Trying to get the most out of visiting an art museum with young children can be challenging. I know, I have had some rough experiences with this myself. Here are a few tips that might help with making it a more positive experience for both you and your tot.
1. Don’t have a set time frame for staying/going. If your child does not want to stay very long, then be opening to leaving after a shorter amount of time. Try to visit when your child is not tired or irritable. Some children feel uneasy in unfamiliar and crowded places. For this reason, I usually attend museums on “free days” or “suggested donation days” so that I don’t pay $30 in admission fees, and leave after 25 minutes. Many museums have these days once a month. Even if you only stay for a short time, I think being in a place with a wide variety of art is a very intellectually stimulating experience for kids and can really get their creative motors running.
If you are away from home and want to see certain works, plan ahead to see a limited amount of art, and if your child is still doing well after you have seen your favorites, you can continue on. Special exhibits can be enjoyable for kids, because they often have a theme or certain style which provides a great learning opportunity.
2. Talking about the art is great, but in my experience they will just interpret it however they want to, regardless of what you try to tell them. It might just be better to ask them what they think about it. For example my 3-year-old daughter was convinced that Picasso’s drawing of “A Women’s Face” was a dinosaur, and she was excited about that and wanted to point it out to others in the museum. (The drawing did look just a bit similar to one of her own, which was of a dinosaur that she titled, “Rexy’s holiday”.) When I told her it was a women’s face she looked irritated and corrected me. Here they are, both Picasso’s drawing of “A Women’s Face” and Nora’s drawing of “Rexy’s holiday”.
You might point out some things that they are interested in, such as animals or familiar domestic scenes. Some children enjoy playing “I spy” type games at museums.
3. Let them be themselves, but teach them to respect the museum environment. On a recent trip to the wonderful Norten Simon Museum here in Pasadena, my daughter was convinced that she should be like the other art students at the museum and be sitting around on benches drawing pictures..so I let her do this (much to the chagrin of the security guards). When we left the museum my husband asked my daughter Nora who her favorite artist was and she answered, “Nora!”.
4. Ask about tours for children or “mommy and me tours”. Many museums offer these, and I have found that the people who give them are usually great at it. They engage the kids, point out things of interest to them and move at an appropriate pace. When I attended a children’s tour at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan I was surprised at how much all the kids seemed to enjoy it. We did not have to wait in line for exhibits and the kids also enjoyed just being together. The women giving the tour said that children often respond better to things down on their level, enjoy sculpture, and that young children and babies love modern art for its imaginative quality and the stimulating shapes and colors.
5. Watch your child like a hawk. I was once at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY with some friends and one of the children in our group strayed and began climbing on a statue! Needless to say, the child was severely chastised and the parent was extremely embarrassed. Do not let this happen. If you have a very active child that can be difficult to control, you might consider keeping them in the stroller, or skipping the museum all together. Looking at art books at home could be an alternative until your child is ready for a museum.