This summer has been all about fun.
I’ve stepped back from blogging and working a bit — I did, however, mange to finish writing my ebook, due out this fall! — so that I could focus my attention more on Eve and having mini-adventures with her. Last summer with her was nice, but while they can be a ton of work and a lot whinier, I’ve decided toddlers in the summer are way more fun than infants.
Our summer has involved a lot of time outside and getting wet (Eve is such a water baby), trips to the Boston Children’s Museum and Museum of Science, drawing outside with chalk, beach and pool trips and a weekend getaway to the Berkshires (which included a rather stressful trip to Tanglewood). In addition to taking her to some of the more kid-focused museums in the area, I also wanted to take her to an art museum.
Eve is a pretty typical young toddler — energetic, fascinated with touching all thing she shouldn’t, an inability to modulate her voice to any degree, and frequently testing limits. These qualities, combined with a trip to a place that typically requires a degree of self-control and quiet, might seemingly create a recipe for disaster. However, last week Eve and I traveled up to Salem — which is probably best known for the infamous witch trials that happened in the 1600s — to go to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). This turned into one of my favorite outings with her of all time, proving that it is indeed possible to take a toddler to an art museum.
One of the things that initially drew me to the museum is that they are clearly family-friendly, with an extensive list of activities for kids of all ages. The highlights of our visit included making birds with removable parts in the Art & Nature Center, perusing the American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood exhibition, and watching a really cool video in Raven’s Many Gifts: Native Art of the Northwest Coast that involved a man break-dancing to traditional Tlingit chanting and drums followed by a Tlingit dancer doing a traditional dance to modern electronic music. (You can actually see a really adorable video of Eve doing her own interpretive dance.)
We also attempted to go to PEM Pals, a program for preschoolers that includes stories, music, movement, and making art, but Eve lasted for about two minutes before we moved onto something else. (I can tell you, though, from the few minutes that we were there that it looks like a truly fun and engaging program for kids.)
As we started our visit, I had the pleasure of chatting with Gavin Andrews, the Assistant Director for Family, Student and Teacher Programs, and also a mom to two young children. We met in the Art & Nature Center, family-friendly and hands-on exhibit hall. While Eve had a blast building creatures made from recycled parts by by a local artist, Gavin graciously shared with me some tips for taking your toddler to an art museum.
1. Set your family up for success
Who knows your kids better than you? Gavin explains that when visiting a museum take into account your family members’ personalities. Know what will and will not work for your kids and to manage your expectations. For example, Eve typically naps right after lunch and gets fussy when she is hungry. Before we went to the museum, I gave Eve her snack so that she wouldn’t go in hungry and we left before lunch. Sure, it made for a shorter visit, but she was super happy and excited the whole time we were there. Since she is also wiggly, I made sure she opportunities to move around where I wasn’t worried about her knocking over or touching something she shouldn’t — and ample time to touch things she can — and when she started to get loud in a quieter exhibit we left before it turns into something bigger (and louder).
2. Ask open-ended questions
Gavin suggests asking simple things such as “What do you see here?” as a way for your children to really engage. Even if they are too young to answer, it is validating for them to know that their thoughts matter.
For a downloadable with sample questions to ask, check out my post on how to foster your child’s creativity.
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3. Stick to a few galleries
It can be tempting to try to cram in as much as you can, but that can be exhausting and overwhelming, especially for young children. (And truthfully, some adults — myself included!). Instead, focus on a few galleries that are of interest to you and your kids. If you are concerned about missing something, consider getting a membership which could quickly pay for itself after just a few visits. (As a bonus, many memberships will offer other discounts, such as on parking, in their cafeteria, or gift shop.)
4. Create games or activities for your kids
Help your children to engage with the art by making up games or activities for your kids to do, such as creating an art scavenger hunt, or see if the museum already has something in place. Many museums will have booklets with suggested activities or ways to help children engage. One of things I really liked was when we visited the Thomas Hart Benton exhibit at the PEM was there were storyboard booklets and pencils for kids to draw in which helps them to connect the exhibit to movie-making. Though Eve is too young to understand this, I appreciated having something for her to do while I walked around the exhibit.
5. Sit down and really look at a piece of art
Gavin suggests to take some time and closely examine a piece of art. If there are no chairs, it is usually fine to just sit on the floor (just be sure you’re not sitting in an inconvenient place!). This is a great opportunity to ask open-ended questions and to really see the details about a piece of art.
Have you taken young children to an art museum? How was the experience for you? Are there any tips you would add?
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