Art Museums + Kids

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One of the best things I do with my kids is visiting art museums. In case you’ve wanted to try this with your kids, I thought I’d share my favorite trick. When we head to a museum, we always stop at the gift shop first. Each child picks out a postcard from the museum’s collection, and then we hunt for that art on the postcard during our visit. It’s a little thing, but it turns the explorations into a bit of a treasure hunt and helps keep the younger kids engaged. Have you ever tried it?

Speaking of museums + kids, last Thursday, I took the kids to the BYU Museum of Art. I wanted to see the Western Art in their Wide Open Spaces exhibit. The exhibit is heavy on the Maynard Dixon pieces, and I’m a big Maynard Dixon fan. So I was happy as could be.

I’m always drawn to Western Art because it looks like home to me. The colors, the vistas, all of it. My community, my neighborhood, my childhood was literally peopled with cowboys and Native Americans, and set among the red rocks and deserts and horses and big skies.

Have you taken your kids to a museum this summer? How’d it go?


By the way, if you’re looking for pieces from your favorite museum, you’re in luck. The new site launched over the weekend with over a million pieces to choose from! The updated design looks amazing and it’s way easier to find what you’re looking for. My favorite new changes: 1) New tools to make searching easier — this is key! 2) You can upload your own images to create your own art. Which is awesome. And 3) Curated Collections by designers and tastemakers, like the gorgeous Vogue Vintage Collection. Take a look at the new and see what you find!

43 thoughts on “Art Museums + Kids”

  1. My husband and I LOVE going to museums. Also traveling to big cities. So when we had our daughter, we knew that she’d be coming with us. Of course you can’t expect a child to have the same attention span as an adult but we do have a few tricks.

    First of all, like anything, make sure they are fed and watered!

    Second, we give her my husband’s blackberry that she uses to take photos of her favorite paintings.

    And third, we ask a few questions about a painting that we are all looking at. Not in a pedantic way but in a way that sparks her curiosity. And ours too. I find out what she thinks of the painting, the colours, what it’d be like to be in the painting, what happened before it was painted, what happened after, etc.

  2. Postcard before hunting for the real thing – genius! Never thought of that. Duh! Thank you for your wisdom.
    Catherine from London

  3. I love the idea of letting the kids choose postcards first and then hunting for their chosen paintings in the museum. Such a great idea. I will definitely be doing that with my 5 year old when we visit SFMOMA in a few week’s time. My daughter loves drawing so we’ll also take along a small book and set of coloured pencils so she can copy her favourite paintings while we’re there.
    Last week I dragged the kids along to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I was a little worried that they would get bored but in fact they found the outfits quite amusing. The main thing that kept the kids distracted however, was the clever use of projectors that gave the mannequins moving faces. The mannequins smiled, blinked, yawned and some even spoke or sang. My five 5 old loved this and it distracted her from some of the less child-friendly outfits on display! Oh, there were plenty of those!
    You can see our visit to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition here:

  4. My best tip for taking kids to museums is to educate them ahead of time. Get some child friendly art books. Research a couple of artist online. They will enjoy it so much more and learn so much more if they go in with some background knowledge.

  5. I love western art too. It can’t help but be big, colorful, and geometric. I’ll take it over a peaceful hudson river school any day.

    1. Hah! I learned to love the Hudson River School during our years in Westchester. The light on the river really is stunning. But I can’t help but favor western art!

  6. We read the “Katie” series (“Katie and the Impressionists,” “Katie and the Mona Lisa,” etc.) when my daughter was about 4 or 5. The concept is that Katie jumps into the paintings, which we pretended to do when we looked at paintings in a museum. I’d start by asking my daughter, “If you could jump into that painting, what would you do?” and we’d both say what we’d do, like “I’d eat that apple,” or “I’d peek behind that door,” etc. She would take off with it and we’d sometimes pretend that we were going from painting to painting and come up with a narrative to link the different pictures together, just like Katie in the books.

  7. My mother-in-law (who took six kids on London Study Abroad aka 2 months straight of museums) told me that her secret was that in every room of a gallery, she would tell her kids, “Okay, the museum is on fire! You can save one painting in this room – which one do you save? (And there is time to throw your least favorite one in the fire . . . which one do you throw in?)”

  8. Love the tip on postcards first. We usually go for those as our departing souvenir. We take sketchbooks and let the kids sit down in front of a favorite piece and draw. It’s pretty captivating to see it all through their eyes, and we have some amazing art as a result! New inspirations!! XO, MJ

  9. Great idea! We do lots of museums too. Sometimes there are also very nice/ fun gallery guides for kids. We visited the small but lovely Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY, and we were really impressed by the themed scavenger hunts the education department had created. These work the same way as your postcard concepts — a page of animals, one of faces, another of shapes or machines, etc — the child can choose one of the worksheets and then find those details throughout the galleries. There hunt juxtaposes different genres and media, historical periods and geographical regions. There was also a bit of info on the back side and some provocative questions about each work that could “extend” the activity for a slightly older child. Both my 5 and 8 year boys had a fantastic time, and were prompted by the activity to do some really good observing!

    1. Loved reading this! A big Design Mom fan, mom of 2 boys and the buyer for the Gallery Store of the wonderful Memorial Art Gallery! I will make sure that our education department reads this. Thanks Claire!!

  10. I took my toddler…it was chaos!! I had a girls’ weekend in DC the other week and one of the nicest things was going to galleries and NOT having to chase a toddler round! I do like the postcard idea for when he’s a bit older.

  11. I loved the idea of your gift shop idea, but it backfired on us at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. We hit up the gift shop first, but we couldn’t find either of the postcards my boys picked. One of them was there, but not on display. The other one was located in another museum. So word of caution, make sure the art they choose is there!

    1. Oh dear! You must have been so surprised and frustrated. I hope it was a fun visit anyway.

      I sure love the Van Gogh museum. It’s just the right size.

  12. Love the postcard tip…thanks for that! Debuting our art gallery going with smalls this week so its very timely. Going to galleries is a big part of my life and i was a little daunted by how much i wanted it to work…going into it with a ‘trick’ up my sleeve helps. thanks!

  13. I don’t have children but I think this is a fantastic idea!! It keeps the adults and the kids happy. I will be sharing with all of my friends who have children.

  14. Did you go to the Beauty and Belief exhibit? We LOVED that one. We took a tour of it and learned so much about the Islamic Culture. We really like art but loved that these art pieces taught us so much about another culture so different (well not so different now that I’ve learned about it) from ours. My fiance and I have been back five times. We also went to the opening of the wide open spaces exhibit and got to tour it with the couples who donated most of the pieces. That was pretty interesting as well. Gotta love BYU :)


  15. What I’ve done with my 4 year-old is hand her my phone and let her take pictures of all her favorites. Sometimes I’ll tell her to find one or two in particular that she can recreate at home. It gives her a kind of ownership, searching for something she would want to mimic. It always ends up being some painting of flowers, but hey! It keeps her engaged. (It also helps to have low expectations! Knowing we won’t make it through the whole museum means I won’t get disappointed.)

    I’m going to try the postcard thing next time!

  16. My favorite memory of going to a museum as a child was this: we went to some museum (I wish I remembered where) that allowed kids to dress up in costumes at the beginning of the museum. They had a whole bunch of costumes there in all different sizes, and someone would help pick out something that fit you. Your costume transformed you into someone from one of the paintings and you could spend your time at the museum looking for the painting you belonged in. It was a blast! They had someone there who could take photos for you too, once you found your picture. I remember wearing a beautiful white dress and ending up in a picture of a field. It was awesome.

  17. Your postcard idea is popular, Lisa at A Bloomsbury Life does the same see 31 March 2009. We adopted the idea and now we have a lovely postcard collection too mixed with our day trip and holiday photographs.

  18. When I take my 6yo daughter to museums, I make a scavenger hunt for her. If you sit down for a few minutes and just think, you can think of several common items that kids can easily spot and will likely be in at least a painting/sculpture or two. She loves it. One tip though…be sure to bring a pencil with an eraser for her to use to cross off items. The curators don’t like to see kids with markers and crayons walking around near the works of art:)

  19. I recently took my daughter to MOMA and they have an awesome place called Material Lab right now for kids. There is all sorts of stuff to explore and do there- we could have spent a few hours just in that space. Love it there and she also loved the sculpture garden and the Boetti exhibit. It was such a good time that we decided to join and get a membership. Lots more visits in our future.

  20. oh you just made me “homesick” for BYU. :) i interned at the BYU MOA and loved, loved, LOVED every minute. Dixon is a favorite of mine too. i love taking my kids to museums as well – i’ll have to remember your postcard trick! thanks!

  21. I swear there was a Maynard Dixon exhibit about 8 years ago when I was there…I worked at the Museum of Art, so I remember it. I also love Maynard Dixon–sort of a family thing, where a great-uncle was named after him and also was a painter in his own right. I believe there are some of his pieces floating around my family. I love the soft shapes even in harsh landscapes, I love the reds and oranges, I love the depictions of the places I know (although I’m a Northern Utahn, so mountains are more apt to describe home for me). I’m glad you took your kids–though I’m sure they weren’t all thrilled all the time. Even for adults, it seems like the key to museums is to break it up into chunks, not trying to spend all day in a museum, but coming back a few times to get the whole museum in. I’m one of those who likes to read every description and placard, which would drive any kid crazy! (And most adults, ahem, like my siblings.)

  22. The National Gallery of Art in DC has a book based on The Girl With a Watering Can in Renoir’s painting. She hops out of her painting and travels around the museum making a mess. Reading this as a kid (and now with my nieces and nephews) before our museum trip made it so much fun to follow her story. Not sure if other museums have books like this, but they should!
    Link to the book below:

  23. I have a 2.5 yo and so museums aren’t really great for her, but we did find an art gallery in Santa Fe with lots of bronze sculptures – even my monkey can not break a 200lb bronze sculpture! We had a wonderful time! It really helps that the gallery staff were the least pretentious and most fun people. Not every art gallery would allow a small child to climb and kiss their $20,000 statues!

  24. While in the states you should check out the new Natural History Museum up next to Red Butte Garden. The architecture alone is beautiful and the exhibits are great-lots of interactive ones.

  25. What a good idea! We have been to a museum this summer, the Chrysler Museum which is local to us. They host a family day which I think makes it easier for my husband or I to stay away with one of our younger two who may be bored or restless looking at the art.

  26. We too love museums! This spring we went to Tampa/St. Pete for Spring Break and the weather was cool the first couple of days so we headed to the Salvador Dali museum. We kept seeing a huge billboard with a Dali-esque mustache on it so I tried to explain that the mustache was Dali’s sort of signature. The museum, which was fantastic for kids, offered a scavenger hunt (though I love your idea) and the surrealistic art really fascinated the children. I have a new appreciation for Dali after seeing what an interpreter he was — especially of science and scientific discovery (DNA, Atoms). We left with some moustache souvenirs. Also, with children, I find that it helps if the museum is small(isn) which the Dali is. We also visited the Dale Chihuly museum just down the street from the Dali. Another small but interesting museum. The Chihuly had an exhibit featuring ocean creatures, all made out of glass (vibrantly colored glass). It was glorious and the kids enjoyed it though you may have to tread lightly with smaller children. We live in New York and visit The Met on occasion. I find that it helps if you just go to one or two, possibly three areas in the larger museums and set a time limit. The Egypt collection is fantastic, complete with pyramids, mummies, and sarcophagi (sp?). The Temple of Dendur is not to be missed. Also, we love the Arab Lands exhibit, beautiful. The kids love the contemporary art rooms, so whimsical and weird, they really capture the imagination, challenge your perspective. The kids loved a trick photography exhibit billed as “pre PhotoShop”. Photographers had to manipulate the scene or shot to get a trick photo, e.g. cat face on a human. See . Extravagant Inventions, another spectacular exhibit at the Met. We just wandered in on the way to another exhibit. See

  27. My heart skipped a beat when I saw your Dixon painting on pinterest this morning. I’ll be in Utah in a few weeks and can’t wait to get my fill! I used to be a docent there and got to see many things in their archives, too. I remember when they had a dual exhibit years ago with his work with his wife’s, Dorthea Lange, and her famous Depression photography. They were so cool side by side. The postacard idea is for sure going to be one of our BYU activities with our three boys. We spend a fare amount of time in museums living on the East Coast and one thing we often do is play eye spy or count the number of things of a certain color or something like that.

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