Tips for First-Time Art Museum Visitors (and Their Parents)

Art museums, with their valuable paintings and quiet rooms, can seem like daunting places for a family field trip. Yet both young and old children can greatly benefit from visiting a local museum. With effective planning, you can make a field trip to your local museum an enlightening and exciting adventure that introduces your child to a lifelong appreciation of art.

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Before You Go

You may have several different types of art museums that you could visit in your local area. Before you go, consider your options and what might be most appropriate for your child. For example, you may find a museum with an exhibit specifically geared towards children. Also, some large museums have certain permanent exhibits that may be free, or certain days or times of day when exhibits are free; this allows your child to get a taste for the museum experience without spending money on admission.

art museum field trip child friendly

Once you've decided which museum you'll visit, spend some time preparing your child for what to expect. It's important to teach your child about proper museum etiquette. Perhaps most important is explaining to your child that the pieces you'll see should not be touched, whether it's a painting, sculpture or other form of art.

There may also be works of art that some families find objectionable or ones that could frighten young children. These works may depict nudity, violence or disturbing scenes. It's essential that you either plan to avoid such works or prepare your child to act in a mature manner at the museum. At some museums, you'll be able to ask a docent or receptionist about works that may not be appropriate for small children.

Teaching Moments at the Site

While visiting a local museum, the first activity for many families is to discuss what types of art they find interesting. You can ask your child about individual works and what he or she likes. You can compare and contrast different art forms, such as oil paintings, photography and sculpture. Also, look for differences in styles within forms, such as the vivid colors of Rococo painting versus the subdued styles of Modernist painting.

Art museums can provide terrific opportunities for your child to learn about different eras in history. You can have your child study works of art from different time periods or parts of the world to better understand the cultures in which they were created. This may provide an opportunity for a scavenger hunt. Some museums provide lists of works your child can search for throughout the various exhibits, or you can make your own based on research before you go.

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You may find a museum that offers hands on activities for children, or your local museum may include organized classes for children or areas that are set aside for interactive play. For example, your museum may provide an opportunity for your child to create his or her own artwork with crayons, markers or finger paint. Your local museum may also offer a regular special day for families that includes a whole host of child-friendly activities.

After Your Visit

After leaving the museum, discuss with your child the most memorable things he or she saw. What works of art stand out as particularly fascinating? What about those works did your child like most? Questions like these persuade your child to move beyond basic appreciation and into a deeper understanding of art. You can also have your child conduct further research into the other work or contemporaries of an artist whose work he or she especially admired, thereby further developing an appreciation of art and encouraging future trips to museums.

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