Art Museum with Littles

Does the thought of tackling an art museum with your children give you hives?

If I had thought about it before we began doing it regularly, I’m sure I wouldn’t have taken my children.  And we all would have missed out.

Last week’s Adventure Day was a trip to the Denver Art Museum.  We invited friends (we always prefer to do the art museum with friends).  And these were awesome friends to do art with.

We set our expectations low: meet at ten, lunch at 11ish, leave by 12.  In reality, our morning lasted till almost one, but if it hadn’t, no one would have been upset.


First, we review the museum rules: don’t touch the art. No running. Quiet voices.
Our museum has lots of hands-on areas, but even if yours doesn’t, you might be able to step out of the way in a gallery to draw with a pencil. Or with a little advance preparation, you could prepare a scavenger hunt in the art. (Find one king, two girls, three horses, four dogs…)  Or, we like to let the children pick out one postcard each from the gift shop and then hunt those pieces down.


Notice the photo-bomber on the back of the tortoise.

Allow the children to direct the pace.  Over time, my kids have found favorite places, where they want to spend a long time.  But maybe there’s  gallery you love that won’t speak the same way to the kids.  Allow them to move you along, and you can come back another day without them.  You want their introduction to the museum to be a fond memory.


Try to hit the museum when it’s not too busy.  We didn’t plan that so well this time, but a call ahead to the front desk would have told me that six tours of junior high kids were going to be there.


This is my architecture-lover.  There was an architecture tour leaving from the lobby just as we arrived, and he asked to be allowed to go on it one day.  Let the kids’ interests direct you.  So what if I have a unit on Chagall planned?  If they fall in love with Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s fruit faced portraits, the day is a success.

Summer by Guiseppe Arcimboldo
Spend wisely.  For us, this means joining one or two museums per year as a family, and making multiple visits to them.  The next year, we join different ones.  Having a membership has meant that I can let a 30 minute trip be a success, knowing that I can come back another day.  But there was a time when we lived in Chicago that even one museum membership was out of our reach.  We relied on the free passes occasionally available at the library.  Had I paid $40 for our family to get in, I would certainly have pushed my cranky toddler to make it longer than forty minutes.  In Denver, the museums post online a schedule of several free days each year.  It means the museum is more crowded, but the crowd may be less important than your ability to walk away while the day has still been a joy.
For older children, consider using the headphones for a guided tour.  We did this for a recent Van Gogh exhibit, and it was a hit.  They learned a ton, and there were several different levels of narrative for different ages.
Let the children experience the art themselves.  They don’t want to hear your lecture on art history.  Most likely, you don’t have time to prepare one.  A few simple questions may be enough to lure a reluctant visitor to look more carefully (eg, “if you were in that picture, who would you be?”) but for the most part, our commentary just gets in the way.
Elizabeth Foss recently had a great post on Art with littles.  What would you add?

3 thoughts on “Art Museum with Littles

  1. This resonates so much with my experience. Great advice. The pay-off is that, now, museums are some of my kids’ favorite places to visit.

  2. This is a great post! I wish we would have done more at the DAM when we were there. I’ve taken H to one of the two art museums here. He really liked it, but there weren’t any children’s activities, nor was it a very kid-friendly place. I’m not sure how it would go with my younger two.

  3. Pingback: Seven Quick Takes: may the force be with you | Learning As We Go

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