Museums With Kids

When Ben Blair and I were in Paris for our no-kids weekend, we went to the D’Orsay Museum. We both rented a headphone tour guide and spent several leisurely hours wandering around the museum. Sometimes together. Sometimes alone. It was luxurious to feel so un-rushed.

Kids at a museum is a different feel, but we still love it. In Amsterdam, the whole family visited the Van Gogh museum. It’s a great one for kids, because it’s not too big and you can still see a lot in an hour (which is about how long my little ones can last). For this visit we tried something new: We started at the gift shop and had the kids pick out a favorite postcard. We purchased the favorites and then treated the rest of the museum visit like a treasure hunt, trying to spot the originals we could see on our postcards. This was especially great for Oscar and Betty — and the postcards make wonderful souvenirs!

How about you? Do you take your kids to art museums? Have any tips or tricks you can share?

35 thoughts on “Museums With Kids”

  1. When my four children were young, I use to take them to the Smithsonian museums regularly (lived in suburbs). It was sometimes a challenge, esp if I was the only adult with them. One one occasion, while shepherding them on to a crowded elevator, the second to youngest (about 4 at the time), jumped out just as the doors closed. Panic. I quickly jumped off at the next floor and with all the other children in tow, ran like the wind down the nearest staircase. There, at the elevator bank, stood my youngest son with a large grin on his face. He thought it great fun…me, not so much. I learned to keep him in tighter rein in future outings.

  2. Going to a museum alone sounds like a dream right now, lol. I do take my kids to museums on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easier to go on “family days” as there’s usually more staff on hand to interact with the kids and there are fun activities like art scavenger hunts.

  3. I love this idea! I always let my kids pick out postcards at the end of our museum visits. I’m going to try your idea when we visit the Musee des Beaux Arts in Nancy when we visit France later this summer.

  4. I have been meaning to post tips for museum-going with small kids for a while, but we are in the midst of a move, so it will likely be a July thing. I am an art historian and I have two very active boys, who are 4 and 20 months old. We go to a lot of museums together. My biggest tip is to keep the visit short and focused and to be happy if you, the grownup, come away with one new important visual inspiration or thought. For me, it is worth the extra exhaustion to see something that I wish to see and to share it with my children. I learn a lot from observing their experiences. Sculpture and large-scale artwork is often particularly accessible for young children. If you can tie the visit in with one of your child’s known interests (e.g. knights and swords for my older son), they will be happier. We also go to a lot of child-oriented ateliers at the museums in Paris. Also, plan ahead (although I suspect that you GB do this as a matter of course). My only major museum disaster was at the Palais de Tokyo and did not (thankfully) involve any art (because the exhibitions were closed). It did, however, involve art books. Personally, I also choose to avoid peak hours, but this is not always possible for everyone, especially if traveling. If it is a show that I really need to focus on professionally, I go alone. I love your postcard idea. I recently noticed that my younger son loves postcard imagery, presumably because it fits in his hand and is scaled to him.

  5. we’ve always taken our children to museums…mostly for our love of them, but i’ve noticed how excited my four and five year old get whenever i tell them we’re going to one. it’s so great!

  6. I too live in the DC suburbs and love taking my four daughters (9 to 3) to the museums as often as we can. I love art and art history so I was excited to share it with them but nervous to take all four of them by myself. I ended up making a little scavenger hunt of items they had to find in paintings, things like a lion, yellow flowers, a blue dress, etc. Their job was to find the painting, write the name and sketch what it looked like. It worked amazingly well! I was having to drag them from room to room because they weren’t done yet! They loved the scavenger hunt idea and it gave us all a chance to enjoy everything we saw.
    Your home and town sound just dreamy.

  7. I LOVE the scavenger hunt/postcard idea. My girls are 3 and 16 months and although my 16 month old is usually ok in the stroller for up to an hour, my 3 year old gets antsy pretty much anywhere so I do a lot of prep for any outing, including the park these days. If I’m trying to walk through the park, she’s more focused on getting to the slides and swings so I created a few scavenger hunts that are park oriented so she’ll walk with me happily…and it’s cute and fun to see her light up when she screams “MOMMY, a STICK!” :)

  8. We did this is in the national gallery in London and it was fabulous, first we read an usborne art book for a couple of weeks based on the museum before we traveled… then collected our postcards from the shop. The kids all had their favorites they wanted to see and it was great… The security were a bit intimidated by an ocean of children descending on an artwork… but once they got over it, and once our kids had given them a couple of “great artist tips!!!” they were really quite friendly!!!

  9. I love the postcard idea! I remember in “The Swan Thieves” one of the characters said something to the effect of: “Always leave a museum before the images you’ve seen all begin to run together.” I think that’s a great tip for adults, and can be adapted to children’s attention span. Also, I took a docent training class at the BYU MOA, and one of the things that seemed to work really well in tours geared toward children was to have a specific theme in mind: how colors make us feel, or how a figure’s position in the painting/sculpture could help us understand what is happening or what they are thinking/feeling. That gave very young children something to look for (what colors are in this picture? who can find three paintings in this room that have red in them? try to stand just like the man in this picture, etc.) and also allowed for some more involved conversation with older children who could better understand the relationship of visual elements to abstract ideas.

  10. I was a selfish mom! *I* wanted to visit museums and if I wanted to see anything I had to bring the kids because I couldn’t afford a babysitter for 5 kids!

    For us it was also a matter of incentives, prepare, and pretend. I was never above bribery to get the kids into a visit. “If you clean your room we can go into town and see the museum!” (granted as they grew older this was less effective!) Then, once the trip was one, we went over “museum behaviour” and practiced it. How to get mom’s attention if you see something exciting, appropriate walking, talking, and touching; what they could expect to see and experience at each different museum, and any after experiences we would have if all went well. Knowing why they had to behave a certain way, how to, and what to expect totally made sense. Once there they could pretend to be “A fancy grown up”, “an artist”, a model, dinosaur, scientist….and on and on -the best being “the tour guide” and explaining the museum exhibit to the rest of us.

    I was also a “bad” mom and would pull my kids out of school so we could be naughty and “ditch” into the city for a “secret” trip into a museum. Who doesn’t like being naughty?

    The biggest thing I think was that we went young and we went OFTEN! They -frankly- just got used to it then began to love (and behave) each trip.

  11. I can’t say I have ever been to a museum with my kids since I don’t have any yet. But when I was nine and my brother was six our parents took us to Europe. We toured lots of churches, countryside, and museums, including the Muse D’orsay. Which ended up being a highlight of the trip. The fact that it used to be a train depot was thrilling for my brother and I loved all the impressionist art. Have ice cream cones on the roof at the cafe didn’t hurt either. More than twenty years later I can still remember that day clearly. And I keep the D’Orsay on the list of my must see places each time I return to Paris!

    Take the kids! They will love it!
    P.S. The Picasso Museum in Paris is also kid friendly with a lovely garden. The Pompidieu Center has a wonderful fountain and street performers out front and make and excellent back drop for a picnic lunch!

  12. When we lived in New York we spent a lot of time at the Met (the MoMA didn’t work as well). They have a fabulous children/family program at the Met. Also, it helps that the Met is so huge, so if my boys were getting antsy I could go to a less populated area and calm them down. I only ever had the best experiences with the “guards” there, they were always kind to me, and my kids. And we went often, so my boys knew how to behave, and not to touch anything but the benches.

    We just moved to Salt Lake and I am missing my favorite outings. If anyone knows of some stellar art museums (that are worth the price) please let me know!

  13. My son (7) loved seeing his favorite paintings in person at the D’Orsay but we flew through and he was done in about 30 minutes…I could spend hours there. But I think that it is a good experience to take your children…kind of like dinners out, you will want to have some with your kids and some with just your spouse;)
    When you are back in Denver, if you haven’t already, you should take them to the Denver Art museum. They have backpacks that you can check out for no additional charge and the kids can do projects that were created for certain corresponding galleries. It’s very child-friendly!

    1. Ha! I suggested the DAM too without even seeing your comment. PS the Marvelous MUD installation is awesomesauce….my 2 year old and I spent an hour making clay snakes in the temporary clay/art studio.

  14. We love museums and art galleries. We always pack a sketch book, pencils/crayons and going from room to room in an art gallery I ask my now 9 year old daughter which picture is sad, funny, angry, or which would she hung in her room, in daddy’s room, in the basement and why. We try to guess the name of the painting, we try to guess why the painting has a name it has-works especially well with abstract painting-my daughter can make up incredible stories. Then she sits and either copies her favorite painting or makes her own abstract, still life or whatever she wants. When we visit museums like castles or mansions we “visit” people who “live” there-I had a wonderful stroll through Royal Castle in Cracow, Poland with my then 4 year old saying hello to all queens and princesses on paintings, and I used different voices to say: “Hi, I am Queen Bona, what is your name little girl? Hello I am princess Anna, who are you?” ” and then the queens or princesses from portraits “asked” if my daughter likes their pearls, dresses etc . In the meantime my husband followed some group with an English speaking guide or read information provided by the museum-it was a blast and my daughter still remembers that trip and nobody ended up bored or frustrated. We live in DC area and visiting Mount Vernon or Williamsburg she dresses in colonial-looking clothes I had sewn for her using some clothes from the thrift store (stays included) . I always pack a change of clothes as obviously she gets too hot after a while but it is great to see how she moves differently, courtesies to people and poses for photos.

  15. We live in Mpls, and when we go to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, we only pick one, maybe two sections to tackle. That way we (and the kids) don’t get overloaded. Right now I am looking forward to going there sometime this summer; I’ve been on bed rest for 86 days, so I have only been able to leave the house for peri appts once a week. I can’t wait to get back out and enjoy like with the kids once the new baby is born! Michelle

  16. We love going to art galleries with the kids…I think they love it too. Contemporary sculpture/installation seems to float their boat…!

    Get well wishes are winging their way to Maude from the UK. Hope she has a speedy recovery x

  17. The Denver Art Museum is my favorite place in the world with my 2 year old son, Jack. They have tons of activities for kids including these backpacks on wheels (with activities like puzzles, games and art projects) that he loves to drag through the galleries. Every time we go (we are members so we go…well, a lot) we decide on something to try and find-a train, a dinosaur, a monkey, the color blue, etc and then we search. All trips conclude with a visit to the contemporary art gallery where there is this installation of fox sculpture.

  18. Gabrielle, I do the exact same thing!!! I think it’s brilliant because I get to keep the postcards for myself and make my daughter happy with a toy from the gift shop.

  19. We go to museums all the time. My kids are 4.5yrs, 2yrs, an 6mos. It’s our way of life here. We love the “Can you find it outside/inside?” and other children’s books with art in them. My kids recognize the art once we are in the museum. We play “I spy” with pictures. We pose like the sculptures. And we only stay a an hour or two.

  20. Oh, and one last thing… Before we left we checked out a bunch of related books from the library, and my kids especially loved Katie and the Mona Lisa and Katie Meets the Impressionists.

  21. sorry, i didn’t read all the tips/posts…
    we try to split museum-visits: 1 visit is for the girls {like a dinosaur-exhibition, children’s museum}, 1 is for us. we talk a lot during the visits and try to carry the girls as much as possible {in a backpack-baby carrier or sling} and we try to show them as many little things as possible {“did you see the blue dress? look, there’s a butterfly”} to keep them interested. we do the gift-shops afterwards as a “treat”…
    books are aboslutely neccesary, that’s for sure!

  22. we live in prague and also attend a lot of museums. last year we went to the Van Gogh museum and found that the have a kids scavenger hunt. They handed us a clipboard with several sheets to fill out. My children at the time were 5 and 7 and LOVED it. Some of it require a bit more explaining but they completed the entire sheets. Lots of amazing and useful information was provided in such a way for them that made it really interesting. At the end when you turn in your clipboards they also get a few prizes from the museum. check it out!

  23. You should really take advantage of being in France to go to Musée en herbe. It’s a children’s art museum in Paris. It’s pretty much the only one of it’s kind in France and currently has original artwork by Keith Haring.

  24. We just went to the Van Gogh museum with our kids (age 10 and 13) and the people at the info desk had a great “Treasure Hunt” mapped out for the kids. They gave it to them with a nice board to write on and a pencil, and it took our kids more than an hour to find everything, which allowed my husband and I to enjoy all of the pictures in peace!

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