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Exploring the Art Museum: Making the Most of Your Child's First Visit

by MaryAnn F. Kohl
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Taking children to an art museum can be an outing that is both fun and educational. You do not need to be an expert or an art historian to introduce young boys and girls to the wonderful world of great art. Children will love exploring the museum and discovering interesting and familiar subjects in the paintings and other pieces. All you need is a little planning and an hour or two to enjoy visiting the museum's exhibits. The following ideas will work well for you and your child, or for you and a group of children. If bringing a group, be sure to enlist extra help to give you a hand. If you prefer, you can even break up into smaller groups.

Planning a First Visit to an Art Museum

Before the Visit
  • Talk with your child about what an art museum is and how it might look. Check out a few books about museums and artists to read together so your child is introduced simply and gradually to the idea. Discuss how a museum is different than a store.
  • Look online at the museum's website and preview the special exhibits or artists who are part of the current displays or collections. Make note of a few your child might like. You can also write to the museum and ask for a current brochure to be mailed to your child.
  • Together, look online at the museum's website, sharing with your child what you've found, and paying attention to his or her interests as the two of you browse.
  • Together, look through a few books about great artists' lives and works. " If your child is interested in something specific, be sure to add that to your plan.
Preparing for the Visit - the Game Plan
  • Ask the museum what the least crowded times and days might be, and work that into your plan.
  • Leave time in you plan for snacks, breaks, restrooms, and rest. Two hours is about as long as any child can handle.
  • Visit at a time of day that is most comfortable for your child.
  • Bring the notes of what your child is most interested in seeing and mark the museum map so you can find them easily.
The First Visit

Museum Rules
  • Most museums don't have many rules, but running is never allowed.
  • Children may speak in a normal voice; whispering is not required.
  • Don't touch artwork unless it's in a children's hands-on area where touching is encouraged.
Who's Driving the Visit?
  • Kids will want to see definite things and completely skip others. Relax and enjoy the visit as it unfolds. Let your child drive the visit.
  • Some children may want to bring a sketchbook and pencil to make notes or draw things along the way.
  • Reading labels of the artworks can be educational and interesting, but only read those in which your child is most interested. Less is always best with young children who are being introduced to a new experience.
Ideas to Make the Visit an Adventure

Some ideas from which you can choose to make the visit interactive are listed below. Searching or hunting for special things in artwork will make the visit an adventure that will stay with your child long after the trip is over. As you and your child find things of interest, talk about them as you view the artwork, and follow up at school or home if your child is still interested.

Choose to look for:
Animals or strange creatures
: notice animals and talk about their colors, shapes, or features.
Funny or interesting faces: try to imitate the expressions of faces in paintings or sculptures.
Places to live: notice different kinds of homes and buildings.
Dress-up, clothing, and costumes: notice different kinds of clothing, and consider creating a costume when you get home.
Play: find children, people, or animals at play.
All kinds of colors: crazy, lovely, and new - make note of colors and find them or mix them with paints at home.
Shapes and textures: look for shapes like circles and rectangles, or textures like blurry and scratchy.

Choose to be creative:
Tell stories: make up a story about a painting or sculpture.
Imagine: traveling through time and living in the painting.
Talk about: how the objects in the artwork would taste or feel or smell?

Choose favorites
  • Remember a favorite painting from the visit.
  • Remember the name of a favorite artist from the visit.
  • Remember an artwork that is - the biggest, funniest, weirdest, tiniest, most colorful, etc.
  • Remember a favorite moment from the visit - something interesting, funny, or special about the experience.
Before the Visit Ends
  • Before the adventure is over, visit the museum gift shop and encourage your child to choose a postcard that shows a favorite artwork or artist from the day's outing. You can be sure that your child will never forget this particular special image.
  • Don't worry if you didn't see everything you planned. Your child will be better equipped for the next visit and you will both be able to choose special things to find or revisit.
  • Plan to visit again!
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Meet Our Expert
MaryAnn F. Kohl
Art Author and Educator
MaryAnn Faubion Kohl, award-winning author, publisher, and educational consultant, has devoted her professional life to children's art and creativity. Her philosophy, "It's the process, not the product," guides her writing as she provides open-ended art activities for children of all ages. MaryAnn's books focus on the child's exploration and experience of art, not the final product. She launched Bright Ring Publishing, Inc. in 1985 with her first book, Scribble Cookies (new edition Scribble Art), now celebrating its 25th Anniversary.

MaryAnn has written eight books for Bright Ring Publishing, Inc. on topics of art for children, their parents, teachers, and care providers, as well as fifteen titles for Gryphon House, Inc. She presents internationally to educators, librarians, parenting experts, children, and parents on topics supporting creative art experiences for children. Her workshops explore teaching art to children and using art as a tool to promote children's self-esteem, teaching literacy through art, and fostering creativity in children. She has appeared on many television shows, including Home Matters on the Discovery Channel; Take Part! (Canadian children's television) as the 'Mudworks lady'; and was a featured guest on 1, 2, 3 Grow! (Health Network). Ms. Kohl was also a consultant for a children's activity television show produced by the Jim Henson Company (Odyssey Network), and she works with SUNY-Albany as one of their expert guests for numerous educational video conferences.

MaryAnn enjoys being a contributor for Family Fun magazine, and writes for numerous other magazines including Parenting, Cricket, Scholastic, Early Childhood News, and Daycaring. She also has been a program consultant for children's television productions, Blues Clues and Little Einsteins.

MaryAnn began her career as an elementary school teacher, and she continues to guest teach at various universities and community colleges. In her free time, MaryAnn enjoys skiing, gardening, spending time with her family, and writing essays on memorable childhood experiences. MaryAnn and her husband, Michael, reside in Bellingham, Washington at the foot of a steaming volcano.

You can find out more on MaryAnn F. Kohl's website.
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