10 Tips for Introducing Your Kids to Art

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seeing modern art with kids can be daunting, but if done well, tremendously exciting . Here are 10 ways to make the most of the experience:

1. Know when to go. Try for a weekday, when museums are less crowded; many are closed Mondays or Tuesdays, but schedules vary. Check Web sites for concerts, movies and special events. If the entry fees are daunting, take advantage of MoMA's free admission on Fridays (when many museums stay open late) from 4 to 8 p.m. The Whitney also offers pay-what-you-wish admission on Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m., and the Guggenheim has a similar policy on Fridays from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. Free isn't entirely free: You'll be fighting big crowds.

2. Do your homework. It's always good to know what you're looking at, and while Web sites are helpful, Googling reviews of current exhibits will give you more insight. Talk with your kids about the exhibits and proper museum etiquette, and pick shows that they're likely to respond to.

3. Check out special programs for kids and families. MoMA has a number of events for kids 4 and older, and younger children may enjoy the interactive Web site "Destination: Modern Art" ( http://www.moma.org/destination). The Whitney has Family Fun Art Workshops (ages 5-10), Whitney Wees (ages 4-5) and Looking to Learn tours for families most Saturday mornings; register by calling 212-671-5300.

4. Plan activities. Older kids may want to explore on their own, but smaller kids often like to be focused on tasks. Try visual scavenger hunts, remembering that directions like "point out paintings that are mostly blue" will work better than "find a postmodernist commentary on anomie." Sketching in a museum is a good way to focus, but parents are asked to carry the pencils when not in use. (Pens and crayons generally are not allowed.)

5. Skip the line. Nothing kills a museum buzz like standing in line, and there are often lines, especially in the morning. Buy tickets online at least a day ahead, and you can breeze in.

6. Feed the beast. Keep the kids nourished. Outside food is not allowed, but the big museums have fun, comfortable restaurants. MoMA offers a kids menu at Cafe 2 on the second floor; we had a light, delicious lunch at Terrace 5 upstairs.

7. Make gravity your friend. Try not to visit at the end of a long walking day; museums are tough on the feet. At the Guggenheim, take the elevator to the top and glide your way down the gently sloping spiral. Otherwise you're fighting gravity the whole way. And be sure to check as much of your gear as possible when you arrive.

8. Try gallery tours. These are often the best way to see a museum. The Whitney offers free docent-led tours every afternoon, and many others, including MoMA and the Guggenheim, have free self-guided audio tours. MoMA has special audio tours for kids, teens and families; download them at http://www.moma.org/visit_moma/audio.html. Or if you prefer the human touch, arrange a private family guided tour (call 212-708-9685).

9. Pace yourself. One museum a day is plenty for most kids, and it's wise to limit your visit to about 90 minutes. Take breaks; many of the museums have sculpture gardens, which are perfect for this.

10. Plan a post-museum reward. It's good to have something to look forward to, so promise the kids ice cream, shopping or a puppy. Okay, not the puppy. MoMA's gift shop, with more than just the usual museum posters, is worth a visit. For ice cream, there's Serendipity on the Upper East Side (225 E. 60th St., between Second and Third avenues).

© 2008 The Washington Post Company