Going to the Art Museum with Kids!

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

See more at: http://arts.gov/blue-star/2013/visiting-art-museums-children#sthash.cub6Nw4j.dpuf


1. http://www.takingthekids.com/eileens-blog/yes-those-museum-trips-with-your-kids-pay-off/

2. http://seekyourcourse.com/blog/2013/10/art-museums-with-kids/

3. http://www.gallerymar.com/2013/10/visiting-art-museums-with-kids/

4. http://www.arthistorymom.com/art-appreciation/seven-tips-for-a-successful-trip-to-the-art-museum-with-kids/

5. http://www.takingthekids.com/eileens-blog/yes-those-museum-trips-with-your-kids-pay-off/

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Create- Artist- Art

I am teaching painting classes to beginners and constantly hear people express, ‘I am not an artist’, ‘I don’t know what I am doing’, and ‘this is terrible’.  Each time I hear one of these comments, my heart breaks.  After years of teaching drawing and illustration to children and watching their freedom, I am staggered by how hard adults are on themselves when it comes to being creative.   Let’s first talk about the definition of these three words: create, art and artist. The Oxford Dictionary (OED) defines each of these words in this way: 

Create v.

1 [with object] bring (something) into existence: he created a thirty-acre lake 

Artist n.

1 a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.

2 a person who practices or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer.

3 a person skilled at a particular task or occupation. 


1 the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. 

So, to ‘create’, which means to bring into existence, can be practiced by anyone, any profession, any level. An artist may create but one does not need to be an artist to create. Now let’s explore the definition for artist, a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby and a person who practices any of the creative arts.  In this modern culture we live in, where everyone is a specialist, the freedom to create is lost on the idea of what an artist is.  I think my students are confusing creating with being a professional artist, therefore blocking the fun and freedom they may find through the process of painting, of learning how to paint and exploring their own ideas on the canvas.

Now lets look at the last word, art: ‘expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture and producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power’. Nowhere in this definition does it say ‘specializing in’, ‘to be sold, or showed’. Rather, it says, expression, application of creative skill or imagination, to be appreciated for beauty or emotional power. When my painting students get out of their own way, and when the critic in them is quieted and I see them smile, is this not appreciation?  Can’t we all start there?  This is my dream as an educator; to have all beginning painters come into class and pick up the brushes and go at their painting with gusto, allowing themselves the freedom to try new things without their inner critic. To have people who would like to try painting and other forms of art not get hung up on the over exaggerated perception of the words art and artist so they feel the freedom to try new things. And to have my beginning painters realize that when they smile at their work after a class, according to the OED, that they have just created art and therefore have just become artists.

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Years ago, just after graduation, I had a discussion with a friend about creativity. I was just beginning my business and I felt like everyday I was thinking of thousands of ideas to tryout, launch, or discard.  At the same time, since my business is art I was constantly thinking of new art projects, getting my hands dirty and messing around with art materials regularly.  Our discussion was about the creative process, at the time I said I felt my creative process was the same, whether I was thinking about a new painting or thinking about a way to introduce or create an aspect of my business.  Both had the same arc for me:  inspiration, thought, procrastination (or incubation), organization, implementation and problem solving. Then finally, last but not least the glow, the feeling of success that comes after having created something from scratch and shared it with others.  My friend had quite a different tact, she felt that the creative process was mainly reserved for the arts.   We never did quite a agree but I still stand by my opinion, whether working with numbers, paints, words or concepts the creative process is the same.  I recently read Twyla Tharpe’s, The Creative Habit.  Here Ms. Tharp also describes creativity as something that spans across arts, science, business, etc.  She proposes the Creative Habit is the ritual we all have to help us with our process. After all these years I have found validation in this book.  This is why I think art is so important in our and our children’s lives.  We are not all in the arts but the ability to feel free to act on our ideas by going through the creative process; preparation, incubation, illumination, and implementation works for everyone.  The ability to play outside of your particular discipline helps get your juices flowing until you are back thinking up that great idea which is yours and yours alone no matter what your field.

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The Many Benefits of Childhood Art Education

“Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence,” sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it’s closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.“ (www.edutopia.org/arts-music-curriculum-child-development)

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Favorite Sources of Art Supplies for Use with Kids

Personally, I am not a fan of the art kit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea for the designers of them and they are great as gifts. But honestly, I would rather teach my students how to build a bird nest and then paint it rather than buy one for them to paint. That being said, I thought with these holidays upon us I would provide you with some links to some of my favorite online art supply companies. These sites provide supplies, projects and yes…kits.

Happy shopping!






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Ideas for Projects: Indoors or Outdoors

Do you ever wonder what to do with your children on those long weekends and vacations? Been through the kits from the art store and looking for something more spontaneous? Home art projects are a great way to let your children explore their creativity and give you both quality-time together. Here are some ideas that might help. Some of the things I have asked myself when planning art projects over the last 20 years are what am I trying to achieve from this project, is it seasonal, educational, what is the age of my student? What I have in my studio for teaching may not be what you have on hand at home but these ideas may work for you. If you’re home on a snow day for instance you might want to explore the possibility of creating a wonderful winter scene with some blackboard chalk, rice or cotton balls and dark paper. Perhaps you are thinking more of a warm weather escape, then you can take out the watercolors, melt some snow (fun for younger children) and use with paints to paint a beach or some fish. These can later be decorated with glitter or ribbons for the seaweed. No watercolor paints? Use food coloring!  Art is not only fun but can change your mood; rainy day, make a sunny picture, use bright colors, glue on some flowers!  If you are outdoors use a clipboard, cardboard, cake pan or book as a drawing surface and with some paper and graphite or colored pencils draw the garden or a tree. Don’t worry about your drawing ability, you will be exploring this with your child, they will be learning to try their best. Or pick some flowers, paint with tempera paint, lay on paper, cover with another paper and rub with a wooden spoon, instant flower print. This works great with leaves too! Educational art projects can really cement what your child is learning. Math projects: measure shapes, cut out and glue them together; take those numbers in the multiplication tables and write them out and make into a collage or game; or build a geodesic dome out of newspaper. Science projects: build the solar system or make a volcano! Draw the body or shape out of clay or modeling dough (can be made with flour and water and salt).

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Designing Kid-Friendly Creative Spaces

For years I have been teaching children, playing with children and entertaining children. I get great satisfaction from watching them create freely in their free time. Like most of us, when we have a space that is ready for use we avoid procrastinating and are free to produce what is on our mind. Art supplies that are easily reached and well organized help your child begin the creative process. Having a table ready that is always covered with paper that can be drawn upon or rolled up and tossed encourages your child to get into the art supplies on their own terms. A table that is ready for mess, with an old rug or easily washable floor underneath, and nearby open containers like baskets and bins make cleanup easy. Bold colors of paints, brushes, sponges, markers, crayons, glue, glitter, tape, ribbon, yarn, paper, stickers, envelopes and scissors will give them plenty of fun stuff to start with. Be sure to have plenty of drawing and painting papers, and pieces of cardboard on hand. You can continue to add found objects which you and your child can find together or that you can surprise them with from week to week that they can work with. I like used tubes, empty tape rolls, discarded or damaged cd’s, bits of wood and plastic mesh fruit bags to start. Easy access to the art supplies allows children to draw, paint, sculpt and create whenever they are in the mood. Soon you will notice your children wandering over to the art table in the same way they go to their toy box, picking up the art materials and having fun exploring the many treasures you have provided for them.

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