Monday, May 5, 2014

How to Go to an Art Museum with Young Kids

Nearly 20 years ago, after I just moved to London and before I found a job, I used to walk around a lot and experience life on my own. I walked to Soho and to Hampstead Heath, and I stared at tourists in Leicester Square and at old-time Londoners in places the Tube didn't bother to go. One day, during one of those trips of discovering the city and myself, I ended up at the National Gallery, and immediately felt out-of-place. My high school may have taught me the biographies of some artists and the stories behind famous artworks, but it didn't teach me to appreciate art on my own. I was never told how to approach art, and the idea that certain works of art "spoke" to some people seemed like science-fiction.

Here I was, at one of the greatest art museums in the world, not sure what I was supposed to do next. So I turned to leave. But just before I got out, I decided to look at the museum store, and there I came up with a plan. Recently, I used that same plan to help my young kids get an appreciation not just of art, but of their own, individual tastes.



We were at the Baltimore Museum of Art for a while, and my kids started to get bored: art-shmart, but where were the buttons? I don't have anything against museums with buttons--the Science Center in Baltimore is one of my favorite places in the city--but art museums should be places we look at art and, well, let the art press our buttons instead.

Minutes into our visit, and it looked like we were done. Mr. "Carry me" and Ms. "I'm hungry!" were starting to make their appearances, and I was about to give up, thinking we would try the museum again when they were older, when I suddenly remembered my 20-year-old museum trick.

"Come with me!" I said, and started running down the stairs. The kids followed me to the museum store, and we stopped by the 60-cent postcards. And here's the trick:

Every museum store has a postcard section that features art pieces from the museum. The kids (and maybe their parents) take a long look at all the postcards, and choose their favorites. You buy the postcards, hold on to them, and each person, in turn, starts looking for the art on his postcard.

My daughter was the first to choose a Georgia O'Keeffe painting, and then my son, who took more time to find his own favorite, got a Gauguin. Then we started our quest. And this is the beauty of it all: you don't get spoon-fed information that doesn't interest you and that ends up making you hate art. A kid who picked a Georgia O'Keeffe painting because that painting "spoke" to her from the postcard stand, is now interested in the artist, curious about her other paintings, and eager to find her art in the museum and elsewhere. A kid who picked a Gauguin wants to know more about him. Art history becomes more than a story about a man who cut his ear off.

And it doesn't end there. The kids still get to keep the postcards, and every time they see this $0.60 piece of art in their rooms, they remember the experience of searching for a piece of art that touched them.



I hope people who read this find the opportunity to try this experiment. Next time you're at an art museum with the kids, start at the museum store, and then get your kids to find their treasures and discover their individuality. If you do that, please come back and tell me if it worked!


For the record, my boy had a great time. Unfortunately, I recently told him saying "Cheese" and showing a fake smile when people took pictures was silly, so he's decided he didn't smile in pictures anymore. A bit of a misunderstanding there.



5/19: Hey, this post is now up on Huffington Post: How to Get Kids to Appreciate Art
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19 comments:

  1. Gonna try u our tip. I'll report back. As a DC expat I certainly miss the museums. SF ain't too shabby either, though. :)

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  2. Awesome trick, I wish I would have thought of that myself! I will be planning a trip real soon to test this out. A full report will follow..

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  3. DC does have some great museums, but for art, the BMA is really nice, maybe because it's relatively small (and has a great restaurant next door) (and it's walking distance from our old house). And I'll take the Science Center in Baltimore over the Natural History Museum any day.

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  4. That's great--hope it works!

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  5. Becky Briscoe BuchananMay 15, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    I am a docent at the new Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio. I think your idea is wonderful. This gives me some ideas to use on my next tour.

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  6. That's great! If you do it, please let me know how it went!

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  7. BRILLANT. When I would tell people that I took my three kids to the art museum last summer, they would stare at me in awe (or horror), saying "I don't think I could even take my ONE kid to the art museum!" You can. Just use speed and deftness to get you through, and know that you, the parent, won't really be seeing a whole lotta art.

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  8. I'm so impressed, Oren. If only my mom had this trick up her sleeve when she was dragging my sister and me to museums when I was a kid. In related news, I'm tickled at how many of my friends are sharing your post on their Facebook pages. I feel like I'm related to someone famous (besides Grandma Shirley).

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  9. Psst - Hey Leigh Ann - Mark your calendar for the next BlogathonATX on October 25th. Rumor has it Oren Miller might be one of our special guests! :)

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  10. This is brilliant. I'm going to try this soon. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. I'm starting my pilgrimage right now!

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  12. Now you need to come up with a quest to get the boy to smile. I love the post card idea.

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  13. Ha, he smiles, but he quickly stops when he sees a camera. He's the opposite of all other kids.

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  14. Yea, it's cool, right? It's nice to have a post shared for the right reasons, and not for a "You have to read how annoying this guy is!" which is what I usually get.

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  15. Such a great idea. Now this makes me want to go to the art museum this summer! I like this little scanvenger hunt! :)

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  16. That’s mind-blowing! It
    is very helpful for all who have kids and in search of interesting ideas. I
    think your suggestion is fantastic. I’m going to plan a new york to niagara falls bus to
    enjoy the summer vacations. However your provided information is very helpful
    and gives me various ideas to use on my next tour.

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  17. What a wonderful idea! I've been wanting to take my son to our local art museum for years! This just might do the trick. The gift shop has always been one of my favorite stops at any art museum because it is as if I get to buy some art for myself. Thanks for this.

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  18. Thanks! I hope it works for you!

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