After only brief consideration, the art critics roundly dismissed the late Jackson Pollock's famous abstract expressionist piece, "Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)," with just a few words:

"It's so messy," said Hannah Lee, 5, a kindergartner at Westover Elementary School in Silver Spring, as she strolled with her mother and younger sister through the rooms of the National Gallery of Art in the District.

Her classmate Lenora Blakely, 5, was troubled by the composition of the 10-foot-by-7-foot painting. "It's messy and crooked," she said.

Mark Sullivan, 6, a first-grader at Woodlin Elementary in Silver Spring, guessed at the artist's tools: "That's splatter paint, I know it," he told his mother. "We did it at my school."

Then he added: "I could do that."

More than 500 Montgomery County elementary school students filed into the gallery Saturday to participate in a day-long event organized by a volunteer group of county schoolteachers and parents in an effort to get parents to spend more leisure time with their kids.

The event will be held again Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the gallery.

The idea, called Project: Quality Time, came to Elizabeth Moffett, an art teacher at Cloverly Elementary School in Silver Spring, about seven years ago while she and her mother were visiting the National Gallery. Her mother, also a teacher, talked about creating an art scavenger hunt for her students.

That day, mother and daughter went around the gallery crafting questions they would take back to their classrooms and ask students.

"For the next five years, I continued to make scavenger hunts for my students at my school, and it gained lots of interest," Moffett said.

This year, she decided to include more schools. She sent out invitations to every public elementary school in Montgomery County. She especially hoped to attract students whose parents work two or three jobs and don't have much time to spend with their families.

"I see so many parents and children that are pulled in so many different directions," said Moffett, 29. "Sitting at home around the dinner table just doesn't happen anymore."

It's easy to talk about art, and it can be enjoyed by people of all ages, she said.

"In art, you can speak any language," she said. "There's really no right or wrong answer. Parents can get together with children and express their opinion and get to know each other."

After checking in at the gallery entrance Saturday, students and parents were dispatched to answer questions such as, "In Rene Magritte's 'La Condition Humaine,' what does the painter do to play tricks on the viewer's eyes?" or, "In the Winslow Homer exhibit, which painting do you see twice?" or, "Find the crooked painting."

Karen Lottes of Gaithersburg came with her son, Jered, 7, of Washington Grove Elementary School.

"I think it's great," she said. "He really enjoys the art. When we first came, he said, 'We're not going to do it,' but then he did it and he loved it."

Her husband, John, walked around the museum with their daughter, Mira, 11. He had a different experience.

As he playfully put his hands around his daughter's neck, he smiled and said, "I love my children."

Nearby, a security guard told the students, "Don't touch" three times in succession. They lolled on the floor in front of paintings to write down answers with bright pink pencils.

"Do you know we get to keep these?" said Lenora, smiling at her pencil.

Lena Gordon, who came for "a girls day out" with her daughter Nadia, 5, said she spends plenty of quality time with Nadia at places such as Imagination Stage, movies and puppet shows. But museums are better, she said.

"Families should take advantage of museums because it's free. So many other things cost money or are so expensive," she said.

Moffett said she expects another large showing on Dec. 3.

"We didn't even count all the siblings and friends who came along," she said.

Eventually, she wants to take the program to schools statewide. She said that she would just need volunteers to help out and that she thinks it's time worth investing.

"Spending quality time with your family is really important," she said. "And it's something that's really important to me."

The Pollock painting consistently attracted a crowd. The children were asked how the painter managed to reach the center of the canvas if he painted while it lay on the floor.

One child ventured that he was very tall and just leaned over.

Another guessed that he just flung the paint.

While they considered the point, a parent suggested that the painting might have been more popular had he used more pink.

Marina Davis and her son, Cameron, and daughter, Helene, examine a sculpture in the National Gallery's East Building. Cameron, 11, attends Thomas W. Pyle Middle School. Helene, 6, goes to Wood Acres Elementary.