"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton
This is how you do not act at art museums! The only reason the Louvre isn't on the list is because we didn't give them enough time in there.
Art museums and kids don't always equate to a good day but when they do it is magical. Our two little girls would say that some of their favorite places in the world are art museums. Part of this is definitely due to their artsy personalities. But mostly, it is due to preparation and great days at art museums, which started when they were both very little. Before going to Paris, we read and painted like impressionists so when they stepped foot in their first major museum they were on a mission to find the actual art they learned about. When they did, we couldn't get them out of there. They ended up going to 5 art museums that week (which was way more than Dad and the older siblings were willing to endure). Since then, we make a point of hitting at least one art museum on most trips.
For now, at ages 10 and 8, these are their 5 (really 6 because they have a tie) favorite art museums:
1. The Van Gogh Museum, Netherlands-- Unlike most museums which just seem full of random art, this museum is set up to tell the story of Van Gogh's life. As you travel through the museum, you learn about the different phases in his work as well as what else was going on in his life at the time. Their kid treasure hunt is filled with questions about art and his life as well as drawing tasks. Our girls were engaged the entire time we were in the museum.
The museum's kid-oriented scavenger hunt brought a sense of education and competitiveness that kept each child engaged
The scavenger hunt made sure the kids saw the most important pieces of work, and learned a little bit on the way as well
2. Musée de l'Orangerie and the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris --These two museums are the perfect pair because they are both small and highlight Monet. These are the two museums where the art alone is what they loved. Monet's water lily paintings left them speechless and mesmerized. The l'Orangerie has the most glorious natural lit oval room with gigantic paintings covering every wall. After visiting the l'Orangerie, they decided that they had to go to The Marmottan to see their mass quantities of Water Lilly paintings in all shapes, sizes and colors. They ended up leaving with souvenir prints that still hang in their rooms today.
3. Musée d'Orsay, Paris- In addition to the amazing art, the girls loved the spaciousness and airy feeling in the building, which was a former train station. They found ways to take fun photos while we were there. As with many museums, the naked sculptures (some with missing pieces) definitely got laughs and led to discussions.
Who are those people behind the clock?
4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York- There is enough great art here to spend days, but hitting the highlights is easy. Add in The Temple of Dendur, which is the only ancient Egyptian temple in North America and it is an whole new experience. We went on a family day featuring this section of the museum and were taught how to make hieroglyphs. All four kids found it to be fascinating.
Joining a children's tour at a museum can bring up the education - and fun - several notches
5. Denver Art Museum- This is the museum where they have spent the most time so they could be a little biased. They love the kid crafts scattered throughout the museum. Their favorite is the metal making where you can make a bracelet or crown. Even better than this is the art studio on the main floor that allows you to create projects based on the rotating exhibit next to it. They have made flowers exhibit, wrote poetry, explored abstract art, sculpted and made jewelry. Each time we are there, they have 4 or 5 different activities that relate to the current exhibit. The creativity is endless and extremely engaging.
Note the bee antennae made in the museum's art studio during the In Bloom exhibit.
Runners up would include the Sistine Chapel/Vatican, but it didn't make the list because it is so crowded that they didn't think you got the full art experience. Also the Acropolis Museum in Athens is a favorite but they decided that it didn't count as an actual art museum.
If right now you are thinking this sounds like the worst use of a vacation day, erase your thoughts of a quiet, boring, stuffy building filled with sleeping gas and art because museums are doing a lot to make themselves more family friendly. Many have family days or kid stations and scavenger hunt activities throughout. Even without these added elements, with a bit of research beforehand you can make a trip to an art museum very kid friendly. Go in with a hit list of the most important things to see, meander for a bit longer and then get out of there. If there are kid activities, give your kids time to make something, or find the art that inspires them to find themselves or lose themselves!