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How to Enjoy a Successful Trip to the Art Museum

  • Pat Knepley See The Light Art Class
  • Updated Feb 28, 2014
How to Enjoy a Successful Trip to the Art Museum

All children love the idea of a field trip—it breaks up the regular school day routine, and it usually involves a visit to a gift shop or a snack bar! If a home educator is not comfortable with an art museum, that may be the last choice on her list of possible field trip destinations. However, an art museum, no matter the size, can be a fabulous place to take kids to see something truly new. There are just a few guidelines to making it a pleasant outing and a great learning opportunity. My recommendations come in three parts: before you go, while you’re there, and after you return.

Before You Go

1. Select a local museum. Every area of the United States has at least one art museum or gallery nearby. The size of the institution does not matter—what matters is if there are knowledgeable people who can make the art come alive as you make some new discoveries. Do a little research, and my guess is you will be surprised to discover what is out there! A great Internet resource is ArtCyclopedia; just type in “museums” and the name of your state.

2. Spend time browsing the museum website. Determine the facility’s schedule and any special policies that may impact your visit, such as stroller policies. Many museums have free admission on designated days and times, so take advantage of any deals. Find out if they have a children’s section or special children’s programs.

3. Use the museum’s website to determine what is on exhibit during the time of your visit. If there is a special exhibit by an artist, do some at-home research about the artist and talk about him/her before you take your trip. Perhaps even look at the website with your kids to prepare them for what they will see!

4. Discuss your “museum visit rules” with your children beforehand: no touching the items, no running, keep voices low, stay together, etc., so that they know the behavior you expect. But make sure you also share the rule to have fun!

While at the Museum

1. Use the restrooms as soon as you go into the museum.

2. Do not plan to see all the art in a larger museum in one visit. Identify a few “must see” things by checking out the museum map or guide and determining what is most important to see. Not sure? Ask a museum docent at the desk.

3. Have a plan and share the plan. For example, say to your kids: “We are going into this wing to look at three rooms together, and then we will go somewhere for a snack and talk about what we saw before we decide what to do next.” This lets everyone know what to expect, which is always a good thing for kids.

4. Make a game of finding certain subjects in art. All kids love animals, so one option is to be on the “hunt” for paintings or sculptures that feature animals as the subject matter.

5. If you are seeing a special exhibit, go as soon as the museum opens, in order to avoid crowds.

6. Don’t spend the entire day at the museum. Kids just don’t have the stamina or attention span to handle an outing like that without resulting in a meltdown of some kind (possibly Mom’s).

7. Read the information that accompanies each piece of art. A lot of great information is offered, such as title of the work, artist name, date it was created, and the medium. Sometimes the museum provides a little background information. If not, stand before a painting and ask the kids to tell the story they think the painting represents.

8. Take some paper on a clipboard or a sketchbook and colored pencils, and plan to sit down on a bench and make some art! This activity can be unstructured, meaning that you just give them a chance to draw and color, or it can involve guided instruction: “We just saw three different paintings with you make a drawing with a sailboat.” If your kids are older, you may want to have them try to draw in the style of a particular artist or in a style that represents art from a particular period of history.

9. Visit the gift shop. This is where kids are encouraged to look and touch things. Even if you make a decision not to make any purchases there, visiting the gift shop is always a great way to affirm the fact that art museums are fun places to go!

When You Return

1. During the car ride home, ask each person to tell about a favorite museum section or art piece. You will be surprised by their varied responses, which will be determined by their ages and interests.

2. Help kids make connections between the art they saw and other subjects they are studying. Art history is so closely linked to general history; they likely spotted a great painting or sculpture that reveals the people, stories, clothing, or architecture of the current study period.

3. Provide an opportunity and materials to make art! Once the kids are inspired by the trip to an art museum, the creative juices begin to flow, and even the most frustrated young artist will probably feel freer to express himself. One idea to try, after viewing a Jackson Pollock painting, is to bake a cake in a 9 x 13 pan. Then decorate the cake using various colors of loose icing to employ a drip and splatter technique. Kids love making messy food creations! Another suggestion is to have your weekly art lesson within a day or two of your art museum outing.

4. Plan the next art museum visit. Kids may need multiple opportunities to fully understand the value and importance of art as part of the human experience and to enjoy the process of discovering art on their own terms.

5. Plan a virtual museum trip. Several larger art museums have high-quality virtual tours on their websites, and you can browse a collection of your choosing at your own pace. For example, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has a Web Tour of the Week.

Your positive attitude and enthusiasm for an art museum trip are probably the most important factors that will determine whether or not your kids will find it an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Do your research ahead of time, come up with a plan, and follow all the guidelines of a museum visit. The best advice I can offer a home educator is to relax and enjoy it. A lifelong love of art can be nurtured with repeated exposure, education, patience, and of course, fun!

Pat Knepley has been drawing and painting since she was able to hold a crayon. She has a degree in art education, a teaching credential, and is an experienced teacher. In addition to being the master artist for the See the Light ART CLASS DVD series, Pat serves as Director of Children’s Ministries at a large church where she is blessed to be able to blend her passions for art, teaching, and reaching kids with  God’s Word. Pat lives in Southern California with her husband and two teen boys. See the Light’s ART CLASS lessons are available on DVD, and our See The Light website is a great resource for young artists (

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: February 28, 2014