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.
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
Architecture According to Pigeons
by Speck Lee Tailfeather
7 and older
Away We Go!: A Shape and Seek Book
by Chieu Anh Urban
The Dot and the Line
by Norton Juster
Preschool – 7
by Ellen Stoll Walsh
2 – 3 years
I am Blop!
by Hervé Tullet
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.
New York | through January 5, 2014
Momo says this piece looks like an alligator eating stripes in the dark.
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.
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.
London | April 17 – September 7 2014
This exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs makes a great tie-in with an at-home project inspired by the exhibition.
San Francisco | Tree Fall, opening October 19, 2013
Take the kids outdoors to experience and interact with Goldsworthy’s new large-scale installation. Get them used to land art young.