By Elaine Dykman
One of my favorite memories of going to the art museum, is going with my daughter’s third grade class on a field trip to the Wadsworth Atheneum. I tried to remember what made that trip so successful, and in the process I came across several excellent blogs about going to art museums with children. I realized that many of the suggestions I came across were similar to my daughter’s trip and that’s why we must have had such a great time! The children were asked questions, challenged to look closely, and given an opportunity to provide feedback and share their opinions. What follows is a compilation of ideas I came across for taking your child to the museum and how to talk to them about what they see.
1) Planning – visit the Museum’s website ahead of time, learn what exhibits are being held, get an idea of the floor plan, and see if there is a restaurant or outdoor area for the kids to take a break.
2) Museum Manners – It’s important to let your kids know ahead of time what behavior is expected of them at the museum, especially if it is their first visit. On the way to the museum, tell them they’ll need to walk, not run, use their inside voices, and that in most cases they won’t be allowed to touch the artwork.
3) Keep it Short and Sweet – Museums can be visually overwhelming even for adults. You are bringing your kids to the museum in order to instill in them an appreciation for art. Your goal is for them to leave having had a positive experience and wanting to return. Take your kids’ ages into consideration and plan for rest breaks and snacks.
4) Enthusiasm – Think of your trip as an art adventure! If we are excited about visiting the museum and seeing great works of art, our kids will be, too.
5) Talking to children about art: become exhibition critics – Walk through the exhibition and ask questions. The key is to ask questions that are open-ended and have no right or wrong answers. Give your child time to think and respond—even if it seems like it is taking a while. Start by asking, “What do you notice?” This lets you build off of what catches their attention and helps guide them to think more critically about what they are seeing. Kids have an amazing capacity for seeing things and understanding them, if they are given help by adults. What follows are some helpful ideas from museum educators.
“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 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
“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. 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. “—Lisa Abia-Smith, Director of Education, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon