An unfortunate side effect to parenthood can often be a matter of sidelining our own interests and passions in the name of “kid friendly” activities. When we do this, we dig ourselves into the hole of not expanding our children’s horizons in certain aspects, and end up punishing ourselves in the process. Something we need to remember as parents is that children can handle a lot more than we give them credit for, as long as we set things up in the right way. Art galleries can be a very scary place for parents (especially of small children—anybody else remember that viral video of a kid knocking over a statue worth $132,000?), but there are some simple ways to teach your children to love art galleries and museums right along with you
The first thing to do before taking your child to an art gallery or museum, especially if they are younger, is to ensure that any place you go to has subject matter that is age-appropriate. Some parents are comfortable with certain levels of nudity within an artistic context; however, we can all agree that scenes portraying drug use or pornographic materials are not appropriate for anybody under the age of 18. While there is a level of subjectivity as to what is and is not appropriate, most gallery managers will know when kids shouldn’t come to their gallery and will be very honest about that. With the information you get from the gallery, trust your own instincts, and if you are unsure, it may be a good idea to swing by the gallery beforehand, especially for your first trip. With an art museum there is also a visitor’s desk at the front; ask for a map of the museum and for a volunteer to help mark out which sections you may want to avoid and which are “good to go.”
The best intro to taking your kids to art galleries is to bring them during First Friday of every month, which is when the galleries in the arts district stay open late and have events planned. In Winston-Salem, Trade Street is blocked off for First Friday, and there are always activities planned in the street for children, such as chalk painting and photo ops. Each month has a theme which can be scouted out online, so you can plan accordingly, based on your child’s interests. There are also gallery and art non-profit representatives, as well as patrons throughout the street who are happy to answer any questions you have about what galleries are good for kids and where you should start. Most importantly, these are smaller galleries which are much easier to arrange a quick exit from than the State Art Museum. A few times doing this will give you the confidence you need to take them to bigger art museums.
When you are in the gallery, there are several techniques you can use to keep a child’s interest. If you see a landscape or realistic painting, try to make up a story about what is going on in the painting. If it’s a country farm landscape, talk about what the farmer’s family is doing in the background, getting ready for their harvest and fortifying their barn against the trolls in the mountains. Make it as silly as you want to in order to keep their interest, and because it will be fun for you, too. If they like to draw, let them bring a notebook and colored pencils so they can sketch out their interpretation of the art. Or even sketch something that the art has inspired them to create. The most important part is to make it fun and be flexible in how this can be achieved. Make a game to see how many of a certain item you can find in different paintings throughout the gallery or museum. If going through the art gallery or museum and counting how many bare bottoms you see is what your 10-year-old son needs to make this a memorable experience, so be it.