Visiting Art Museums with Kids

We talked to Amy Boyle, Education Manager at the wonderful Noguchi Museum in New York, to get some tips on how to make viewing art with your kids as enriching an experience as it can be.


When you have a group of kids at the museum, where do you start? Any questions or discussion starters to get the ball rolling?


The methodology that we use is called inquiry and we generally start by asking “what” questions like “what do you notice?” Set the discussion so they feel they already have the tools for it. With figurative art especially, it’s great to imagine it as a story – who are the characters, what’s happening in the scene, what are the visual clues that are telling you that story?With abstract art it’s harder to “read,” so I start out with physical characteristics – what you see. And then we move on from how those things make you feel. Ask about the visual cues like shape, color, texture, and then, “if this were a person, what kind of person would it be?” Trying to make abstract art more narrative is a good approach. In short, you are “scaffolding” the discussion: starting on one level and then building on what the kids say to move up to the next.

You always want to find what we call “hooks” or “connections” that are the things that make kids excited. For instance at the Noguchi Museum, there is a great Noguchi sculpture that’s made from basalt, and talking about the material can often hook kids into a piece. TFor example, they learn that basalt is a rock formed by cooled lava, that it’s from a volcano (which is very cool to a kid) and they get excited to talk more about the piece.

Another strategy is to think of your own questions about the work. I like to start with “I wonder” statements–“I wonder how the artist made this?,” for example, and then start piecing the answers together. I call it playing “art detective” and it’s often a good strategy.


Association is a very natural method to fall into when looking at abstract art with kids (seeing a round sculpture with a hole in it and saying “that looks like a donut,” for example) but how do you push past that initial point of engagement?


We call what you just described “cloud-naming.” Even if it’s a fun thing to think about, it helps to take the discussion beyond this point because it can be a conversation stopper. Try to get them to see what they’re really looking at first before addressing what it reminds them of. Or, if they do say “it looks like a donut,” then say “why does it look like a donut?” Take them back to the visual cues – to the shape and color, etc.


Are there any activities you can do before the museum to enrich the experience once there?


Many museum websites have resources you don’t know about, drop-in classes, materials to take into the galleries, etc. A “celebrity” factor is always good: showing them a painting or sculpture before going gets them really involved and excited. There are also many great children’s books that introduce art concepts in really fun, playful ways.

Online Resources

LACMA’s Families and Children in American Art online game is a great intro to the collection.

Centre Pompidou and Gallimard Jeunesse have a Pompidou Kids app.

There are many online games for kids in the Met’s Kids Zone.

The Tate has a great kids website to get them excited about their visit.

Even while the SFMOMA is closed for renovation, kids can still get familiar with the collection on this cute game led by two dogs.

The MoMA always has the most beautifully printed family guides available. The guide on color is a classic.

Kids Art Books

There are many books that make for great resources, and you can use their language when in the museum and after.

Art & Lots of Dots
by Ginett Alarcón, Marisa Mena, and Yonel Hernández
8-9 years

Architecture According to Pigeons
by Speck Lee Tailfeather
7 and older

Away We Go!: A Shape and Seek Book
by Chieu Anh Urban
2-3 years

The Dot and the Line
by Norton Juster
Preschool – 7

Mouse Paint
by Ellen Stoll Walsh
2 – 3 years

I am Blop!
by Hervé Tullet
2-5 years

The Art Book For Children Vol. 2
by Amanda Renshaw
7 and up

All About Collage
by Todd Oldham
5 and up

The Big Book of Anorak
by Cathy Olmedillas
5 and up

Here are a few upcoming exhibitions
that we think kids will love.

Robert Indiana: Beyond Love at The Whitney Museum

New York | through January 5, 2014

Robert Indiana (b. 1928), The Sweet Mystery, 1959-60. Oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in. Private collection. ©2013 Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Momo says this piece looks like an alligator eating stripes in the dark.

The Noguchi Museum

Long Island City

Amy’s museum, the Noguchi, is a beautiful place to visit. Dedicated to the work of Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, the abstract sculptures and Japanese rock garden are great to see with kids. For parents, the shop carries some special treats, including the famous Akari light sculptures that Noguchi designed.

Also, their family programs website has great resources, including a list of books and tips for visiting with your family.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic at LACMA

Los Angeles | November 24, 2013–July 27, 2014

Back over to Momo, who says this Calder mobile looks like beams coming out of the ceiling and the sun shining down on a flower and that he would like to see it in person because it looks cool.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern

London | April 17 – September 7 2014

Henri Matisse, The Snail 1953 © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2010

This exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs makes a great tie-in with an at-home project inspired by the exhibition.

Andy Goldsworthy: Tree Fall in the Presidio

San Francisco | Tree Fall, opening October 19, 2013

Andy Goldsworthy, Tree Fall, 2013 (installation view); photo: Jan Stürmann/FOR-SITE Foundation

Take the kids outdoors to experience and interact with Goldsworthy’s new large-scale installation. Get them used to land art young.