Monday, February 10, 2014

A Museum Activity with Kids

On Saturday, I made a huge tactical error.

As far as art museums go, the Wadsworth Atheneum is not large or well-known, but it has some very nice artwork. It also runs a delightful family program called Second Saturday. The second Saturday of every month, they open their doors to the public for free and provide family activities such as a craft, music, book readings, etc. All of this is meant to foster art appreciation in young children. We attended for the first time last summer when they had a beach theme, complete with a surfer rock band. It was so much fun that I scheduled a Cub Scout field trip to the museum for this past weekend.

So back to my story. Here is where I went wrong. In addition to my own three children, my oldest son brought a friend. Normally, this would've been ok, but my husband couldn't go with us, so I was outnumbered 4-1. However, my youngest one is very fast, and the last time we went to the museum, she tried to sit in a Stickley chair before my husband grabbed her. She should really count as 2. Make that 5-1.

Thankfully, I didn't have to keep track of the other Cub Scouts since they were accompanied by their parents, but my own were more than enough, thank you very much. I won't go into the details of the day, but "herding cats" is the most appropriate description I can think of. Fortunately, the kids all kept their hands (and bottoms) to themselves, but I'm a one-track kind of person, so keeping tabs on everyone in a building filled with expensive, one-of-a-kind artwork was a harrowing task, and I collapsed into a heap on the couch as soon as I got home.

However, I did have one bright idea (it happens once in awhile) that I thought I'd share in case you have a child you'd like to take to the museum.

My experience with young children is that they tend to get bored quickly in museums. So for my Cub Scout Den, I put together a scavenger hunt at the last minute (literally 2 minutes before I left the house -- just enough time to write and copy it). Basically, it was a list of items to look for in the museum -- generic things like an apple, lion, battle, arrow, etc. Next to each item, the kids had to write the name of the piece with the item and the artist. Kids and parents all split up for about 30-45 minutes to explore the museum; then we reconvened to see how many of the list items they had found. Everyone who completed it (and they all did), got a prize (a chocolate bar).

I'm not delusional. This was not so much an exercise in art appreciation as it was a desperate attempt to keep the kids from whining, "Can we go home now?" However, it did force them to look. I even got to discuss some artwork with my kids. For example, there was one painting that looked, at first glance, like a battle between cowboys and Native Americans. On closer examination, we discovered that the figures were actually cooperating on a buffalo hunt.

My Cub Scout den is 7-8 years old, so I kept the list short. I wanted them to have enough time to find the objects and write the info down in the allotted time. If I had older kids, I might modify the list so that it included a number of specific pieces to look for and a series of questions about each one. I can even imagine an interesting math lesson on statistics -- maybe kids figure out some statistics for art subjects by period and type.

Anyway, I will make a confession. Although I love art (I was just one class shy of minoring in Art History), my boys couldn't be less interested. However, much to their dismay, I persist in dragging them to art shows and museums every now and then. Even if they never come to enjoy art as I do, I hope they will learn to appreciate beautiful things, and I think that it's paying off.

I remember taking my oldest son to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when he was a toddler. On his first visit, he attempted to wade into a fountain in the Impressionists wing. Then we had to hustle him out of a piano concert because he fell, split his lip during, and wailed like a banshee. We took him upstairs where he tried to shake hands with a coat of armor. Then he attempted to slip through the guardrails on the 2nd floor balcony. By that time, our hearts were pounding, so we took him to the French Cloister because it's quiet, dark, relaxed, and there were no balconies to fall from. We watched as he toddled around the courtyard, perfectly happy. Then he waddled up to us bearing a sign that read "Do Not Touch."

By contrast, he was beautifully behaved last weekend, and he even studied a carved desk for about 60 seconds. It may be small progress, but I'll take it. 


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