Taking Children to the Museum

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After the  Musee D’Orsay and the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum is one of my favorite places. It has really thoughtful spaces and projects put together to help kids enjoy art. This was my first trip to the museum with the kids since my friend Amy moved away. She was my Art Museum buddy for years. Even though no one wore formal attire this trip, we had a great experience.
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I took them to a special exhibit, “Becoming Van Gogh.”  Normally I wouldn’t have thought to buy the audio guide headphones, but they came with our museum membership, and it enabled my “big kids” to wander the exhibit on their own, listening to the guide when they wanted (or not, depending) while I focused on making sure my littlest remembered the museum rules.  She did.

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It’s been 4 years since we studied Van Gogh, and before we went, the kids enjoyed going through their old “copies” of the pictures (and their self-portraits in blue and green).  Then in the exhibit, they were fascinated with Van Gogh’s notebooks and with his drawing/paintings that were copies of other artists.  It was a great exhibit.

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After working our way through (it took us about an hour), we hit the painting area, where we painted sculptures and did our own still life paintings.

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We didn’t end up hitting our other favorite spots, but we will go back. After a picnic lunch on a beautiful Colorado day, we went to the (central) Children’s Library. They were like kids in a candy store. On the whole, it made for a successful day.

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Have you been intimidated by taking your kids to museums?  Here are my (in-process) tips for making it a good experience:

1) Start small.  A big museum can be overwhelming.  Spending twenty minutes in a small museum is much better than 2 hours and a meltdown in a big one.

2) If you’re ready to tackle a bigger museum, plan to hit only one area.  This is where joining a museum is a blessing– perhaps grandparents would be willing to give your child a museum membership instead of toys for Christmas?  When we lived in Chicago, we were able to use free family museum passes that circulated through the libraries like books.  (What a great idea!)  Denver has SCFD Free Days at each museum through the year.

3) Something familiar in the museum can make it feel like a friend.  If your children have been introduced to one of the paintings before you go, you can plan your trip through the museum to arrive at the familiar painting like scavenger hunt.  Many museums have online sites where you can access either the gift shop or the collections, and each child can pick a picture which is “theirs.”  In the past I gave each child a postcard to carry with them to help them identify their “goal” in the museum.

4) A little Charlotte Mason here: Don’t get “between” your child and the art.  I find the more I talk to the kids about the art, the less they experience it for themselves.  When I let them interact with the art themselves, the more that art becomes their own.

5) I have given each child a dedicated Art Notebook, which we usually take with us to the art museum.  Check with your museum about whether they allow pens, colored pencils, or only regular pencils.  Looking back over this notebook before our next trip reminds them of their “favorites.”

What are your suggestions for making a museum trip a success?

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7 thoughts on “Taking Children to the Museum

  1. The “sketching what they like” idea has been a real hit with my kids – and then I have fantastic souvenirs of our museum outings. I save a few in a family scrapbook and they are way better than anything I might have bought at the gift shop!

  2. Check out the museum web site before you go and see if there are any exhibits that might be particularly appealing to your kids, see if they have any download-able family guides to take with you when you go or if they have family guides at the museum. My kids love these! See if the educators have any art making opportunities when you are in the building. And, like you said, keep it short. Oh, and most museums are cool with pencils, but pens and gum should be left at home.

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