Seven Quick Takes: may the force be with you

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One. Yesterday I took the children to the Denver Art Museum. When they were younger, the Art Museum was one of their favorite places to hang out, but now that they’re big, they don’t think they have time. So sad to be sixteen and have seen it all…
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Two. I dragged them anyway (Come with me, young padawan…) And as soon as we stepped in the members’ line—before we’d even seen the door to the exhibit—they all started bouncing around, getting excited about it.

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Three. The exhibit itself was fantastic. Everything was there: the Jedi robes, all the different light sabers, draughtsman renderings, the clippings that inspired Princess Amidala’s robes, all sorts of Greeblies, Han and Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and yes, the metal bikini. (Sorry, no photo.)
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Four. I skipped a few of the prequel movies (true confessions), so Amidala’s gazillions of costumes were all new to me. But they were so exquisite in the fabric and the detail.
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Five. Yoda and I had a chat. Love Yoda, I do.
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Six. The DAM has a room dedicated to hands-on art. It rotates with whatever the special exhibit is at the time, so right now it’s a costume-designing room. The girls loved it; the boys walked over to the bookstore instead.
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Seven. We don’t do field trips as frequently as we did when they were younger, but they’re worth it when we do—this one especially so. Even just for the “Mom, thanks for making me come,” a certain teenager whispered in my ear.

Go check out Kelly for more quick takes!

And for more on how to make your local art museum accessible to your kids, you can read here or here.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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?