Toddlers and Art Galleries. I know, I know this seems like a terrible idea.
This blog post was co-written by Jenna MacDonald & Jessica Sheppard
I have to admit I would NEVER have considered bringing Little Dude to an Art Gallery before talking to one of my best friends who happens to be an artist as well as a fine arts teacher. When I questioned her sanity for not only bringing her soon to be 3 year old daughter AND her soon to be 3 year old niece (at the same time, by herself!) she replied very nonchalantly and said you just have to know what to do and it’s not a big deal.
From that conversation on I knew that if I was scared to bring my generally well-behaved, rule-loving toddler many others are also afraid to bring their toddler to an Art Gallery. And really, what a shame that the parents are missing out on some amazing exhibits or tourist attraction opportunities all because of wild toddlers!
Here is what Jessica had to share with all of us to ensure we know exactly how to visit an Art Gallery with a toddler:
Bringing you and your young children into a quiet, elitist room full of really expensive artwork seems like a great way to add some more gray hair to your head. Really, all you need is a few great games and with a bit of prep, visiting an art gallery with children is really a lot of fun! So here are three simple steps to make your visit to the local art gallery (or one you would love to visit while on vacation) fun for everyone, no matter what their age or background.
1. KNOW THE RULES
Don’t touch. This is the most important rule, especially with little ones. It can be very hard for them not to reach out and point to something on a canvas when they find it exciting. Make sure you go over this rule BEFORE you head into the gallery. I think I repeated it no less than 50 times with my 3 year old daughter and niece when we went to visit the Beaverbrook Art Gallery this Spring. They eventually got the idea. Also, note that there are actually some pieces of artwork that are meant to be interactive, but usually it’s very obvious as to which one those are.
Photos. Almost all galleries do not allow flash photography (light can damage the artwork), some don’t allow professional cameras (no artist wants to see their work reproduced or prints being sold online), and some larger galleries have even banned selfie-sticks (they just ruin the experience). That doesn’t mean you can’t take any photos though, just use you camera phone and have no flash!
No food or drink. If you think your kid(s) will be itching for a snack the moment they spot a still life of a bowl of fruit, be sure to give them a granola bar before you enter the gallery, or better yet, bribe them with a treat for afterwards if they behave well (my go to, is ice cream).
2. HAVE GAMES TO PLAY!
Eye spy with my little eye. Easily the BEST game to be play, especially with a toddler. For younger kids you can find shapes, colors, animals or simple objects (we found a lot of dogs for some reason at the BBAG). For older kids, see if they can find certain things going on, like a battle/war or find someone who is sad in a painting. I they find that easy, ask them how they can tell the particular artwork is a battle, or is sad. You could also see if they can find a sculpture verses a painting, photograph or a print. If they don’t know these different mediums, it’s a perfect opportunity to teach them (or yourself. Google it)!
Monkey see, monkey do. When you come across artwork with people in action, ask your child if they can act just like the person in the photo, or if they can hold the same pose, or show the same emotion. Best yet, see if they can add dialogue to the artwork, what would this artwork sound like?
Questions, questions, questions. Making the viewer think is really easy if you can just ask the right question when you look at art. Simple questions like “what colors, shapes and objects do you see in this piece?” is a great way to talk about a piece. I LOVE asking “what’s going on in this piece?” Having a child explain what is happening and why, is really making their imaginations work. It’s like looking at a story book without the words and it’s their job to write the story. Going more advance you can ask your child “What do you think this piece of art is made out of?” (paint, metal, wood, paper, pencil etc)
HINT** the answer to the questions is almost always written on the title card beside the piece, so everyone can guess and then find out who’s right.
Abstract Art. This can be a difficult genre for even the most advance artist to appreciate and analyze, but for a young child, you’d be surprise at how easy they can come up with objects and explanations. My niece kept seeing fish in everything for some reason? And if they answer “I do know”, don’t push them too much, it’s supposed to be a fun trip to the art gallery, not a constant quiz!
3. WHAT YOU DON’T NEED
You don’t need to be an expert! You don’t need to have a background in art history to enter a gallery. You don’t need to know they name of one single artist in the building. You don’t need to know how to create anything. You don’t need to do a bunch of research before you enter (although, feel free to look up info about the exhibit before you go on the gallery’s website, it might make it more exciting for you and you can look like an expert with your kids). Finally, you don’t need to break the bank! A lot of galleries are free, and even the bigger ones have a cheap day or it’s free for younger kids.
As an art teacher, I could go ON AND ON about how valuable a trip to the art gallery is for children, but I’ll just keep it as brief as a can, without taking up all of Jenna’s blog page (which is seems I already have done)!
Taking young kids to gallery provokes the imagination, introduces unknown worlds and subject matter. Most importantly, is a great place for critical thinking, exploration and getting their creative gears turning.
It’s worth it. It’s just a SUPER rich education environment! I could barely get two 3 year olds out after spending over an hour.
After reading this blog post and getting all of Jessica’s tips I hope you are a lot more confident to visit an art gallery with your toddler. Relax, enjoy and soak up all the art you can.
xo Jenna & Jessica
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