We took a family trip to visit the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, DC. (One of my favorite museums). This was a great opportunity for me to guide my children through their understanding, interpretation and appreciation of what each artist was trying to convey through their chosen medium.
Museums are mini wonderlands filled with hidden treasures in plain sight. Whilst walking through, one could easily pass by a really inspiring experience. Here is a bit of advice for parents with toddlers and young elementary aged children, who want to appreciate a museum that is, as my middle child said, a "hands-free and not for kids, adult museum".
It took a lot of hard work; yelling; tears and insanity, but we got out of the house on a weekend before 9:30am. That's a big deal. We dressed up in our museum clothes and got out on the town. I read an article advising parents with children with special needs to go early to places that there were large crowds. This is a great idea for all parents, especially those with toddlers and younger children. First, the smaller the crowd the less likely you'll lose someone, but also you get to take your time and walk through undisturbed and without disturbing others. People go to the museum for the experience and honestly kids can be a nuisance for those who do not have kids (I get it. I totally get it and am not offended). We got there right as the guard unlocked the door. They got to see the fountain come on- which was a highlight of the experience. Go early and take your time. Those lucky few recovering from their hangovers and early brunch will be arriving once you are done.
We brought snacks (for the end) and jackets. Museums do not allow food and drink, for obvious reasons, but kids need to eat. After 90 minutes walking around, I whipped out the fruit, carrots and water as soon as we left the building. This eliminated any whining as we decided where else we were going.
Museum temperatures are a bit cool (I'm guessing for preservations purposes), which means that an extra light jacket or cardigan is perfect to appease the complainers as you walk about. Also, if your child is a bit young but can also walk, I recommend bringing a stroller or carrier. We've grown out of that phase but a year ago, we were there.
Stop and Read:
Every sculpture or painting is accompanied by a descriptive plaque. I alternated sentences with Big Sister as we read the artist, title, important dates, owner/"gifter" and descriptive interpretation of pieces we thought captivated us the most. It is important to acknowledge who created it and what they used. This gives more background into how long it took and why they made it in the first place. After a while, I'd just ask "Who is the artist?" or "When did the artist die?" or "Who owns the piece?" and my children were able to give their answer based on finding the information on the descriptive plaque. It kept them engaged and it kept the questions flowing throughout the time there.
Eliminate Preconceived Notions of What "Art" Is:
Big Sister loves to draw. She loves painting. I kept hearing her ask, "But what did they make?" . Explaining to an early elementary aged child that it is all about the process and not about the product is quite interesting. In school, we train children to aim for completion, to provide an end result and focus less on the process required to get there. I let her know that for many of the artists in here, what we see is a result of a spiritual or emotional release. It's as if we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but we enjoyed making the sandwich more than eating it. Oddly this comparison was acceptable.
Write a Recap:
When we returned home I had the miniatures write a recap. They sat down and reflected upon their experience. What were things you liked, didn't like, didn't understand, thought were really awesome or cool? What was weird?
Writing prompts are a great way to get the child to recall the experience and the emotions felt, as well as, solidify some of what was learned in a meaningful and personal way.
Here are a few experiences we really enjoyed:
Taking small children to the museum can be a daunting task. Many museums for kids are very hands on and tactile and the experience is quite polar to that which is expected in a more standard "adult" museum. Even still, teaching children to look rather than touch is a skill and a lesson on respect that many children could use more of. I'm glad that with a few reminders here and there from the "beep" or a museum staff about getting too close to the art work, my children were able to enjoy their first memorable "adult" museum experience.
Finally... it's important to advocate that all artistic voices are heard. Art cannot only be an expression of the haves, or only one gender or only one race. All voices must be represented in our museums and communities must get out and support it when available and advocate for more. Expression is freedom. Everyone has a story and each individual's story is everyone's story. May you be inspired to make something beautiful today!