Happy New Year!
Many of us are making resolutions and hoping to try new things as we plan for 2018. One thing I was reflecting on as I looked back on last term was that museum trips and art exhibitions were real highlights in our homeschooling life. The children love being out and about exploring. So much history and art was brought to life as we saw an Egyptian mummy or a Fra Angelico painting up close, and so I’m intending to go more often this year.
Museums are one of the main reasons why we love living in central Oxford. We have an amazing variety within a 10 minute walk, from the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is a real privilege.
But museums and art galleries can be intimidating places with little ones in tow, especially as I find they are so quiet and contemplative. I know that our arrival is going to quickly change the volume, and there will be differing reactions to us. There is the odd scowl but overall people are delighted to see children taking an interest (or the mother trying her best at any rate!). We do go quite often with my 8, 6 and 2 year old, so I thought I’d share a few practical tips I’ve found helpful to make the visit ‘successful’:
- Start young: it’s never too early to take them. We have taken ours from the beginning. Admittedly it is easy for us with many places on our doorstep, but we want it to be a place they know they belong and are welcome.
- Keep the visit short and sweet even if they want to stay longer. Leave them wanting more and asking to come back another time. We often only go for about 20-30 minutes!
- Plan your visit
- With a large museum, like the Ashmolean, I have found it best to decide in advance which gallery I will visit. I might choose a specific room to look at that we have just studied in history. This way it is familiar to all of us and it helps bring pre-exisiting ideas to life.
- With art exhibitions, I try to tell them about the artist in advance. We might read a brief children’s biography and look at some of the artist’s work. However briefly I do this, I find it makes such a difference once we arrive. Depending on the theme or type of art, I will try and have a simple question up my sleeve to engage them and help them see one thing. For example last spring we went to the From Degas to Picasso exhibition and my simple question in front of each painting was “Is this a portrait, landscape or narrative painting?”
- Keep it simple Do not overload the children with lots of information and facts while you are there. Their brains are busy working on the visual.
- Go with energy! This is not the place to sit back and watch the kids run riot. To keep them engaged and out of trouble I try and beckon them from cabinet to cabinet pointing out something of interest or asking them questions to draw them in. Your own interest and excitement will be infectious.
- Enjoy learning with them Don’t pretend to know it all. I think it’s wonderful for children to see their parents are still learning, thinking and enjoying.
- Museum Trails and Backpacks Many museums have designed trails for toddlers and primary aged children which have been thoughtfully created. They can be a life saver if the children are dragging their feet or it’s a place you don’t know yourself. But I’d say don’t hurry to pick one up too quickly. I find when my children have them they spend more time looking down at the sheet rather than looking up and enjoying where they are.
- Family Events Do look out for events and family fun days at your local museums and art galleries. Ours are well done and can be a great introduction.
Of course, a ‘successful’ visit will be different for each of us, as each child and family is unique. But I hope this will help you to enjoy your time.