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Why Babies and Toddlers Belong at Art Museums

We've partnered with Oklahoma City Museum of Art to bring you information about their newest program, starting July 7th, Babies at the Museum.

The first time I visited an art museum, I was seventeen. I was blown away and infatuated. Since that first visit, I’ve cultivated a long-term relationship with art museums, visiting with my husband and friends when traveling and at home, studying art history and art education in graduate school, and working in museum education for the last ten years.

When my son Roger was born, I wanted to continue visiting art museums on my own time, and as a museum educator, I knew Roger would benefit from visiting with me. But I was intimidated. I had to shift my expectations and adapt – as all new parents do. I’ve been amazed at how quickly we’ve both become comfortable in the galleries with a little practice.

My husband and I started bringing Roger to the art museum when he was six months old. He’s now two and a half. At the last Sonic Free Family Day at the OKCMOA, my toddler wanted to skip all the family-centered activities and go directly to the galleries. He kept asking, “Can we go see the art now?” He wanted to visit “Float Boat” and “Ikebana Boat,” in the Dale Chihuly galleries. He remembered them from earlier visits. My heart melted to see him so excited, and to see him remembering objects he liked and wanted to revisit.

When I visit a museum with my toddler, these are the things I hope to achieve.

  • I want Roger to feel comfortable exploring new spaces. As we move from gallery to gallery, I want him to feel empowered to choose his own path based on what he sees and responds to. I want him to find things that he likes and then talk about why he prefers them.
  • I want him to be stimulated by seeing many new things– especially objects and environments he doesn’t experience on a day-to-day basis that teach him more about his world.
  • I want to teach Roger that museums are a fun place to visit together. I want him to see how his parents and their friends enjoy lifelong learning so that he can share this joy of learning and exploration as he grows up.
  • I want to visit museums as a family, where we can share an activity and make memories (especially in a place that is air conditioned during the summertime).
  • I want to teach Roger what we do in museums, such as looking closely, talking about what we see, and thinking about it in a bigger way.
  • I want him to practice talking about shape, color, line, emphasis, balance, and rhythm and to see how artists use materials such as glass, paint, and pencils. As he grows, we’ll start talking about art history and how art objects can teach us about the past.
  • I want Roger to see there are many ways to be creative, to learn about what artists do and how they do it. As he gets older, I want him to think about how artists challenge us to expand the way we think.

I’ve worked part-time since Roger was born, and I’m constantly looking for new things to do with him outside the house. We’ve gone to structured story-time programs at the library and other cultural institutions in OKC, and I’ve always dreamed that we could do something similar at the art museum. My colleagues (fellow parents especially) at the OKCMOA decided it was time to design a program for babies and their caregivers.

And…we’re debuting it this summer!

Beginning July 7, on the first Friday of each month, we’ll offer Babies at the Museum from 9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. for babies from newborn to 24 months and their adult caregivers.

We’ll start the morning with complimentary coffee and social time in our classroom to give parents a chance to settle in, chat, and caffeinate. Then we’ll head to the galleries to spend 30 minutes with one selected work of art. Each month, we’ll LOOK at the work of art, LISTEN to music, SING songs, PLAY and MOVE, and READ storybooks together. We’ll wrap up the morning with playtime in the classroom where babies can enjoy more age-appropriate activities and adults can grab one more cup of coffee.

You don’t have to love art museums or be an art historian to enjoy visiting with your baby or toddler. If you are new to visiting art museums with your child, Babies at the Museum is a fantastic place to start. No matter when you visit museums, your child will learn and grow through the experience. Many articles have been written about why museum visits are beneficial to children and families. I’ve compiled a list of some of those articles, which you’ll find below.

“As a mother of adult children who are now in their late twenties, I am proud of the fact that I tried to expose them to museums as much as possible when they were little. I believe the experience of seeing things that they had read about, to see them come alive and to witness them in person, was priceless exposure to learning about the world around them.” – Lisa Robinson, Gallery Teacher, son age 29 and daughter age 26

Visiting the OKCMOA this Summer

Visit OKCMOA’s website or call (405) 278-8213 for more information about monthly themes and registration. Babies at the Museum is free for members and $5 for nonmembers, pre-registration is required.

In addition to our newest program, Babies at the Museum, we have many other opportunities to explore the museum galleries with your little ones. Remember: kids 5 and under are always free! Visit http://www.okcmoa.com/learn/ for more information.

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Heather Elizabeth White is an art educator and art historian who lives and works in Oklahoma City. She is the Tour Content Specialist for the OKCMOA and teaches art for preschoolers at The Learning Center at NHUM and Belle Isle Library.

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Articles about the value of visiting museums with little ones:

The Importance of Taking Children to Museums, by Rebecca Gross, National Endowment for the Arts 

Art Makes You Smart, by Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene and Daniel H. Bowen, The New York Times 

5 Ways to Take Your Child to an Art Museum and Avoid a Total Meltdown, by Brooke Bobb, Vogue 

Why You Should Take Your Little Kids to A Museum, by The National Museum of American History, The Smithsonian

When Can I Take My Kid to a Museum? by Jessica McFadden, The Washington Post 

Is It Worth It to Take the Baby to a Museum by Sarah Erdman, The Smithsonian

Taking a Toddler to the Museum: Why Bother? by Sarah Erdman, The Smithsonian 

Taking Your Kid to the Museum Doesn’t Have to be Miserable, Tell Me More, National Public Radio 

 

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One Response to Why Babies and Toddlers Belong at Art Museums

  1. Bea June 14, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    This is great, I took our daughter to the Kimbell at 7 months and to the National Art Gallery at 1 year. All of the attendants at the National Art Gallery said they loved seeing babies and that more people should bring them in. It does feel intimidating when other people look over if your child starts pointing and calling out dog or horse repeatedly. But I have fond memories of going to art galleries with my grandmothers and have every intention to keep taking our daughter.

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