I don’t have any kids personally but I have visited museums with kids (& my dad, which is pretty much the same thing lol). Museums are totally doable with families, you just have to make some modifications to make it enjoyable and understandable for all abilities.
Play “I Spy”
This game is really fun and can be done with all kinds of paintings (besides abstract stuff). Depending on the age of your children you could find something that they have to then seek in an image or even a whole room or you can also do the reverse: have them pick out stuff for you to find. Make it a little adult v. kid challenge! If you are anything like my husband and I, keep score and loser buys ice cream (or coffee/beers depending on your audience).
Also, depending on how much you know about art history or symbols this can also be a great teaching opportunity for those less informed about art. Personally, I love to explain Biblical stories via art or explain Christian symbols in saint imagery. I played this game with my cousin in California a few months ago where I taught him about a few Christian martyr symbols and then he had to “spy” them in any room we went to.
Choose a Theme
This is especially important in the large “mega” museums (i.e. Museum of Fine Art in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Louvre in Paris, etc.). You can’t “see it all” even if you are there all day by yourself, trust me I’ve tried, so don’t even bother putting that unnecessary stress on your vacation.
Before you go in to the museum, research anything of note like “must sees” or choose a time period or type of art that would be of most interest. As an art historian and teacher, I always look for things I’ve studied in class and artworks part of the AP Art History curriculum. Then I decide to focus on one to two more areas of interest to me, which always changes depending on the specialty of the museum I am visiting. This is a great place to let your kids have a say and, if they’re old enough, help them research one piece in the museum that they are in charge of teaching the group about when you are there.
Read more: Art History Hunting in D.C.
Use All your Senses (except touch, don’t touch the art!)
It’s easy to get “museum fatigue” if you try to spend a whole day looking at art in stark-white museum halls. This is where one painting suddenly looks like everything other and then you stop caring; no matter how beautiful the art is, everyone eventually succumbs to “museum fatigue.” This is because your are over using your eyes to give you information. I’m sure at this point you’re thinking, well how else can I look at art? Right? Although this is technically correct, you need your other sense to bring it all to life.
For example, when standing at a landscape prompt your kid(s) to tell you what they think the weather is like or what might it sound like, and smell like (that’s a fun one if there are animals in the scene!). Alternatively with portraits you can imagine what someone’s personality was like or have a pretend conversation with them (without looking totally crazy!). These techniques force you to look deeper at the artworks and really helps to connect you, as the viewer, with the artwork.
Read more: Falling in Love with Still-life Painting
Know when to Stop
You can’t see it all, and don’t try to because it will just ruin the experience. Take frequent breaks; many museums now have courtyards or other outdoor spaces for eating and enjoying some Vitamin D. A breath of fresh air can make you feel invigorated again to tackle a few more rooms. But, in the end, know when to call it quits; no one wants a screaming kid (or grumpy adult for that matter) to ruin their museum experience. It’s ok that you didn’t “see it all,” it’s what you did see and enjoy that counts!