By Jessica Millis, MFA
Recently, In an attempt to maintain sanity on a rainy day, a friend and I took our kids to the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. (One might question whether driving for two hours with six children was a sound plan in terms of sanity, but we did have fun.) The Eric Carle Museum is an art museum designed for kids, but I observed several ideas that could be adapted to enhance any museum visit. Thinking about other art museums we have been to, I have compiled five tips for enriching an experience that might otherwise feel intimidating or overwhelming for children.
- Plan a simple scavenger hunt. The Eric Carle Museum has a fun scavenger hunt for kids, but if a museum doesn’t have such a thing, you can create your own. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Check out the Museum website to see what they have on display that might interest your child. For example, my daughter loves ballet, so when we visited the Boston Museum of Fine Art, we did a scavenger hunt to see how many dancers we could find in the art. Her favorite was the famous Degas sculpture entitled Dancer. The public library is another place to research topics and artists before a visit. My son was thrilled to learn that we would see real mummies and Egyptian artifacts. He had researched Egyptian hieroglyphics as part of a home school project, and he had fun hunting for and deciphering the hieroglyphics at the museum.
- Look for special children’s events and programs at the museum. Many museums have fun programs that include free admission at specific times. The Boston Museum of Fine Art has an event every year on the Lunar New Year. Admission is free for the whole day, and there are many activities such as Asian story telling, art projects, music, and even a traditional Chinese lion dance. They do a similar free event a few other times throughout the year, including Martin Luther King Day, and two seasonal open houses. The Currier Museum in Manchester, NH also has kids’ activities, and is free to New Hampshire residents at certain times. Researching local museums, and paying attention to their free or discounted children’s programs can be very beneficial.
- Pack snacks and a lunch! Kids love to eat, and museum food is pricey. It’s good to check first, but most museums provide a space where you can eat or have a picnic. Bringing food can allow you to save money, take a break, and spend the day at the museum.
- Bring a sketch book or journal for your child. Sketching in the museum can be a really great way to engage with the art on a different level. As kids see art work, they may want to respond my making their own images and exploring new and different ways to draw. This also provides them with a fun souvenir of the day.
- Become inspired to make your own art! The Eric Carle Museum has a wonderful art studio in which children and their parents can create their own works of art. It was a room with tables covered in baskets of different kinds of recycled or inexpensive materials such as bottle caps, paper cups, tape, egg cartons, etc. My kids loved this room, but my son pointed out that this was just like our sun room at home. We have a small art room at home, stocked with similar supplies, and I realized that even if a museum doesn’t have a studio space like this, we could always come home after an inspiring museum adventure and create on our own masterpieces.
I am a strong believer in exposing children to the arts at a young age. No matter what careers they pursue in the future, art can inform their creativity, inspiring them to develop empathy, wisdom and critical thinking. Art museums are for everyone, and hopefully the tips I shared will help to simplify and enrich the experience for families with children.