Preparing for a Trip to an Art Museum
Seeing Original Art Up Close and Personal
No amount of studying art from books or computer screens can substitute for seeing actual pieces in a museum. So visiting an art museum is a wonderful complement to a Charlotte Mason styled artist study regardless of which artist you are currently studying and the ages of your children. Preschoolers and high schoolers can all benefit from a trip to an art museum.
Furthermore, taking your children to art museums is a wonderful way to encourage their appreciation for and understanding of the arts. Before you load up the van for the field trip, consider preparing your family for this rich experience. Plan what you'll do while at the museum, and even consider some follow up activities.
Preparing for the Trip to the Art Museum
But other more structured types may prefer some planning beforehand, especially if the admission tickets are expensive. Here are some planning pointers.
Take the time to make a list of questions to ask and visit the museum's website for information. It's not a bad idea to follow up with a phone call especially if you have additional concerns.
Of course, you've already thought of the practical considerations such as the museum's hours, the parking situation, entrance fees, whether or not strollers are allowed. But what about cameras and backpacks? Are there snack shops or restaurants? Can you bring your own snacks and eat them there?
Visiting the museum can be costly. Add up parking downtown, eating out, and admission costs, and a field trip can be a real burden on the pocket book. So find out if there are special discount days. Many museums offer a regular bargain day, at free or half price admission. Ask about parking validation and if you can eat your own snacks or bag lunch in the museum cafe.
Often a museum's permanent collection is free while the temporary exhibits require purchase of a ticket. The free part of the museum may be enough! My family has often spent several hours in the permanent collection of a new (to us) museum without paying a dime. Planning ahead in these ways can help save a bit of money that you can spend on more art books for the home library!
Is there a special kids area in the museum that is especially hands-on? Find out when it is open.
Is there a certain time or day when visitors are especially scarce? Find out and go then. When too many tall adults are blocking the art, children have no chance to see.
Try to educate yourself as much as possible about the exhibits you'll be visiting. There may be a virtual exhibit online or a pamphlet you can download. If all else fails, ask the museum receptionist if there are any pieces that may be problematic for children (nudity, violence, etc.). This way, you can prepare for avoiding any pieces that you don't want your children to see but also stimulate enthusiasm to see a few key pieces.
If you'd like to read more about dealing with nudity in art, read this very well done PDF titled Body Language: How to Talk to Students about Nudity in Art. Published by the Art Institute of Chicago, it includes some sample art and tells the various ages the pieces may be suitable for.
If you want the visit to be somewhat structured, give your children a scavenger hunt. Or give them a short list of of works of art to locate, study, and possibly sketch. The list can be artists, titles of paintings, or even images of works of art. (For my 10 year old daughter, I would probably give her three assigned pieces plus one of her choice to narrate. And I would add at least three sketches.) When you take your beak, the children can narrate the art to you orally. For older students, have them take notes and write short summary descriptions. Don't forget to take along paper on clipboards and pencils for sketching.
Nothing makes security guards more nervous than children in a museum, so just take it in stride when they follow you around. If you teach your children to follow some simple rules, the security guards will breathe easier:
- use elbows or noses instead of fingers to point at the art
- stand arm's length away from all pieces
- do not run or yell; instead walk calmly and speak in a low tone
Engage with your children throughout the exhibit. Enjoy the art alongside them and point out key elements. Bruce Van Patter also has some great suggestions for talking about art with children at Climbing Into a Painting. If you prefer a worksheet format, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers this free PDF-- Every Picture Tells a Story.
But let them enjoy the art themselves. Let the art speak directly to them. Don't feel that you have to interpret everything for them or quiz them on each piece of art. Let the visit be one of enjoyment, reveling in the colors, the designs, the history.
Be sure to leave the museum before it gets boring and dull. You want the experience to be a positive one.
If your budget can handle it, let the children choose a postcard or bookmark from the museum gift shop as a souvenir of their trip.
Don't feel pressured to see all of the art museum in one visit, especially if you live in the nearby vicinity, . Choose a section or one floor to amble through. Then plan a follow up visit in a few months. As children mature, their attention span lengthens and their interests change as well. So don't give up if the first visit to an art museum is a bit of a disappointment.
Don't forget to visit your museum's website and look for any sections labeled Education or Family Resources. Many museums offer detailed PDF guides for their exhibits. Those publications can be valuable to prepare you for the trip and to provide follow up activities.
The Art Cyclopedia has a long list of museums that have special programs devoted to education. Browse the list for many resources.
More Art Museum Tips
- How CM Artist Study Took us to the Met
This post chronicles my visit to NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art with my daughter. I especially share how our homeschool study of art enhanced our visit.
- The Common Room Takes the Family to an Art Museum
This post shares a great idea for making a scavenger hunt of various pieces of art and small details within the art. It will require some preparation at home, but appears to be well worth the effort.
- Great Museum Visits with Tinys, But Without Glares from Strangers
This is a concise article with some valuable ideas. The scavenger hunt is here again, and this author recommends practicing at home how to behave at an art museum with a clever role play idea!
- Ten Best Art Museums for Kids
The results of Child magazine's survey to assess the family-friendliness of U.S. art museums. See if any of them are close to you or on the path for your next road trip.
- Tips from the National Children's Museum
A great list of tips for visiting museums of any kind, not just art -- focus on a specific area, allow your child to have some ownership in the field trip, and be engaged yourself.
- Smithsonian Article: What can children learn from objects in museums?
If you're not sure exactly what a museum visit offers your children, read what the Smithsonian says about it!
- Camp Creek Blog At the Museum
Some great tips not only for visiting a museum but also for drawing at the museum.
Origin of the Word Museum
Museum comes from the Greek mouseion meaning the Temple of the Muses.
In Greek mythology, Muses were the guardians of creative activity. Ironically, there was no muse for visual arts because in Ancient Greece, painting and sculpture were not considered art but trades.
Inside the Museum
This book, best for grades 4-7, showcases not just many famous pieces of art but also the dynamics of an operating museum.
What Actually Is a Museum? - Things to Discuss Before Visiting
My dictionary (Webster's New World) says that a museum is a building, room, etc. for preserving and exhibiting artistic, historical, or scientific objects.
Do your children understand what a museum is? Here are some things to discuss with them.
- Ask your children to define a museum. Then look it up in the dictionary and discuss the meaning.
- Try to find out the history of the building that houses the museum you are going to visit. Many museum buildings have unique stories. Ask the curator when you make your visit, or call in advance. Be sure to enjoy the architecture of the museum itself. The last museum I enjoyed with my daughter had the most interesting benches in each room. Each was different, and they were works of art in themselves. So there is more than even the art in the gallery to enjoy!
- Discuss with your children the difference between permanent and temporary exhibits.
- Discuss how works of art come to be housed in a museum --by donation, purchase, or on loan. Look for those details on the placard beside each piece of art.
Museum vocabularydocentcuratorartifactexhibitgallerydisplay case
These topics for discussion along with the follow up suggestions below can be downloaded in PDF format via this link.
Visiting the Art Museum
This book is designed to excite your children about the possibility of visiting an art museum and seeing original art in person. The work of many famous artists is featured throughout this picture book for ages 4-8.
By all means spend time discussing what you saw at the museum. If your children took notes or sketched, look at those. If your children were well behaved, be sure to praise them and let them know how proud you were.
Here are more ideas for follow up back at home. Pick and choose what suits your family.
- Put photographs into a scrapbook or notebook.
- Label sketches and store them.
- Make a notebooking page with a piece of art you studied plus a narration.
Art Today has some great tips for writing about art. Use the links in the right hand column to see all of the article.
- Use any free pamphlets, museum maps, or brochures to make your own scrapbook or notebooking pages.
- Give a presentation for someone else.
- Be a "living painting!" Dress up and pose like what you saw in a piece of art.
- Try your hand at reproducing in a particular artist's work or in his or her style.
- Plan your next trip!
This book is set in New York City where the narrator is looking for his friend Art. Unfortunately, he is misunderstood and ushered into the Museum of Modern Art where lots of people try to show him what art is.
This unique art book makes a statement about art -- everyone has a different opinion of what art actually is.
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