5 Tips for Visiting an Art Museum with Kids
With FREE Printables for your Own Scavenger Hunt
If you’re like me, you love the idea of exposing your kids to fine art or cultural museums. But those grand plans don't always go well. No sooner have you walked through the front door than the trouble begins. Someone is hungry. Someone’s feet hurt. Someone used a loud voice and received a stern look from a docent. And someone is already bored. How is it possible? You just arrived!
We've had our fair share of disappointing museum experiences. As a former teacher who has led many student field trips, to a mom who now travels the world far and near with her two boys, I‘ve learned a few tips that will help to ensure the best museum visit with kids. Keep reading to find out what I do to provide cultural experiences for my family and keep everyone happy at the same time.
Set Them Up for Success
While spontaneity can be fun in some realms (such as having a pillow fight or painting your toenails), a trip to an art museum with kids shouldn’t be one of them. Setting them up for success means planning. This means all the little things that will ultimately add up to success. Choose the right day of the week and time of the day. If possible, avoid weekends and peak hours when exhibits will be over-crowded. Museums are typically the emptiest right after they open and right before the close. Build the anticipation by preparing your kids ahead of time for what they will see. Many museums have interactive websites with pages specifically geared toward kids. Getting them excited about what they will see before they see it is a great way to build anticipation. Make sure that everyone has comfortable shoes on, has had plenty of sleep and is not hungry.
Although museums are known for being places where we use our “Inside voices,” and where we “Don’t touch anything,” it doesn’t mean there is no fun to be had. In fact, art museums are enjoyable places indeed, with exhibits that will stir up feelings of curiosity, laughter, and wonder. Many museums have special programs for kids. Stop by the information desk upon arriving and inquire about classes, tours, scavenger hunts, hands-on activities and exhibits designed explicitly for kids. Check the museum’s website for special events coming up.
Bring A Scavenger Hunt!
Use these FREE printable pages that work for any museum. Each box contains enough room for your child to draw a picture of something they see in the museum that fits the description. Print one or two, or even all four of them, put them on a clipboard, grab some colored pencils, and you’re ready for your scavenger hunt. For older kids, you can also encourage them to write down 1-2 interesting facts that they learned about that piece of art.
Give them a Camera
Whether using an iPod, disposable camera or one of these instant photo cameras, taking pictures is always a fun way to enjoy a museum. Your kids will get to choose what interests them the most and also have a great souvenir from their visit. Be sure and inquire about photography rules at the museum before showing up. Most museums allow photography without the use of the flash. Some museums, however, strictly prohibit photography and this would be best to know before you arrive.
Keep it Brief
We all know people who love to see every. single. thing. in a museum. Maybe you’re that person. Good for you. Go and enjoy a museum sometime, by yourself that is. If you’re looking to have a positive experience with your young person, don’t subject them to that kind of torture! When it comes to art museums and kids, less is more. Do a little research ahead of time and select just a handful of masterpieces that you and your kiddos will enjoy. Consider it a successful mission if you leave, and everyone wished you had seen more. That means you can go again and your kiddos will have fond memories of the experience. Imagine the other way around. You exhaust them and then they leave cranky and tired. The next time you mention an art museum, everyone moans and runs the other direction. As your kids grow and mature, the length of your museum visits will increase.
Food & Gift Shops
Part of the fun of visiting a museum is getting a snack in the museum cafe and choosing a souvenir from the gift shop. If this is in your budget, plan to make these splurges part of your visit. Museum cafes are often beautiful displays of artistic space in their own right. We were recently visiting the Smithsonian Museum of Art, and when we were ready for some refreshment, we found the cafeteria down in the basement. The food was delicious, and the variety was enormous. There was a cascading water feature that we loved. And then when we finished our meal, everyone enjoyed the movable tray collector for our dirty dishes. Many museums also have a great spot for picnicking, and you can bring your own food. A visit to the gift shop on your way out can be a fun place to grab a souvenir. Even if it’s a simple pencil or postcard, it can serve as a great reminder of a favorite work of art.
Check out this list of the best art museums in the US for kids.
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And if you're looking for ways to expand your kids' art knowledge from home, check out these children's books.
These are my favorite:
The Arts: A Visual Encyclopedia
13 Artists Children Should Know
13 Paintings Children Should Know
13 Art Techniques Children Should Know
Child's Introduction to Art: The World's Greatest Paintings and Sculptures
What did I miss? Can you add any tried and true tips to this list? Please share in the comments below.