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Visiting an Art Museum With Children. Learning about Greek Gods is a great place to start.

This article on how to take children to an art museum, and help them enjoy it was originally published on Beth’ blog Acorn Pies.

A great way to introduce children to the art museum is through ancient art and myth.  I use our treasured book of Greek Myths by the D’Aulaires.  It has been through two and a half childhoods, and it looks it.  My oldest children learned the myths so well that they could identify all the heroes and Greek gods in paintings and sculpture when we visited art museums.

To prepare to take a den of eight year old cub scouts to The Rhode Island Museum of Art, I visited the newly renovated Greek and Roman gallery by myself to preview the collection.  I wanted to find an illustration for a heroic myth.

This is what I found, a beautiful black figurine amphora (a storage jar, 550-525 BCE) illustrating the moment when Theuseus slays the Minotaur with his bare hands.  I knew the boys would be fascinated.  I also examined the rest of the gallery, made notes about a few other myths and stories from history,  and planned a scavenger hunt.

Illustration by the D’Aulaires

At home I refreshed my memory about Greek gods and some of the Greek myths I had seen depicted, and made some silhouette puppets for telling the Theseus story.

If you are worried about your drawing ability, you could use a projector and do some tracing to make puppets, or just create symbols for the different characters, as I did by creating a crown for Theseus’ father, Aegeus, the king of Athens.  But remember, most young children think their parents are wonderful artists.

Illustration by the D’Aulaires

At a den meeting, I told the Theseus myth using the puppets, on a simple stage created between two folding chairs, and using some props, like a ball of string.  My son accompanied the story with some percussion instruments, and the children also contributed sound effects when cued, like the roaring of the hungry Minotaur.  My performance was lackluster in many ways, (I didn’t have time to memorize the myth, for example,) but the children were amazingly attentive, and they are normally a super wiggly bunch of vibrant, active, excitable and enthusiastic little boys!  I told them that we would look for a picture of Theseus in the museum during our visit.

The following weekend, we met at the front door of the museum.  I didn’t know how many of the children had ever been to an art museum, so we talked about how people are quiet and respectful in an art museum, like people at church or temple, that we must never run inside, we must never touch anything and why, and why the people in the statues wouldn’t have any clothes on.  I told them that if they felt tempted to touch anything they could do “museum hands” and put their hands in their pockets or behind their backs.  (Once we were in there, I saw hands dart out to touch sculpture anyway!  Oh, dear!  The guards were scurrying around looking like they had had too much coffee that morning.)

Once inside the gallery, we talked about the sarcophagi which we saw and what the carvings depicted, we talked a tiny bit about the differences between Greek and Roman sculpture, and we had a close look at Theseus and the Minotaur.  I wish I could have taken pictures in the gallery, but it wasn’t allowed.  I gave each child a sheet of paper with the scavenger hunt on it after we did a brief tour of the gallery.  It had about fourteen items on it.  (“Find a griffin.”)  Most of the children had a parent to work with.  I chatted with some of the children about the exhibits which interested them, told them more stories, and asked them questions, and I was amazed at what some of the children knew.  Then we left.  We didn’t spend a lot of time there at all.  Most young children will do best with just a taste of the museum when you visit.  Some exhibits will be more interesting to them than others, and some children will be more receptive to art than others.  My youngest son was fascinated with the contemporary ceramic sculpture which we saw in the exhibit pictured below a couple of years ago.  I think he liked the engineered aspect of the sculptures, the ramps, bridges, and buildings, and the little men climbing all over the structures.  I think it also helped that the sculpture was not behind glass cases, and that he could get very close.

In every case, you should leave the art museum before the children get tired, bored, or physically boisterous.  Now it is time to go outside and run off some of their pent-up energy!  You can go back another time without your child for an adult-paced visit.  One day, they will grow up, and they may like art museums just as much as you do!

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  • And don’t forget to get a free Young Explorer’s Guide to the Greek + Roman Collection at the RISD Museum – just pick on up at the front desk!

  • This is so totally awesome!!!!! I loved that book as a child and can’t wait to get a copy for my 6 year old! Check out Family See + Sketch: Perseus and Andromeda this sunday 11.15 am, I hope to be there.