9 Tips for Success at Art Museums with Kids–A Survival Guide

If you are like us, you love art and you love visiting art museums, especially when travelling. We live in a metropolitan area, in part, because we want to be near art and culture. We wanted to raise our children to appreciate, and be inspired by, said art and culture.

Well, guess what? That doesn’t mean your children will actually enjoy going to art museums! A friend told me that my four-week-old baby, who happily cooed and observed Rodin sculptures throughout her first visit to the Palace of Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, had the “soul of an artist.”

It turns out she does have that soul, but she does not like the traditional art museum visit! When we travel, I will often feel as though “I may never get back here again,” and “this is my only chance to see that one Picasso I have never seen.” I get anxious if the kids are cranky, the family gets tense, and well… let’s just say we have learned the hard way that we need to keep peace in order to enjoy the experience. Here are some tips for your little, and not-so-little ones, at art museums.

1. Plan the food and drink thing ahead of time. Be sure to have a meal before your visit and snacks on hand during. Plan a visit to the museum café for the end of the tour, because it is a nice way to support the museum and it always helps to decrease the crankies. You can always use the “First/Then” strategy of behavior management. First, we see the paintings in these galleries and Then, we get a cookie at the café.

2. Prepare the family for what you are about to see before you go. Show the kids the website with photos of the exhibits and see if they are drawn to anything special. Research the special exhibits because often times they are digital, interactive, contemporary, and family friendly. They may cost you an extra fee, but it may be worth it!

3. When possible, visit at non-peak hours. No one does well in crowds and museums often empty out toward the end of the day. A late afternoon, before dinner, trip to a museum may help the family build up some stamina for a longer stay next time.

4. Bring a notebook and pen to encourage a scavenger hunt. Find the paintings with animals in them. Find red flowers. Find something that reminds you of the beach. You get the idea. Maybe there is a prize for how many naked bodies you can find!

5. Audio tours! I can’t emphasize this enough! A kid with headphones, and someone telling them a story, is more likely to concentrate on the details of what she/he is seeing. The tours typically guide you through the rooms in a logical way and can help you keep a comfortable pace.

6. Take breaks for bathrooms and sitting on benches. Especially when it is a busy Saturday in the height of the season, and the crowds make you wish everyone would disappear! It is always good to plop down in a spot in front of a beautiful piece of art work and rest.

7. Put your child in charge of finding the top ten most important pieces in the museum. Get the map, circle the spots, and let the kids lead the way. Maybe they even read the descriptions and tell you two facts about the piece.

8. Let everyone choose a postcard or inexpensive item from the gift shop at the end of the visit. Again, a nice way to support the museum, remember the experience, and feel like you earned a reward.

9. A final word of advice; divide and conquer! If it is not working, then send dad outside with the kids while mom finds the Mona Lisa and then tag team, so dad can have a visit with Mona later. And, of course, when the kids are old enough to take a bike or a walking tour, while you go to the museum, don’t complain! Let them go for it and plan to meet them at a designated spot in a few hours!

Don't forget to have a cup of decaf when you relax in the museum bistro! Enjoy, all you art lovers!

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