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What happens when you take kids to an art museum

This weekend, we bid summer adieu the same way we welcomed it: with art.

One of the highlights of the last few months has been exposing my girls to one of the things I enjoy most. Back in college, I majored in art history after an intro class that got me hooked. I had always liked art, but I never really “got it” until I heard my professors talk about art being a reflection of life: politics, religion, geography, an artist’s personal circumstances. I spent hours walking the galleries of New York’s art museums soaking up everything I’d learned.

By the time I graduated, I had snagged a job at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Each morning as I walked to my desk, I was greeted by masterpieces from around the globe. It was truly inspiring!

That love of art hasn’t really ever faded; I just kind of put it on the back burner. After all, who takes mischievous young children to an art museum?

Well, apparently, me.

This summer, I discovered that the Houston Museum of Fine Arts had a free children’s program each week. I was more than a little anxious about taking my energetic and ultra curious kids to a place where they couldn’t touch anything, but we gave it a shot with some serious rules:

  1. No running.
  2. No touching.
  3. No screaming.

Simple, right?

When we arrived the first week and the kids received colored pencils to sketch within reach of the paintings, I figured someone in the museum hierarchy had lost their mind and this was going to end terribly. 

I was wrong; it was amazing!

Painting 11

Painting 12

The kids actually behaved, almost as if they knew it meant the world to me to be sitting in an art museum again for the first time in years. So we went back, again and again.

During our visits this summer, we toured the galleries, spending a disproportionate amount of time with the modern art. One of the artists we talked a lot about was Jackson Pollock, who the girls recognized from one of their Olivia books.

At home, I showed them this video of Pollock at work—one I’d watched as an art history student:

Without getting too heavy, we talked about Pollock’s process and how action painting was really something revolutionary back then. “Should we give it a try?” I asked.

Out in the backyard, I handed the girls my own paintbrushes. They each got their own poster board to put down on the grass and I filled paper plates with diluted finger paints. We practiced filling up our brushes and throwing down paint. We rolled tennis balls in the paint and then across the papers. We dumped paint straight onto the poster board. And sometimes, we even used our brushes as they were meant to be used.

Painting 1

Painting 5

Painting 2

Painting 3

Painting 4

Painting 6

Painting 7

Painting 9

Painting 10

The girls had a blast, and I felt like we took a little bit of the MFAH back home with us. I’m not sure how much the kids really gained from their visits to the “heart museum” (as my youngest called it all summer), but they couldn’t have hurt. And as for me, being in a museum again made me remember a side of me I had almost forgotten.

Have you ever visited an art museum with little ones? Did it work out?

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3 thoughts on “What Happens When You Take Kids to an Art Museum?

  1. Ok, this is absolutely awesome! You’ve inspired me, friend! Always looking for creative ways to keep art alive for our little ones and this ROCKS! I especially love that the girls call it the “heart museum” because that’s exactly what art provides – a medium to express the heart.

    1. Thanks so much, Katie!! I got such a kick out of the “heart museum” thing, too. Big sister kept trying to correct baby sister, and I kept asking her to let this one little error go :)

  2. This is a great story that really highlights what can happen when you help children explore their creative sides. It is interesting to me that you pointed out that they had desires to recreate what they saw. I love looking at art for that same reason-it helps inspire my creative side. Thanks for sharing this!

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