It was July and we were in packed traffic trying to find a parking spot in Washington DC at the height of tourist season.
It was around 250 degrees and 3,000% humidity. I saw sparrows burst into flames mid-flight and then melt into a puddle of feathers. Yes, it was on such a day that I was going to attempt to walk the hallowed halls of the National Gallery of Art with my four children who were all under the age of nine.
Yep. But I was determined to give my kids some CULTURE, or burst into flames trying.
As you might have guessed, it was a disaster. Their feet wore out walking from the car to the gallery. Their attention spans ran out in the first 15 minutes of looking at paintings they didn’t care about. My patience ran out when my children all tried to go different directions while I was trying to have a quiet moment with a favorite Van Gogh painting.
I blew it. Not my kids. Me.
However, from the ashes of that experience I learned how to repair my mistakes and actually have a great experience. All too often that’s how parenting works. I hope I can save you some trouble.
So, here is what I wish I’d known years ago. I wish I had known that the beautiful cultured experience I was looking for was totally attainable. I wish I knew how easy it would be. So don’t get intimidated by the prospect. We’re going to help you have FUN at the art museum.
First off, kids can have a blast at art museums. At first glance you may think art museums are not built for children. However, pretty much every art museum has an education/outreach department that will have great resources. Many of them are specifically geared toward kids. Some are great! Others are… well… your kids won’t like them.
Don’t worry, we’ve created our own resources to help you as you bravely set forth to culture-ize your kids. All of this, and much more is included in our FREE ART MUSEUM GAMES FOR KIDS download at the end of the post. So, armed with some new tools and the following information, your museum trip will be a success!
Here are some strategies and tools to enjoy your time at the museum
Set Realistic expectations. We should not expect them to act like educated adults who know what they’re looking at. We need to prepare them before we go to an art museum. In the free download I give you loads of ideas to prepare them, but here are a few. Look at the museum website and get them familiar with the paintings in advance. You’d be surprised how long they’ll sit on your lap eating ice cream while looking at the pictures on a museum website. Before you go, talk about the art you’re going to see. Talk about the artists. Talk about art museum etiquette (no touching the art, being quiet, and no running away while your parent is trying to enjoy Van Gogh). Set the expectations, prepare them and even practice at home with little ones. They can do it if they know what is expected in advance.
Make it fun! Think about the museum experience from a child’s perspective. The art doesn’t move! There is no catchy theme song, and a child’s innate urge to touch new things is a big no-no. Is it any wonder that kids, if given no structure, will stroll past the paintings at the same speed as they scroll through Netflix looking for something to catch their eye. (Many adult patrons do this too). So what is the solution? Make it a GAME!
We’ve made a 5 page printable for you to take with you to the museum! It includes a scavenger hunt page, activity pages, and other ways to enjoy the art museum.
Field tested with real kids in real museums, these games work. Just print them in advance. Get a pencil and a clipboard and you’re ready to go. In fact, these games work so well at engaging kids that I’ve been stopped by museum curators who asked me to send them these games. Kids don’t naturally know how to “do” museums. You’ve got to make it FUN so they want to come back, and go to more museums in the future.
Less is More. Ok, we need to be honest here. I get it. You’re excited to see this museum. You may have spent a great deal of money to get there. You may have limited time and you want to pack in every moment. You are in serious danger of making your kid think they HATE museums. Maybe you think you hate museums because you had a parent that made you walk around for six hours looking at boring paintings. When people say they hate museums, I think it’s like when people say they hate books. Maybe there are a few sad souls who really do hate books (I pity these people) but most people have just had bad experiences reading the wrong books. The same goes with museums. If you threw a copy of Great Expectations at a kindergartener and forced them to read it for six hours they would not have a good experience. Don’t do the same thing to your child by making them go through a museum in a way that isn’t age appropriate. Little kids should have short trips to see only a few key things they find interesting. We have a daughter who is obsessed with horses, so every museum trip includes trying to find the horse paintings. Take breaks for snacks. Use the benches to rest your feet before you get tired. Play a few art games from our download. Most of all, pay attention to your kids internal timer. You know when their “done” button has gone off. You want to leave them with a positive impression of museums. So if you can tell they’re done, leave and return to be cultured another day. If you want to stroll at your own speed for ten hours PLEASE get a babysitter and leave the kids at home. You’ll be happy. They’ll be happy.
You can do this. We can help you. Click on the link below and go enjoy some art!