Talking Children to Museums and Art Galleries

Some people might think a museum is no place for a young child; especially an art gallery where most people are quietly enjoying paintings and sculptures. But this is a misconception. Museums and art galleries can be enjoyed by young children; we just have to make sure we do it right. Childhood is a very influential time. As adults we can help or hurt our children’s perceptions of different things. Based on the way we do things our children might view museums and art galleries as boring and stuffy or fascinating places filled with mystery and wonder. It is all in the way we do it!


If you are bringing young children to an art gallery or museum, make sure it is one you have been to before. Think about the exhibits in the museum and plan for stops that will interest your children. Map out your route and remember that children have short attention spans. Familiarize yourself with the paintings, sculptures, and exhibits you will be bringing them to see. Anticipate their questions; though you will likely not be able to anticipate everything they might ask, you should give yourself enough knowledge of the exhibit and artist that you can field most general questions quickly and easily. This may mean you have to do some research; but it is truly how you can make the most of your visit.


Don’t try to bring your children to see exhibits that are too far outside their realm of interest. Young children are easily bored by things that do not hold their interest. That being said, what interests them might surprise you. Believe it or not, even elementary school aged children have more interests then cartoons and ice cream. Find out what they enjoyed learning about most in school last year. If they were very interested in American history, design your trip around that. Find galleries with exhibits including American paintings and sculptures throughout history. If their favorite subjects were music or physical education, look for exhibits containing musical instruments or a history of the Olympics. No matter where your children’s interests lie, you are likely to find a museum or museum exhibit that caters to that.


Sometimes we can see the beauty or magnificence in something that our children just don’t get. That’s OK, they are entitled to their own opinions. If they no longer want to be in a certain exhibit, don’t force it. On the other hand, if something catches their eye that is beyond what you planned, let them go. Don’t get too worried if they start asking about an exhibit you have not researched. Let their imaginations wander and you can always do some further research on the new topic together.


Think fun. Kids don’t want to be bogged down with too many facts. There is such a thing as overload. They may just want to look at a certain painting or exhibit simply because they find it pretty or they like the colors. Isn’t that a huge part of what art is all about? Pure enjoyment. Too much information can sometimes ruin a moment. It’s OK if they don’t know the artist or style. Let them experience the joy that art can bring without worrying about trying to remember facts about the piece.


You don’t always have to wait for their questions. You should ask them some too. Do you like this piece? Why or why not? What is your favorite part? Could you try recreating the best thing you saw today? The possibilities are endless. Choose your moments though, don’t just ask random questions and don’t constantly repeat the same questions about different exhibits. Let the day’s energy flow naturally. There is good time for talking and a good time for shutting up! Try to feel the difference.


If you want your kids to enjoy something, you have to show some enjoyment too. They will know if you are truly interested or if you are faking it. You don’t necessarily have to genuinely like all of the exact same things your children do, you just have to show an interest in their interests. Be excited about the things you see and the new things that pop up during the day. Excitement is catchy, and so is tension. If you feel tense about the way things are going, or if you are nervous about taking small children to a big museum, they will notice and their excitement will dwindle.


It is inevitable that your children will want to spend money at the cafe and gift shop. If you are truly trying to create a special experience, I say let them! Just plan for it ahead of time and make sure the kids are aware of how much they can spend in each place. Museum cafes can be expensive, so if you cannot afford lunch at the cafe, find out if there is a place to store and eat a packed lunch. Look around the museum for restaurants you might rather go to then the museum’s restaurants. As far as the gift shop is concerned, visit it at the very end of your trip, and let your children pick out something that reminds them of the exhibit they loved the most. It is truly up to you how you want to handle the gift shop. Items will range from silly and unrelated to the museum to beautiful and memory making. Tell your kids ahead of time if they will be allowed to pick out anything they want up to a certain spending limit or if you would like them to search for something that is related to the exhibits you saw. The key to reducing arguments is to tell them ahead of time what to expect at the gift shop.


Once you have left the museum, it is important to bring the experience with you. At home encourage your children to draw what they remember or write about the experience. Again, don’t force it, but use your child’s interest to foster a lasting enjoyment of the experience. If your child enjoys drawing and writing, let them do one of those things. If not, just encourage further talk about the day and the things they saw. Ask them to find things in everyday life that reminds them of the museum visit. Keeping the joy alive at home will help to create a life-long love of museums and art!