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Hello! I’m happy to be here posting as part of the Petit a Petit Family! I’m Holli, and I blog about sewing over at Hello Holli. I’m a stay at home mom of two daughters with another on the way. My husband and I live in Virginia, USA where we’re busy making our little house a home. We also both started our own small side businesses last year- him selling his handcrafted ice cream, and mine making and selling PDF sewing patterns.  Having a creative business is satisfying for both of us, but starting them both within the same month was a crazy endeavor!

Before deciding to stay home with my children when my first was born, I received my Undergraduate degree in Family and Child Development and subsequently worked as a counselor at a shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. While creativity has always been an important part of my life, children and family take the cake.  When I get the chance to combine the creative arts with family- magic!  

Lucky for me my oldest daughter Charly, who just turned 5, is proving to be quite the creative soul. This means lots of crafts at home, and recently we’ve taken a liking to visiting our local art museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It’s a gorgeous facility with a great variety of art, and my favorite part- it’s FREE! 

In telling people that my kids- ages 5 and 2- spent the day at the art gallery, I’ve gotten lots of surprised responses. Even those well acquainted with the arts don’t always think of an art gallery as a place to take kids, but why not? Sure, there are rules to follow, but it’s an excellent resource, and exposing our children to all kinds of art is valuable- whether it’s projects they make themselves with supplies sourced from the recycling bin, or an ancient Greek tile mosaic. I’m passionate about sharing art with my children, and since many people seem to think of galleries as a place for grown ups I thought I’d share a few tips that have helped me to successfully navigate galleries with my kids in hopes that it might help a few more parents brave galleries with their own kids! 

1. Know the rules

Give yourself a fighting chance for success and do a little research on what is and isn’t allowed in the galleries. I’ve had to change my plans multiple times due to not knowing rules ahead of time. Planning to carry my 1 year old in a back carrier was thwarted when I learned they don’t allow backpacks or child back carriers in the galleries. Luckily mine adapted to a front carry, but the trip could have quickly gone south if I hadn’t been able to switch it up. Does your gallery allow strollers? Do they have a policy on large bags or backpacks? Do they have a designated place you can eat a snack or a packed lunch? You may be able to find this info online, or you can call the gallery ahead of time. You’ll save yourself the hassle of being caught off guard and having to change plans with kids in tow. 

2. Prepare

A hungry kid is a cranky kid, so I usually pack a lunch or snacks. If we need a little break a snack is a good excuse, and packing lunch allows us to be flexible about how much time we spend there.

If your kids haven’t visited a museum or gallery before you should prepare them by explaining proper etiquette ahead of time. This can even be a quick conversation on the car ride there. Standard etiquette includes using inside voices, not running, and not touching the pieces. This gives you a chance to answer any questions about what is expected and gives them a chance to think about it as well. 

3. Have a wiggle plan

Even the calmest of kids need room to run every once in a while. At our gallery I know if we need a wiggle break we can go outside to the sculpture garden and fountain area where they can run and explore, or down to the orange chairs in the Atrium. Since there aren’t any works displayed in the Atrium and it is a large area it allows for a bit of wiggling without disturbing anyone. We recently discovered a quiet hall near the education wing of our museum that allows for wiggle room without disturbing anyone or any art. A map may help you spot large areas away from the galleries, and additional info may be available online. 

4. Encourage creativity

Bring a sketch book and pencil! Talk about how artists get inspired and challenge your kids to find something that inspires them. I’m always surprised by the things Charly picks out. She’ll declare “Got inspired!” and find a spot to plop down and sketch. It’s a great lesson in observing what’s around you! We also talk about what inspired the artists based on the subject of the piece. This is a fantastic way to get them thinking about what makes something art. 

5. Use your (human) resources

Museums have staff that not only help protect the artwork but are amazing resources. Most are passionate about art, many are educators, and they also have the inside scoop on the museum. Check the front desk for info on any special exhibits that could interest your kids. Get maps and brochures- older kids can use the maps to help find the exhibits you’re looking for. Our museum has scavenger hunt guides for various age groups to help you discover and learn about different pieces in the museum. We discovered an amazing hands on special exhibit geared toward kids by talking to someone at the museum, and since it was tucked away in the education wing we likely never would have seen it on our own!

I also encourage my kids to talk to the museum workers in the individual galleries. Most spend their day standing by themselves surrounded by art- which makes them a great person to talk to! My kids like to ask what their favorite piece in the room is and why. Yet another chance to find out more about the art around them, and it shows them how to have conversations about art. Maybe they mention they love the paint texture or how geometric the piece is- now you have an easy segue into a conversation on technique or style, and suddenly your kids have another tool to helping them understand and appreciate art. 


6. Let them lead

Nothing is more boring to a kid than being dragged from room to room with no input on what is happening. I usually give my kids a few options of where we can start and let them choose. Should we follow this scavenger hunt or go check out the statues first? If we have limited time I’ll have them pick 3 things we plan to see and we’ll pace ourselves along the way. If they know we’re headed to something they want to see then we can keep our momentum going, and we usually still discover a few new things along the way. For my kids that means we always go see Little Dancer by Degas, and they pick a few more spots they love like the Art Nouveau jewelry or the African masks. If they show interest in something along the way we stop and check it out. 

7. Inquire

What does your child notice? What is their favorite and why? Maybe they like the bold color or the pretty flowers or how big that statue is. Maybe they don’t like how dark that painting is or the scary dragon on that panel. Helping them realize that art can make them feel a certain way is one more step to appreciating art! You may find they follow your lead and start to inquire the same from you. Talk about it in terms they understand, and you’ll likely find chances to introduce new terms, too. We spent a few minutes talking about found-object art after my little Caroline saw this sculpture and asked “Did dey mess up it? But why is it cwumpled?” 

8. Follow up

Talk about what you saw later. Conversations about art will naturally translate into thinking more about art and will help get their creative juices flowing! All of these tips can be adapted for different aged kids- and really, it’s never to young to introduce your kids to art!

Just remember, you don’t have to spend a long time or see everything in the gallery to have a good experience. Even small exposure to art is meaningful! Flexibility is key in making it a good experience for everyone. Albert Einstein said that “creativity is intelligence having fun” and yes, it should be fun! These tips are meant to make visiting a gallery less stressful, but always always adapt your visit to the needs of your children so that it remains FUN!

Do you have any tricks for navigating museums with kids? I'd love to hear about your experience!