A for is Art: Mom & Tot Day at the Museum
By Shnieka Johnson, museum educator, curriculum designer and independent consultant specializing in museums and schools
A museum lover, that is how I would describe myself. A love of museums is something that I always wanted to give to my son. I’ve taken my son to museums since he was 3 months old. He is now approaching two years old and it is one of my favorite things to do with him.
However, I talk to many moms that say they wouldn’t dare take their child—especially a toddler to an art museum. The childrens museum, of course. A science musem, sure! An art museum, no way! But, why? Why is this an intimidating fete? It is a learning space, exhibiting creative work. Don’t we want to expose our children to this? As an educator and a mom I encourage you to do so.
To help make things a little easier, here are a few tips:
- Introduce the idea
Like with any new place, make your child aware of what type of museum that you are going to: art, history or science. Let them know about rules at the museum. Will they be able to touch? Also, talk about the types of things that they will see. Will it be artifacts, paintings or photographs? Having an expectation will increase their comfort level. Also, depending on the age of your child, show them images form the museum’s website. This will help get them excited for the museum trip. Also, reading about the topic will get them thinking.
- Research the education department
The education department is one of the best resources for a parent. The individuals that work within the education department have your child’s leaning experience in mind. Many museums have family programs. Some require a fee, but some are free. Check out the event calendar and see if there are any family focused events. Special tours for families are offered by educators or docents. If you do not think that a tour is right for your family, a convenient guidebook for self-guided visits is usually available at the membership desk.
- Let them lead the way
Let your child choose the exhibit that you visit. Do they have an interest in a specific topic? Di they prefer photos rather than paintings or do they want to see sculptures? To make this an enjoyable visit, consider your child’s developmental stage. They probably can’t interpret abstract art. However, they can identify colors and shapes.
- Engage your child
Talk. Ask your child what they notice most about a painting or sculpture. Listen to their thoughts and share your own. They might surprise you. Draw. Let them express themselves through sketching, always have a pencil and pad in your bag. Take Photos. If photography is allowed, hand over the camera.
- Know when to say when
Depending on the age of the child, attention spans can be very short. Split your time; take breaks; have a snack. Pack something healthy in your bag: carrot/celery sticks, apple slices, raisins or pretzels. Make use of an outdoor space. Sitting in a sculpture garden or by a fountain can be just as fun as what’s inside the museum. If all else fails, go home and try it another day. A museum visit should be fun, not stressful.
As with anything, think of your child as an individual. Their interests, attention span and energy level vary. Children benefit from a variety of learning experiences. Visiting an art museum should be a fun and engaging.