I am fairly certain anyone who has met my four children would tell you they are a bit wild. I’m not sure where they acquired this gift, because my husband and I are both pretty quiet and mild-mannered. It may just be that there are four of them, and they have to be loud to be heard. Our third, especially, lacks an inside voice.
And yet, I’m here to tell you this: in the past year, I’ve taken my kids to three art museums and lived to tell the tale. We did not get kicked out. The kids remember these adventures fondly, and only once did I feel like I was going to have to drag them out, and that was the time I was the only adult.
I try to live by the mantra that I don’t want to be scared of my own children. I try to remember that they are more resilient than I think they are. At least the older three are well in control of themselves when they are at school and therefore are capable of following instructions, even if they don’t always act like it at home.
So when we were on vacation on Tybee Island last year, we decided to leave the baby with my mom and go visit one of the Telfair Art Museums in Savannah. I was, simply put, scared out of my gourd. And you know what? My kids didn’t touch any fine art. They loved the exhibit with pieces of art relating to the Civil Rights movement. They had a great time in the children’s section. And it left me with a good deal of confidence that I could, in fact, trust them in a museum.
Since then, we’ve visited the Hunter Art Museum in Chattanooga and the Frist in Nashville. As I said, I only felt exasperated and worried at the Hunter when I took three kids by myself, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly me being uptight.
Here are my best tips for visiting an art museum with younger children (mine are nine, seven, five, and one).
- Pick a time that’s not busy if you can. Right when they open is a perfect time if your kids might be a wee bit rambunctious. If you can do that on a weekday, all the better.
- Or see if there is a free day (or hours). The Hunter Museum has Throwback Thursday on the first Thursday of each month from 4pm to 8pm. The permanent exhibits are free, and if you’d like to see the other collections it is just $5 for adults and free for kids. I don’t know about you, but I feel much less worried about possibly having to leave if I didn’t actually spend a lot of money on an entrance fee.
- Take more than one adult, preferably one adult per child. That way if kids are wandering opposite directions, an adult can go with them. A teenaged sibling or cousin or friends works, too!
- If your child is under three years of age, consider putting him or her in some sort of backpack carrier, like an Ergo. We took our 1 1/2-year-old to the Frist, and she definitely had to be carried the whole time to keep her from running off and touching art. It would have been helpful to put her in a carrier.
- See if there is a child’s section. I was actually surprised that all three museums we’ve visited had some sort of children’s area. At the Hunter, there is a place to look at books and a room to do a little craft. The Jepson Center in Savannah had a complete ArtZeum, with 14 different ways to interact with art and try it yourself, plus a comfy seat for reading books. And the Frist Museum has a studio filled with painting, puppet-making, drawing, print-making, and more. I’ve been so delighted to see that art museums want you to bring your kids there!