my husband, we often take turns, so we can have quality time with our kids and also see the art in other galleries.
As you spend time in the galleries, be aware that most toddlers and preschoolers enjoy the museum up to an hour and then tire out. Pushing them beyond their limits may sour the experience. In my experience, it’s the toddlers who need the most interaction with their parents.
If your crew needs a little break, often there is a nearby sculpture garden or outdoor space where you can get some fresh air outside. You may also want to plan some time at a park before or after the museum to let your kids burn off some energy.
At the museum with a toddler:Kids love pictures! Think of how much they love picture books! As long as your kids have someone as their guide to help them through the galleries, they will enthusiastically engage with the art they see. This can feel taxing, but it can be really fun—what is your toddler crazy about? Trains? Dragons? Princesses? Dogs? Can you look at the art through that lens?
I remember taking my son through the Yale British Art Center when he was two years old. He loved trains, and in the George Stubbs room full of paintings of animals, we talked about how a circus train was picking up each animal to join the circus. He loved it so much, we repeated going around in “our train” to pick up the animals three more times!
Ask questions and engage the senses: What are the smells, tastes, textures, or sounds of this place?Ask your kids questions that immerse them in the artwork: What would you put in that Greek vase? I’d put popcorn! Does that woman look like she would be a nice teacher to have at school? Do you think it would be cold to be on that boat? The more you can encourage your children’s imagination, the more they will find relevance in the art they are seeing.
As you leave the Museum:Art museum gift shops often have hard-to-find art supplies and beautiful art-themed toys that are worth checking out. I usually snap a photo of the gift-shop bookshelf, as there are often gems that I’ve never heard of (and then I order them all from the library!).
Taking kids to art museums is like any other parenting pursuit—the more time your family spends in museum galleries, the more fun and enriching these visits will become.
QUESTION: What cultural sites are nearby that you’d like to visit? What are your best strategies for navigating cultural sites with your kids?
CHALLENGE: Make a list of museums that you’d love to visit with your family and set a date to visit one of them! If you’re feeling ambitious, plan visits for once a quarter or even once a month! Think broader than just museums. There are also concerts, plays, dance performances, street art, and more!
Edited by Kimberly Price.
Image provided by the author.