I remember the first time I took my kids to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were so little and so fast that I questioned my judgement. I am sure that others did as well. Why would anyone in their right mind bring a toddler into a museum with things that can fall and break? Expensive, ancient, irreplaceable things, at that.
What got me there was the family programs they offer. Some museums, like the MoMA, offer their family friendly programs to members on early weekend mornings (before the museum opens to the public), and since we were parents of little ones already awake and ready to go, we thought, why not try it?
Other programs are in the afternoons and could be anything from story time to an art tour and when ever we could, we would take our kids. Personally, I am not a huge art aficionado, but I do love the serenity of most museums and I also really appreciate what art and the history of the same can teach all of us. I love how a Medieval painting has a way of awakening the curiosity in my children about how people lived, what their beliefs and practices were, and how far we’ve come since then, for example. It all has a way of melding into so many other areas of learning for them and helps them to appreciate the world in a different way.
Exploring The Met, New York
Like their father, my kids are much bigger fans of pop culture and design. They are fans of more contemporary artists and styles and totally nerd out when it comes to animated art and illustration. But at 9 and 11, they have developed an eye for many forms and can appreciate details and the stories behind them.
But you don’t have to be an artist for your kids to learn to enjoy a day at the museum and all the beautiful culture and art they have to offer.
Here are my tips for getting your kids to enjoy museums:
Become a member of your favorite museum. We learned earlier on that membership was the way to go, especially with little kids. Sure there are perks like access to the museum before opening, invites to private events, discounts at the cafes and gift shops, etc. And though many museums offer free admission for younger kids, for us it was the flexibility of being able to leave if our kids started getting fussy, even if we were there for only 40 minutes, without feeling like we just wanted a bunch of money on admission for ourselves, the adults. By purchasing a membership, we were able to come and go as often as we wanted and make our visits as long, or as short, as we could get away with.
Take part in the family programs. I give credit to the experts behind the family friendly programs in many of our museums for teaching us fun ways to expose our kids to art and museum culture through activities and literature. For the kids it always felt like a little party or play group, for us it was nice to see them really taking in these new experiences and being able to do so as a family.
Family art classes at the Rubin Museum, NYC.
Trust that they will learn (and you will survive). Teaching them how to behave, to not be loud, or run around, or touch was definitely our job and it required actually putting them in situations and environments where they could learn these manners – so yes, a serious amount of visits to museums and even art galleries was required. I was tense often and sweat a lot from nerves. You never want it to be your kid that breaks that centuries old vase in the middle of the floor or tips over the ancient Egyptian mummy on display! Like any little kid, mine had moments of fits, boredom, exhaustion as well as moments of sheer joy and interest and excitement. We rode the wave of whatever we were given on any day, and we understood that it would get better with time. And it certainly has, without incident. Well, except for that one time I lost my then 7 year old in the Museum of Natural History. But we found him in less than an hour, and he hasn’t wandered off since.
Don’t push it. What my kids appreciate and understand about a lot of the art they see at the museums, they certainly didn’t always appreciate, much less understand, when they were younger. Don’t push any of it on them, let them take it in at their own pace. If they want to zip right past Realism and straight to Abstraction, let them. And engage them with the story. I often will read the information next to the art work and will either re-share the story in a way that might interest them, and if the only information they have is about the artists, I will talk about where the artist is from, or about the period when the art was created, anything that will spark their imagination. If and when that spark doesn’t happen, then we move on. Remember, it’s all about having a good time.
Fun in New Orleans Art Museum
Continue the fun when traveling. One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to show them artwork we’ve read about at home or seen replicas of in other museums when we are traveling. That giddiness in seeing a famous painting or sculpture in real life is not just reserved for adults, and it’s way more fun watching your kids experiencing it.
At the Louvre, Paris
Don’t worry if it’s not your thing. If art and museums are not your thing, the same rules apply when wanting to get your kids engaged in what you do enjoy. For example, we are not a sports family, but I have seen how other parents who are sports fans and can get their kids to sit at for hours at those games, and happily do so. It takes perseverance and consistency, and well, the sharing of enthusiasm from the parents as well. Easier to share a passion you can share and enjoy together.
My kids will say that The Met is their favorite art museum, but they are also really into archeological ruins and science centers. I have no aspirations of them becoming great artists or painters, though who knows? I only hope that art helps them to develop a more open mind about people and the world, in the same way that I hope travel enables. And a visit to the museum is a lot less expensive than buying a plane ticket!