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Keep in mind that children learn through their senses and through interaction with their world. Then plan an interactive experience for them at a nearby museum. Choose from any of the following activities, or create some of your own.
As you walk into a room in the museum, scan the paintings and sculptures. Then use a variation of the I Spy game: "I spy a boat." "I spy something red." Your children will look carefully at the art work while they try to find your item. Four-year-old Jack Hannan liked this activity the best. His mother reports, "After we asked him to find a few things, Jack got into the game. He started asking us to find things he saw first. We also asked him to find certain colors, and he thought that was fun." Often children will find items that you didn't realize were there! That can expand your museum experience, so take turns spying and searching.
Don't be surprised when your children have a different slant on art or on the museum experience. Jack spent considerable time looking at a seminude female figure, then asked, "Why did someone forget to paint clothes on this one?" His toddler sister, Katie, had a good time "running through the wide open spaces."
Encourage your youngsters to play "mirror" games, assuming the positions of people they see in the paintings. Have them assume the identity of a person in a painting and tell something about themselves. Sydney, a five-year-old Californian, after examining a formal portrait from the 1700s, announced, "I'm dressed in this fancy gown because I'm going to the King's ball. He's looking for a bride for his son, the prince." In front of another painting, a child posed and said, "All of us were out shopping when it started raining. Don't you like my red umbrella?"
For landscapes or seascapes, your child can imagine what it's like to be in that setting and can describe the weather or tell what might happen there in five minutes. Sydney and her six-year-old cousin, Eric, enjoyed experiencing Jonathan Green's rural scene of a woman hanging out bright white sheets on a clothes line. The billowing sheets and wavy grass gave them clues that the wind was blowing very hard in that place.
For one museum visit, take along a small mirror for each person and simple clipboards made of cardboard and paper clips. Add some plain paper, pencils and erasers. Have your children look at a variety of portraits and discuss the shapes of the eyes, noses, and faces they see. Then give each child a mirror, paper and pencil. Have the children study the shapes in their own faces and then draw self-portraits. Sydney enjoyed using her clipboard and a small box of wax pastels. She plunked herself down on the carpet in front of a modern piece and copied it on her paper. At a later visit she studiously copied a rain scene, counting the many raindrops to get it just right.
For a quick and easy activity, have each child identify a color he is wearing. Now have the children find items of matching colors in the paintings in the room. Briefly talk about the paintings the children identify. An upstate New York family discovered additional art treasures in their museum's gift shop. Twelve-year-old Ryan LaClair's favorite paintings were in the "Journey of Life" series by Thomas Cole. His family found and purchased a picture postcard of one of the paintings. They wanted to bring home a souvenir that would stimulate discussion of the trip.
Museum guide books can be expensive, but they are a good investment if you are planning return visits. The family can use them at home to become more familiar with art work they will be seeing again. Some museums have a special room where children can draw, build and play. The New York family took frequent breaks in their museum's playroom each time their children got restless. This extended the time they could look at art, and it helped keep the focus on the children's needs. Their children enjoyed the visit and left begging for more.
To ensure a successful museum visit, follow these tips:
Plan ahead. Decide what activity you and your children will do, then bring along necessary items.
If possible, visit the museum before you take your children. Plan activities around specific pictures.
If a museum has a "be quiet" policy, DON'T GO THERE!
Plan follow-up activities for when you return home.
Consider children's short attention spans and their ability to quickly become over-stimulated. Don't try to see everything in one day. It's best to have a great thirty-minute experience that leaves everyone wanting to come back again.
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