How do you help your kids enjoy museums?

Here in Seattle, our local art museum makes a fun outing for the kids. There's an amazing installation in the lobby that my kids love, and a sunny and fun kids play area inside the permanent collection. We visit those two things, and if the kids are in the mood, we view a few sculptures or paintings on our way. My hope is that long term, the kids interest in the art they pass on the way to the toys will grow (and to some extent it has).

It's easy for me to be patient when we're at home, I have lots of time to work my way through the collection, and I can always make a quick trip to the museum when the babysitter is here. When we travel, it's a different story. My husband and I are more intent on seeing what we came to see, but we need to balance that against what the kids need, and our desire not to burn them out on art. That's when we really need good strategies for helping the kids enjoy the museum.

In Barcelona's Miro Museum we challenged E to tell us the names of the imaginary animals Miro had painted. That kept him busy for a while, but with our upcoming trip to New Mexico, we need some new ideas!

What have you tried? How well did it work out? Please tell me in Comments.

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  1. Amanda on July 25, 2008 at 9:43 p.m.

    My husband and I love museums and, before having children, enjoyed visiting dozens of them as we traveled the world. With children, I think it's helpful to select museums that offer programs or other accommodations for children. Here in Denver we've been to the Denver Art Museums, Museum of Outdoor Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art: Denver several times with our kids. Each offers different things; The DAM has backpacks that hold activities for different areas in the museum, the Museum of Outdoor Art allows some climbing and has plenty of space to run around, and MOCA:Denver has activities relating to various activities. These sorts of things have made the museum trip more enjoyable for Josh and I, and really keep the kids engaged in what they're looking at!

  2. Julie on July 26, 2008 at 3:02 p.m.

    I love children's museums or even small, out of the way "niched" museums because often they are more casual and friendly to kids.

    Also big wow on your master list of travel bloggers! Kudos!

  3. Marcie on July 26, 2008 at 4:38 p.m.

    Specifically for your trip to New Mexico: If you're going to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum it would be a great if you could expose your son to some of O'Keeffes work ahead of time- perhaps on your flight- and then have him find familiar paintings in the museum.

    We recently went to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wy. My 4YO was facinated by the western art museum and we spent a long time there talking about the Native Americans, the Cowboys, and the Settlers. These types of painting have a lot of action and detail. It's not my favorite type of art but it was a great introduction for her and we were able to talk about some art technique along with the history. So if you have an opportunity to visit a similar museum in New Mexico I'd recommend it. Monet paintings and illuminated manuscripts in Los Angeles museums didn't hold her interest at all!

    And I second what Amanda mentioned- lots of art museums offer kits for kids (We were really impressed with the one at the Milwaukee Art Museum) or special spaces for them. In LA I recommend The Getty Museums for both of these.

  4. Debbie on July 26, 2008 at 10:36 p.m.

    Wow, these are great tips!

    I did read that the Georgia O'Keeffe museum does a nice job with kids (they give them a little book about O'Keeffe to read before they enter the exhibit area) but I'm not sure about the others. I love the idea of finding out ahead of time & using that information to help us prioritize which museums we will see.

    I also love the point about finding things the kids will relate to and starting there. E (recently potty trained) never tires of a ceramic toilet sculpture at the Seattle Art Museum & we always talk a lot about how it was made...

  5. Patricia on July 27, 2008 at 10:26 p.m.

    At the recent Roman exhibit in Seattle, I challenged my son to tell me what was missing from the sculptures. He thought that it was a bit funny that some sculpture people didn't have a nose or a hand, etc. He was really into studying the sculptures to find the missing parts. He was less than 2 1/2 at the time. Not sure that will help in N.M., but maybe on a different trip?

  6. jessie on July 31, 2008 at 5:46 a.m.

    the dayton, ohio art museum has a great kids pack - in which kids explore the museum and find things (treasure hunt!). after several visits, they get a prize - a lovely art box, stuffed with supplies. i keep my 6 yr old interested by bringing high-quality drawing materials and sitting down in front of very large paintings and each of us picking out a detail to sketch, and then have the other person find it! such fun!

  7. Susan Benford on September 27, 2008 at 6:05 a.m.

    When my boys were young, we'd start each museum visit with - gasp - a trip to the museum store. i'd let each boy select three postcards of paintings (my bias) in the museum... and then we'd cut loose on a "treasure hunt". they loved it -- and searched each room high and low to spot their favorites. by the time we'd found all 6 paintings, it was just enough "museum time" for them, and they were joyous with their finds.

    i ended up transforming this idea into a set of art history flashcards, "250 Masterpieces in Western Painting". Each Card has information about the painting, all to make the parent wiser!

    Susan Benford