Once I had kids, I basically stopped going to museums. I thought, my kids were too loud, easily bored, and just kid-like to enjoy the museums I wanted to go to, so I stayed away. Then my own parents showed me that even my kids can enjoy museums too. On a trip to Los Angeles, they all went to the Getty, and then later included me in a trip to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA). I’m quite pleased to say that art museums are back on the menu for my family!
A successful family trip to the museum may take a little preparation.
- Don’t try to see everything at once. Short and sweet visits leave the whole family much happier than long marches through entire buildings.
- Visit the museum’s website ahead of time. You can plan your trip to see just the highlights, or even make your own scavenger hunt. Many have photos of their artwork online, along with information on the artists. Choose a handful of pieces and print out pictures to create a scavenger hunt of sorts. The kids can find the art in the museum and learn something as they go.
- Consider choosing a special exhibit to visit. These are usually well-curated and well-contained, limiting the scope of a visit to something more manageable.
- Read about museums and artwork. A favorite art series of mine is called Art for Children, which has books on Picasso, Matisse, and many others. Even if you’re not seeing works from these artists, the series gives an appreciation for how art is created in many different styles.
- Or try fiction. One particularly fun museum adventure is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, in which a brother and sister run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You could even watch one of the Night at the Museum movies, where exhibits come to life while the building is closed. Silly fun to be sure, but it shows kids a particular secret: every artifact at every museum is full of stories to share.
Once you’re at the museum, keep it fun!
- Be enthusiastic – it’s contagious.
- Play I Spy. Younger children especially will enjoy finding particular images in paintings. Older kids might like to find all the works from one or two artists.
- Remember the outside too. Many museums, including the Getty and the De Young, have beautiful outdoor spaces full of statues and other pieces of art, and plenty of space to move around.
- Ask your children for their opinions, and respect them. All art is not to everyone’s taste – that’s part of what’s so wonderful about it. What is their favorite piece in a room? Which one would they like to have on their wall back home?
- Help them make connections to the art. Kids who like history might enjoy knowing whether an artist lived before or after the Revolutionary War. You could talk about what was happening in the world at the time the piece was created. This helps put art in context as well as showing connections between art and the rest of the world.
- Take advantage of the educational programs offered. At LACMA we stopped in to the Children’s Gallery where the kids could make their own Japanese-inspired painting that day. Check out some of the resources listed at the bottom of this article for good family programming.
- Don’t forget time for silliness. My kids love to take pictures, of themselves and of their surroundings. You could have them pose like statues, or take pictures (remember, no flash!) of the art they like best.
In the Bay Area we have some truly wonderful opportunities to share art and museums with our children. Parents.com named the de Young Museum one of the 10 best art museums for kids. The de Young and the Palace of the Legion of Honor have extensive children and family programming, including kid-friendly tours and interactive exhibits.
The Asian Art Museum offers free Family Programs that allow parents and children to share exploration of Asian history and cultures via storytelling. (Discover & Go participant)
The San Jose Museum of Art has hands-on gallery activities and other family programs and events. (Discover & Go participant)
The Museum of African Diaspora has youth-specific tours that cater to families. (Discover & Go participant)
The Contemporary Jewish Museum offers numerous family programs. (Discover & Go participant)
Be sure to check out the whole list of Discover & Go participating museums, and get out there!