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What Do You See in This Picture? Some Tips for Parents

Bringing children to an art museum can be fun, but it can also be daunting. Parents and caregivers often feel intimidated by the idea of having to explain art - art they may not even be comfortable talking about with adults.

The important thing is to engage your interest as a family, say museum education and outreach directors. If there's a message they would like to get out to parents, it's "Don't feel you have to know about art to make it enjoyable."

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Here are some tips to make the best of your art-museum visit, from museum family-program coordinators:

* Keep your goals modest. If you try to do the whole museum, you won't appreciate it as much as if you focused on one part of it. Think in terms of an hour or a 45-minute visit, depending on children's ages. Schedule in a break.

* Plan ahead, if possible. Get a guidebook, and pick out what you want to see the day before. Call in advance to see what programs might be offered for families or children. Often, hands-on activities dovetail tours and lectures. Many museums offer short films for families as well as gallery games, particularly on weekends.

If you don't have time to set a course beforehand, go directly to the information booth when you arrive, and ask about special programs and materials for families. Almost all museums have brochures and guidelines for children. Consider making up your own theme for the day, such as searching for animals.

Also ask about child-friendly areas, such as craft rooms or downtime lounges. Don't forget the map (if only for restroom locations).

* Factor in time to talk about what you see. Ask questions. Uncover the content. Depending on your child's age level, questions can range from "What do you see? What people, colors, shapes?" to "Interpret a message here. What materials and techniques were used?"

* Let personal preference surface. Just because it's in a museum doesn't mean you and your child have to like it. Part of the experience is to trust your own judgment in responding to art and forming opinions.

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* Make sure to keep kids engaged with the works, especially as the visit wears on. With younger children, try to connect what they see to familiar things in daily life.

* Study preparation can add enrichment. If you get a book out of the library and look at pictures of the works you're going to see, it builds the experience. See how the originals differ from the reproductions.

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