Sure, you don’t have any reservations about taking your preschooler to a children’s museum. Those places are designed with kids in mind; every display screams “TOUCH ME! TOUCH ME WITH ALL OF YOUR BODY!”
But what about an art museum? Have you braved the quiet, still, cavernous rooms filled with priceless works of art, or are you telling yourself you’ll try an art museum visit when your kids are older?
You don’t need to wait until your child reaches a certain age or milestone to visit an art museum. In fact, your preschooler will get heaps of education and experience from the visual stimulation, interactions with you, and lessons in appropriate behavior in a museum right now.
Don’t put it off. Use these tips to make the experience at an art museum with your preschooler an enjoyable (and manner-filled) one for both of you.
Ahead of Time
A museum trip for anybody is made better by doing a little prep work, and when preschoolers are involved, the more you do ahead of time, the better your trip is likely to go.
Before you head to the museum, spend some time on its website so you can become familiar with the current exhibitions. This will help you know the highlights, and you’ll also see some pieces of art that might be of particular interest to your child.
Most importantly, you’ll know something about what you’re going to see. This will help you to point out interesting facts or images that relate to your child, keeping her engaged while at the museum.
Show Your Child
Show your child a little bit of what you’ve learned on the museum’s website. Print out a few images you know you’ll see and point out the shapes, colors, or other big ideas about the artwork. When your child sees the actual artwork in person, he’ll be thrilled he knows something about it.
Talk About Manners
The last thing you want is for your preschooler to run screaming through the museum, touching everything in her path. Have a brief conversation about museum manners. You can compare it to a library or church.
“When we go to the museum, we need to use our library voices and our quiet walking feet. This helps everyone to enjoy the art.”
At the Museum
So you’ve prepared. You know a thing or two about what you’re going to see, you’ve told your child about what to expect, and your child knows how to behave. How can you make sure all this works out to an enjoyable museum trip? You are attending the museum with an unpredictable preschooler, after all.
Play I Spy
Most children won’t give the paintings more than a cursory glance, unless someone shows them how to do it. Playing fun, interactive games with the paintings gets kids involved — and keeps them that way.
I Spy is a simple-enough way to get started. “I spy a yellow hat. I spy a gray animal.” Your child can point or quietly move to the painting once he spots the spied item. When he tells you what he spies, he’ll be examining the paintings even closer.
Copy the Poses
We can’t wait to try this great idea from My Kids’ Adventures. Have your child try to imitate a pose they see in a painting or sculpture. This not only helps kids wiggle in a place that is quite still, it keeps the kids looking at the paintings longer than they otherwise would. And they may notice quite a bit more than you expected.
Draw or Photograph the Art
If photography is allowed in the museum, your preschooler will be thrilled to take photos of her favorite pieces. You can even send her on a photo hunt, giving her specific items to look for in the paintings (an animal, a baby, something blue, something silly, someone sad, someone happy…)
If photography is not allowed, give your child a small sketchbook and a pencil. Ask him to sit on a bench in every other room and copy his favorite painting or sculpture.
Bring Something to Touch
You know your preschooler may have trouble with the strict no-touch rule in the museum. Why not bring something your child can touch? If you’re going to an exhibition of ballerina paintings, bring some ballet shoes to hold. If you’re going to an exhibition of landscapes, perhaps a fake flower would be soothing to hold.
Time It Right
Head to the museum before the meltdowns of nap time and the hangry pangs of lunchtime. If you can get to the museum early, you’ll likely encounter fewer people, your child will be well-rested, and nobody will be screaming for a snack (yet). Plan on two hours as your maximum.
Don’t expect to see everything. A preschooler’s attention won’t last all day. If you have a favorite painting you want to see, go there first. Be willing to take breaks when needed. Bring snacks (but head to the cafeteria or outside to eat them). It’s okay if you only see one exhibition or one floor. You don’t want to tire out and bore your child. You want to see just enough to keep your child interested and involved.
Bring It Home
Keep talking about what you saw at the museum. If you were solo parenting at the museum, encourage your child to tell the other parent about her favorite painting, the silliest thing she saw, or the happiest or saddest thing she saw.
Do an art project that relates to something you saw.
Check out children’s books about museums from the library and look through them together.
Don’t be surprised if your preschooler remembers very little. It’s hard for him at this stage to articulate everything he experienced.
And don’t worry if your preschooler had a meltdown, didn’t love the museum, or tired out sooner than you thought she would. Not everyone is destined to love museums, but everyone can find something to enjoy. As you continue to keep art in your life, and continue to visit museums, your child’s enjoyment will grow.
At UDA Creative Arts Preschool, we know that art is a valuable tool for your child’s emotional well-being. It also refines visual perception and fine motor skills, increases creativity and imagination, and helps your child develop an appreciation of his surroundings. That’s why our students engage in art projects every single day, along with our seven other areas of focus. Call us for more information about our preschool program at (801) 523-5930.