Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
Art museums and children are a tricky combination. We want our children to be exposed to great art, but museums don't always feel like the best place for this introduction - they are typically large, quiet, dignified places, often with crowds and lines. Not exactly child-friendly oases filled with tolerance, paper towels, and cookies. However, taking your kids to art museums can be very doable, provided you prepare carefully.
Here are some things that have worked for us, in no particular order. The common theme -as always with kids - is: be flexible!
Don't expect instant reverence for art; do cultivate a playful attitude towards art. Look for art with interesting details that will appeal to your child's particular interests - try to spot all the animals in those 19th century european paintings for example, or imagine the feats of engineering required to produce that huge contemporary sculpture.
2. Minimize your financial investment.
Many museums have days or time periods when it is free to visit the museum. I find it a lot easier to walk out of a museum after a mere 10 minutes (it happens!) if I haven't paid $30 or so to get in. I figure I've seen at least one or two great pieces of art - and there's always next time!
Profiterole by Claes Oldenburg
3. Scope out the food options beforehand.
Find out ahead of time whether the museum has a decent cafe, or whether it's close to a good picnic spot. Also find out whether you can leave the museum and return a little later - you may be able to step out of the museum for a quick snack or treat, and then return to see more.
Susumu Shingu Sculpture at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan
4. Consider the taste of your audience.
Just as you have your own tastes, so does your child. If you suspect that they may not have the patience for room after room of Old Masters, consider a sculpture garden instead - or the 20th century design museum, or the Naval History museum, even if there's less "art" to be seen. Better to find something that will grab your child's attention a little bit (and give them some breathing room), than to turn them off the museum-going experience entirely.
5. Tag Team
This isn't always possible, but when you have two or more adults in your party, take turns with the kids. This gives each adult at least a bit of quiet alone time with the art.
Louisiana Museum Children's Wing (in Denmark)
6. Look for museums with special facilities for children.
Many museums offer some sort of activity or experience tailored for children, and some even have special rooms or wings dedicated to children's art-making. We had a fabuous experience at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, which has an entire wing dedicated to children - it's a particularly thoughtful and inspiring place. Check in advance if activities are offered at particular times, and plan your visit around them if possible.
The Rodin Museum in Paris
7. Think Small
Smaller museums often have smaller lines, fewer crowds, and are just smaller in scale. It's also easier to make a quick escape if things suddenly get loud or messy! It may also be easier to visit several smaller museums during a trip than one grand one - meaning that your child is exposed to more art (as well as a wider variety of art).
8. Figure it out before you go.
Before you leave on your trip, do some research. Find out what museums are in the area, when they are open (and when they are free, if applicable), whether they have facilities for children, whether they have a cafe, etc. Decide what your options are before you go is much easier than figuring it out on the fly.
9. Get into the creative spirit yourselves
Before your trip, make some art similar to the type you plan to introduce them to - make sure your kids have some recent experience in painting, sculpture, mixed-media, etc - it will help them relate more immediately to the work.