Make Learning Fun

A visit to the art museum


I took the girls to the art museum yesterday after school. I used to take Maia a lot when she was still a sling baby/toddler but we haven’t been in a long time and it’s all new to her. I was inspired to take her again by MaryAnn Kohl’s latest article: Exploring the Art Museum: Making the Most of Your Child’s First Visit.


Our art museum is tiny, and the website only contains about three images, so I wasn’t able to follow MaryAnn’s advice of looking at the website with Maia ahead of time to find artworks to look for. Nor was I able to do the scavenger hunt idea that Rachelle Doorley suggested. At first this just made me miss Boston and the MFA, but once we got to the museum and explored we really had a good time. Maia wanted to find all the birds in the paintings and most of her energy went toward that (she counted 92 birds). We kept the visit short and went out for a gingerbread cookie afterward.

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Do you have any favorite children’s books about art museums?

We’ve “read” Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman (it’s a wordless book), Museum ABC and Museum 123 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent de Brunhoff. I’d say Museum Trip is our favorite of these, but I’d love to learn about some others.


  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 11:34 am

    i want to do this, especially after your great interview with tinkerlab! thanks for more great book recs, too. and i have to ask…. can maia really count to 92? amazing!!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Jean! I thought MaryAnn’s article was spot-on, too! Congrats on taking both girls to the art museum — no small feat (and something I have yet to do). I love reading about Maia’s hunt for birds. Children don’t need an MFA or Met to get a lot out of the experience! On Tuesday we were off to the children’s museum and my 2.5 year old daughter said, very deliberately, “Let’s go to the Firetruck Museum (our kids museum has a big firetruck in it), NOT the art museum.” Sigh. It’s sometimes hard for the art museum to compete with water tables, bubble blowers, and real firetrucks! But there’s always next week…

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    _You Can’t Bring a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum_ is another good wordless book. A girl’s balloon is tied to the stair rail outside the museum’s entrance before the she goes inside. When the balloon comes untied it goes on an adventure that mimics the artwork the girl is viewing the museum. I just discovered that there are also National Gallery and Boston MFA versions. I’ve never seen them before, but I bet they’re also great fun. For slightly older kids, I like _Linnea in Monet’s Garden_.

  • Reply
    Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
    December 2, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I think sometimes a small art museum is better with kids. I found it hard to curb my enthusiasm and not drag them along to see one more thing at the MFA in Boston. One of my favorite lines from my now-grown son came when a friend asked how he liked our trip to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine. “I was double bored to death.” I thought he actually looked pretty interested when he was there. And as for a book, we enjoyed Visiting the Art Museum by Laura Krasny Brown and Marc Brown.

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    ahhhh, I have been in so long! I think my little girl is ready… but I have the other boys. Someday a trip for just girls is in order.

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I’m an art museum educator (er, well, I was before having my son) and I loved the book You Can’t Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    We also used to do a lot of sensory stuff with kids, like have little pieces of fabric with different textures and have children try to find paintings that corresponded. Some of the responses were so creative, not what you’d typically think of. We also got these great little scent pots with different smells inside that the kids also had to match with artworks. So much fun!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I live in England and love Anthony Browne’s book The shape game about his first visit to the National Gallery in London. It includes a great art game at th end. The book description on amazon says:
    ‘I was a little boy and I didn’t know what to expect. It was my mother’s idea – that year for her birthday she wanted us all to go somewhere different. It turned out to be a day that changed my life forever.’ A family reluctantly visits an art gallery but one by one each member is energized by a different picture in the gallery and transported into the imaginative and colourful world of art.

  • Reply
    Book Chook
    December 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    One I think your daughter might like is Olivia, a picture book about a Degas loving piglet. The art appreciation part is only small, but the fun is huge!
    Also, I’m the editor of a little free ezine for parents about children’s literacy and learning, and our current issue had a great article about getting the most from a trip to the art gallery. It’s called Literacy Lava 7 and you can download it at my website

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    When I’ve visited our art museum (RISD in Providence) with my kids we’ve focused on just a few exhibits at a time. (When they had the Goodnight Moon exhibit–which focused on the Hurd family’s illustrations–that was fantastic!) That keeps a larger museum more manageable, I think. The last time I visited RISD, I had my then 8yo and an almost-2yo. We visited only the ancient Greek and Roman galleries, which had just reopened. That was about all my toddler could handle, although my 8yo was intent on reading every exhibit card. ;)
    I am, in general, wary of scavenger hunts in any museum for children. This is not to say they can’t be well done, but I approach with caution. I used to be an environmental educator, and scavenger hunts do seem to be a fallback in nature centers and, increasingly, everywhere else we visit. In my experience, it encourages children to view the displays (or artwork, or exhibits) superficially, searching for what’s on the list and racing past whatever is not. I’ve seen how they can pull my kids right out of what they’re interested in, in order to check off everything on their list. I don’t allow my kids to pick up the scavenger hunts when we visit museums. I’ve never seen one designed for adults, who are assumed to be capable of following their own interests through the museum. I believe children are capable, too. (Sorry for going on! I have strong feelings on this from my own educator days!)

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    It’s a nice thing to rediscover something as new for your little girl! I thin it wise too to keep it short and with a sweet ending too! Encouraging!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    We like “Jack in Search of Art.” Cute and silly… it is especially fun because it is based on a museum near us.

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    December 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

    We read “Gaspard and Lisa at the Museum”. It’s not an art museum, but a natural history museum, but our kids love it!

  • Reply
    Candace @NaturallyEducational
    December 2, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Great post & very helpful links. I agree that small can be better for the little ones. Heck, sometimes I get overwhelmed trying to see it all at the bigger museums.
    We lucked into seeing Starry Night when we were in New Haven with the kids. My little girl was still 3 at the time but she was mesmerized.

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I had an opportunity to go to the Cloisters in NYC last April, but there was no way to ditch the 23 mo. Lol. I’m a medievalist, so I really wanted to soak it in. So I braved it, crazy toddler boy and all. What I didn’t realize is how many lions, dogs, and bunny rabbits there are in medieval art. ha! Your post reminded me of looking for lions in tapestries and altar pieces. We both had a good time.

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    We really like the Katie books by James Mayhew. Katie is around the same age as Maia (opposed to the Linnea books), so I’ll bet she will enjoy them! We used to visit museums all the time when we lived in Holland (up until my daughter was 3), and she loved it! Alas, I haven’t taken her to the art museum here yet. That’s my lack of motivation after the feast of Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Van Eyck. Thanks for the reminder that we need to get over there and explore!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    We liked Linnae in Monet’s Garden a lot!

  • Reply
    MaryAnn F. Kohl, art author
    December 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Well now, isn’t this a wonderful post to find this morning!!? Finding 92 birds… Maia really enjoyed her specific visit to the art museum, that’s for sure. Exactly as she should! I’m sure an artsy experienced kid like Maia saw much more than she can comment about. From the photos you shared, it looks like she is really thinking thinking thinking. Don’t be surprised to see something in her own paintings that reflects this visit. You made my day!!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    When I was a child, I had a fabulous book called A Tale of Two Williams. It was about a boy named William who goes to the Metropolitan and discovers a blue hippo sculpture, also with the name William. The story is told with photographs, and I remember it being a very warm tale about exploring a museum. I am pretty sure that the book was published by the Met, and is likely out of print by now, but I think you would enjoy it if you could manage to find a copy somewhere. Thanks for the encouragement to get out into museums, large and small!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2010 at 1:47 am

    Following up…my 3-month old fell asleep in the car this afternoon, so I grabbed the opportunity to visit an art museum with both kids today. I knew I could do it with one, but I’m still trying to figure out the juggle and balance of meeting the needs of two children! And it worked out great! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2010 at 1:57 am

    Amy, you’ve given me tons of food for thought!! I’ve experienced scavenger hunts as a collective entry point into looking at art, to be used in conjunction with dialogue about what one sees in the art or objects. I see your point about avoiding long lists of objects that simply ask kids to tick them off once discovered. Beyond developing recognition and simple observation skills, this sort of activity can certainly fall short! (And I, too, have seen some doozies!) We actually developed a cellphone-based scavenger hunt for adults around an M.C. Escher exhibition at my museum, and it was met with a lot of enthusiasm. But this sort of thing has to be created mindfully, for sure.

  • Reply
    Jean Van't Hul
    December 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Yep. She loves counting and addition!

  • Reply
    Jean Van't Hul
    December 2, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for all the book recommendations! And the museum visit ideas!

  • Reply
    welcome to our wonderland
    December 3, 2010 at 7:44 am

    we love going to the art musuem, we go to the gift shop first and they pick out 2 (sometimes 4) postcards of art pieces and we set out to find them in the musuem. we also bring out older ones and make it fun to see if we can find them all.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Ooh, I’d be so interested in one created for adults, especially to see how it compared the the children’s ones I’ve seen. I think it also depends upon the sort of child involved, too. My oldest can get very hung up on right-and-wrong (he’s very science minded and logical) that scavenger hunts can simply turn stressful and competitive with him. I also think the well-designed ones, that encourage jumping-off points for discussion, like you mention, are great for adults who need some help in figuring out how to talk to their kids about what they’re seeing.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Interesting post and comments. I’m off to read the article that inspired this post and just purchased the ‘The Tale of Two Williams’ from Amazon. The Museum Trip and the Babar book are on our Amazon wish list. :)

  • Reply
    December 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I love this idea! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Reply
    December 4, 2010 at 12:52 am

    I recently wrote about our trip to the Prado in Madrid and some of our favorite museum related reads. Always be sure to stop by the information desk and ask if the museum you are visiting has a kids info pack. Most of the museums we have visited in Europe have some amazing and fun things (special maps, backpacks full of extra art supplies, etc) already prepped for kids of all ages. Here’s what made our trip to the Prado so memorable:

  • Reply
    December 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    My toddlers (2.5 years) love “Miffy the Artist” and I’ve just bought them “Miffy at the Gallery” for Christmas!

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