Tips for a Family Visit to the Art Museum

I had a request for information on how to plan a trip to an art museum with children. I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this before, it is a great topic. (Thanks Laura.)

There are several things that you can do to prepare for a successful day at the museum.

  • I usually start by going to the museum’s website and looking for a button that will take me to their permanent collections. You can search on Google for the museum’s name, or I like to search on Wikipedia for the museum’s name.
  • My next advice is to scan through the museum’s collection to see if there are any paintings you have already studied or artists that you are familiar with.
  • You could pick an artist that has paintings at the museum to focus on and use resources you have or those from the library to share with your children before the trip. It always helps build enthusiasm if they are looking forward to seeing an artist they have learned about beforehand.
  • You can print out a few of the paintings (postcard size) that you will see and let the children carry them with them as they walk through the museum, using the cards for a sort of “scavenger hunt”. I would suggest three paintings per child would be a good number to start with. It makes it more interesting when they actually have some reason to be at the museum other than just wandering around and not knowing much about the painters.
  • Check the museum’s website for any lesson plans or activities they offer for children that relate to exhibits they have at the museum.
  • You could even print out a map of the museum from most websites and this could help you plan your visit. It always helps to know where the restroom is for those little emergencies.

Another aspect that you need to prepare you children for is the “manners” part of visiting an art museum. There are certainly no hard and fast rules but just common sense and common courtesy. Most people come to the museum to relax and enjoy the artwork so it is best to use your best “library” voices when you are talking in the galleries. In the past, my husband and I tried to hold the children’s hands as we walked along and this not only helped to keep them from running in the museum, it made it easier to point things out or discuss what we were looking at.

The Met

Plan to spend no more than 90 minutes actually looking at paintings. You will not be able to bring snacks into the galleries but most museums have some sort of cafe or outdoor eating area where you can take a break if you notice the children are getting weary. I usually plan to arrive as early as possible in the morning so my children are fresh. Make a trip to the restroom before heading to view the artwork. It is usually warm inside so leave the coats at the coat-check if the museum has one.

Met Egyptian Gallery

Another activity you can do while at the museum is to have a “theme” for the day. You could decide you are going to look for artwork that has hats in it or you could look for artwork that has circles or trees or horses or whatever you decide. This makes it fun for the children to really look at the paintings and then share with you what they see. If your children are older and have studied a little art history, you could challenge them to look for artwork from a certain art period.

Last but not least, plan for a few minutes in the museum gift shop. These little shops are like a treasure chest of art related books and resources. I always let the children pick out a postcard-size reproduction of some painiting we saw during our visit. We use these to follow-up our trip to the museum. A really fun idea is to take the postcard home and then have the child write some comments about the painting on the back of it to remember the experience with.

Here are some additional websites for you to scan for more ideas about visiting art museums:
Making the Most of the Museum Visit
Making a Museum Visit Fun for Toddlers, Teens, and In-Betweens

I really hope that you all attempt an art museum trip this year. Once you try it, you will look forward to your next visit. We visit the Crocker Art Museum every year and we never tire of looking at the paintings. We have our favorites and we always find something new and interesting to look at.

The Met NYC

Edit to add: You may be interested to read about our trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City: Harmony Art Mom’s Visit.

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