At the Art Museum with Kids

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Children will have different experiences at the art museum depending on their ages, temperaments, and interests. It’s probably easiest if you can set aside your own expectations. They will engage with things in the way that is appropriate for them, and they might learn something entirely different than you had in mind. That’s ok. What’s important is that it’s a joyful experience and they want to come back. A good relationship with art, and museums in general, is a gift that will far outlast a particular lesson you had in mind.

  1. Arrive and ask questions.

When you arrive at the museum, check in and make sure your child understands the expectations you talked about. Talk to the staff about what resources for children there might be, any current temporary exhibits your child might be interested in, and what they recommend for children. If you can include your child in this conversation, that will help them get excited about their trip.

2. Learn and plan.

You might have a fair idea of what your trip is going to look like, but I find it useful to grab a map, explain it to my child, and ask what he wants to see. If I have chosen particular things I think he will be interested in, I explain why. If there is a play area or something else you think might be distracting, suggest seeing it after you finish another exhibit. I find that breaking up our trips with play, painting, or time outdoors helps lengthen our stay and makes it more enjoyable. Children need to move. This is also a good time to talk about when you might have lunch or a snack, if that is part of your agenda for the day.

3. Ask your child questions.

Talking to children about art isn’t as hard as it sounds. It helps to start with questions that have no right or wrong answer. “How does this make you feel? Why do you think it makes you feel that way?” has led to some very useful conversations with my child. I sometimes simply ask what he thinks is going on or why he gravitates toward a particular piece. He responds more thoughtfully to abstract art right now, and I suspect it is because there are fewer cues about what he’s supposed to think.

4. Teach.

It is very important for your child to understand that the ideas and feelings they bring to a piece matter. That is why I start with broader questions with no right or wrong answer. However, art, especially historical art, often has its own special language you can help your child decode.

If you are looking at Buddhist art, it might be interesting to talk about mudras, the hand gestures often used by the religious figures depicted. If you teach your child a few, and teach them what they mean, it will lead to a deeper understanding of art. Mine also thinks it’s ridiculously fun to spot and identify them.

In Western art, saints are often depicted with certain things to indicate who they are. These things often tell a part of their stories. Teaching your child to recognize a few of them might help them engage with the pieces on a deeper level, and they might have fun spotting them in the gallery. Flowers and plants may also carry meaning. If a plant your child is familiar with from your garden at home carries meaning, that might be a fun place to start.

If you need to brush up on your art history a bit, museums often provide a little information about the pieces. I sometimes scan it and share interesting things with my little one, For older children, talking a bit about historical context might also bring depth to their experience.

  1. Pay attention.

Pay attention to your child’s signals. Are they really interested in something? Talk about it more and try to find similar things to look at. Are they bored? It might be time to move along. The best time to learn about the things the museum has to offer is when your child is happy, excited about the experience, and feels well.

If your child isn’t happy, it might be time to break up the experience a bit. We find outdoor spaces to walk in, have a snack, or play with interactive exhibits. A child simply does not have the same sort of attention span an adult has. Your museum visit should be fun and not feel like a chore, so it’s important not to drag a kid along when they’re not happily, actively engaged. I often find that changing our activities up a bit allows my child to stay actively engaged for longer periods of time.

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One of the main things I hope to give my child is a joyful appreciation of the world around us, and art is a very important part of the human experience. I expect his appreciation for art and ability to find joy and comfort in it will grow with time. While it might be awhile until he can spend 5 hours at the Louvre and talk about art history with me, it is important for him to be able to tell me that a painting of sunflowers makes him happy because they’re yellow. That sort of experience is, perhaps, more important than a more complex, intellectual understanding of art.

Preparing for a Trip to an Art Museum with Kids

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Taking children to art museums can be daunting, but we find it fun and rewarding. It has taken some practice, as they are often an unusual environment for children. Kids might not know how to enjoy themselves or behave in a way that is appropriate to the environment. A little preparation can make it a much smoother, more joyful experience. With some practice, our local art museum has become my child’s favorite place to go.

  1. Research the space.

Find out how child friendly the space is, if there are any children’s play areas, if there is a café or place to eat a sack lunch, and what sorts of opportunities there might be for a break. An energetic child might do better if you know where they can have a quick walk outside or a visit to a play area. My child also sometimes needs a quiet break for a cup of steamed milk and a discussion of the things we’ve seen and learned, so knowing if there is a café or place to picnic can also be handy.

  1. Talk about the art.

Kids thrive when they know what to expect, and talking about an experience before you have it is often a good way to make them more comfortable and get them excited. Talking about what you’re going to see beforehand will help them settle in and engage with the art more quickly.

  1. Talk about expectations.

Because my child is still fairly young, I established the expectation that we are going to hold hands in galleries. I explained that even the gentlest touch can harm the art and that lines on the floor and ropes in front of things mean he is not supposed to step beyond that boundary. Everyone should be able to enjoy art, so we have to take care of it. All of these rules about being careful can make art feel a bit unapproachable, so I try to find art we are supposed to interact with whenever I can.

Like libraries of old, art museums are generally hushed and calm, and some children may have trouble adjusting to such a quiet environment. We talk about it beforehand. If your child frequents another space, such as a church, where they are used to using a quiet voice, that is a good comparison to make. I remind my child that we can talk as much as we want, we just have to use soft voices, so that the people around us can have their own experiences with the art.

  1. Find out what resources they have for kids.

Art museums nowadays aren’t always the quiet, imposing places they were when we were children. They often have painting spaces, interactive exhibits, or maps tailored to little ones. Our local Denver Art Museum has little art spaces for kids throughout and offers backpack for families that help make the experience more child friendly. Other museums we have gone to have had painting areas, special maps, or play spaces intended for children.

  1. Remind your child that art is fun and for everyone.

In some of the more stern, cold spaces where art finds its home, it can be easy for a child to think it is for grownups. Remind your little one that art is for them. Talk about some of the different ways you make art at home and how you experience art in everyday life.

 

Dragon Boat Festival

My husband is from a different country and a different culture. He grew up celebrating a lot of the same holidays I do, just in a slightly different form. He also grew up celebrating a few ones I never knew as a child and have had to learn about as an adult. I use a lot of books and Google searches to come up with ways to celebrate them at home. I also often use the book Moonbeams, Dumplings, and Dragon Boats to come up with a few quiet ways to celebrate holidays at home and teach my child about the other half of his culture. Today is Dragon Boat Festival, which traditionally involves boat races and rice dumplings.
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The story of the holiday might be rather dark for young children. Qu Yuan, a statesman, threw himself into the river to drown out of loyalty to the king. People rushed out in their boats to find him, and when they failed, they threw rice dumplings into the river so that the fish would not eat his body. The racing boats and rice dumplings are key elements of the holiday. My child is a bit too young for this story, so we focus on the boat races and delicious dumplings.

The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is an exciting celebration for kids, complete with dancing, food, and dragon boat races, but it takes place later in the summer. We attend it most years and my son absolutely adores the boat races and aspires to participate in them when he’s bigger. It’s an excellent way to spend a hot summer day. It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do on the actual holiday, however.

The traditional rice dumplings, or zongzi, might be a bit difficult for a busy parent to replicate. They’re time consuming, and I find them a bit hard to wrap. With an older child, they might be fun to attempt as a family project. The MeatMen, a Singaporean food blog, has a guide to making kee chang, a rice dumpling filled with red bean paste, for those who are feeling brave and adventurous. There are a lot of other lovely variations you can make as well. If you’re like us today, you can buy zongzi fresh or frozen in Asian grocery stores and bakeries as well. Frozen dumplings can be cooked easily at home in a steamer.

My son and I set up a pretend paper boat race on a fabric river in honor of the holiday. We downloaded and printed a template, he colored it, and I used hot glue to hold it together. I glued rice to the bottom to give more weight and stability but I suspect small gravel or sand would work better. We used the sheet of metallic fabric we often use as a body of water and put the boats in the river. We’ve also had a lot of fun racing them across the sofa and other surfaces.

Celebrating a different culture’s holidays has definitely been a challenge for me. Initially I was very intimidated by it, but as my child has gotten older and more curious and excited about the holidays, I let his curiosity lead our explorations. The little paper boat races have definitely been a success, and he loves rice dumplings. While the story is definitely one for older children, I can tell him that the holiday is a celebration of loyalty, since that is a quality I want him to value.

Flower Petal Art

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I’ve always been intrigued by nature art made by arranging flower petals and other natural objects. My child didn’t exhibit much interest in making any, but I had a feeling he’d love it if he gave it a try. Since some of my bright spring blooms somehow survived the snow, I decided to use them to set up an art invitation in our yard.

Materials:

  • Small, attractive containers (I used pretty measuring cups.)
  • A flat surface
  • Scissors
  • Garden plants
  • Sticks

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Single out a few garden flowers you think will work well and snip the blooms off, placing them in your containers. I chose flowers that were starting to fade because I couldn’t bear to pick the new blossoms. (And my little one would have scolded me about taking food from the bees.) This is also a good activity for when you have a lot of garden trimmings. Gathered up and presented neatly, garden trimmings can be an inviting material for art and play.

Arrange the flowers near your flat surface. I also added a pile of small sticks, as they are useful for forming shapes. Pebbles or gravel might also be good additions if you have them on hand.

Make an example of flower art on your flat surface if you don’t think your little one will get the idea. I chose to make a butterfly. Invite your little one to come look and make their own art.

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I think my child felt a bit intimidated by my example. He made several pieces that he didn’t find satisfactory and eventually gathered his materials, slid behind the house and replicated my butterfly in a basket. A better idea might have been to show him a few pictures of this sort of art, or simply as him what he thought he could make from the different types of flowers.

I have presented him with this art invitation a few times since, and he has had no problem coming up with his own creations. He’s made birds, bugs, and simple flower mandalas thus far. He has also helped me gather materials for this project, using a blunt tipped pair of scissors and a little bucket. This definitely adds to the fun if you have a little one old enough to use scissors and understand what to cut with them.

You can create a lot of variations of this project, depending on the season and the materials you have at hand. Sticks, rocks, and snips of evergreen would work well in winter when there aren’t a lot of plants to choose from. In autumn, seeing how many colors of fall leaves you can gather and using them to make pictures would be a wonderful way to embrace the change of seasons.

Low-key Nature Walks with Kids

My little one likes to be outside more often than not. I initially thought I had do to do elaborate hikes with him, or take him to exciting places, which I found so daunting that we didn’t get out as much as we should have. Recently, I ventured out with him to see what we could find nearby. I’ve found that a simple walk in a wild space usually satisfies his need to explore and, even if we don’t venture far, we discover a lot of new things.

I managed to find a wildlife preserve, some open spaces, and the wooded area around our neighborhood lake for us to explore. I’ve had luck looking at the city’s parks and recreation page and asking around for new places to go to. My little one prefers spaces with a variety of wildlife, but I’ve found he is just as interested in meeting a new variety of spider as he is in a family of deer. If I hear the chatter of birds or bugs, we’ve found a good spot.

While I often bring a bag with a few tools to make the walk more interesting, there is a lot we can do without help. Children will often initiate their own activities. On a recent outing, my child gathered a pile of small stones, fashioned them into a little picture, told me a story about the picture he had made, and scattered them about when he was done with them. If you go slowly and let your child do things that interest them, you might not need to do much at all.

Finding and identifying things is another simple way to hold a child’s interest on a nature walk. On a recent trip to the wildlife refuge, we saw a red winged blackbird. I told him what it was. It was distinctive and easy to identify, and he proudly pointed out several more on our walk.

With a little guidance, a simple walk through a wild space can hold all sorts of wonders. It doesn’t have to be fancy or difficult, and it might be as simple as asking a few questions, pointing out a few new things, or waiting paitiently while your child finds their own interests. You just need practical clothes, a waterbottle, and your kid.

Sand Ponds


My little constantly tries to make ponds in his sand bin. It never works very well, so I decided he might need better tools. I gathered wax paper, aluminum foil, and some plastic packaging from some craft supplies we’d bought.

Materials

  • Various kinds of materials like aluminum foil, plastic wrap, old plastic packaging, or oilcloth bits
  • Basin of water
  • Vessel for pouring
  • Rocks or other weights

You can cut out pond shapes from your materials or let your child cut them. Ask them to dig ponds in sizes they think correspond with the shapes and sizes of their ponds.

Ask your child to set up a pond. If the water trickles out, ask them why they think it’s happening. Ask how they might fix it. My child realized the ends of his foil pond weren’t elevated enough and added sand underneath. His wax paper pond needed to be weighed down with stones. Try to ask questions and encourage your child to use the materials available to solve problems with their ponds.

Once Peanut got the hang of it, he experimented with different configurations and amounts of water. He really got to exercise his problem solving skills, and, once he was pleased enough with one of his ponds, he added a boat. This activity was definitely a success, but if your sand play area doesn’t have good drainage, it might be wise to limit the amount of water available. Ours took a few days to dry out after we were done with this activity.

Fun with Sand Bins

We don’t have a large yard and we have lots of neighborhood cats, so we needed a small, inexpensive sandbox we could discreetly store. We ended up using a Sterlite under bed bin and a bag of sand from Home Depot.

It’s smaller than a lot of traditional sandbox arrangements, but it is quite sufficient for home use. I find the size lends itself well to small worlds and play with little toys.

Things to use with sand bins:

  • Construction toys
    • Little ones love pushing sand and things around. We found some tiny CAT style construction toys at the dollar store and they’ve been pretty popular.
  • Small dinosaurs or other animals
    • Kids like making spaces for their small toys. We have used secondhand dinosaurs and some very cute Melissa and Doug bugs in our sand bin
  • Artificial leaves and flowers
    • These are great for making little landscapes for the dinosaurs, bugs, or other toys to live in. Kids can stick them in the sand and rearrange them.
  • River rocks or glass stones
    • River rocks can be used to build tiny mountains, designate trails, or make patterns in the sand. We have some blue glass stones that are sometimes used as pretend rivers or ponds.
  • Yard clippings
    • A kid can plant a garden or create a forest with clippings from your bushes.
  • Spray bottles
    • Sand is easier to shape with just the right amount of water. With a spray bottle, your child has enough but can’t get too carried away and make a muddy mess.
  • Traditional sand toys
    • Smaller toys are handy for the tiny environment. Some of the little molds they make for kinetic sand are especially well suited.
  • Kitchen tools
    • Measuring cups, sieves, and funnels offer different ways to manipulate sand.

Birds in Eggs

After a few Easter eggs hunts, we had a lot of plastic eggs to deal with. We like to make crafts out of everything from boxes to sticks in our house, so a craft was the obvious choice. Our little Peanut loves chickens and little birds and cute eggs right now, so I looked through our stash of craft supplies and found something to make birds with- wool roving.

You can get wool roving online, at craft stores, or at specialty shops. It is used to spin and do various kinds of felting. This project involves felting.

Materials for wet felted bird bodies:

  • Wool roving
  • Water
  • Dish detergent
  • Dry washcloth or dish rag

Fill one bowl with plain water. Fill the other with water and a small bit of dish detergent.

Fluff out the wool roving by pulling the parallel fibers apart so it’s wispy. Dip you fingers in soapy water and wrap it around itself, forming a little lozenge shape. Add soapy water as needed, rolling the wool gently in your hands until it begins to matt together. You can rise it if it becomes too soapy or dry it with the cloth if it becomes too wet. If lumps or seams form, you can work it out eith your fingertips. If your child is doing this part, you may need to help them with it.
When you have your shape, rinse the soap out gently and allow it to dry. It might take a day so it would be good to plan ahead.

My little loved this process but he only made one viable bird. I had a stash made because I wasn’t sure how his first foray into felt making would go.

Materials for birds:

  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Hot glue gun and hot glue
  • Googly eyes, buttons, or beads
  • Felt for wings and beaks
  • Felted bird bodies

Cut out little wings and beaks for the birds.  If your child does it, it might be helpful to draw the shapes on the back of the felt for them, depending on their age and skill level.

Glue beaks, wings, and eyes to your bird bodies. Allow them to dry.

Lastly, this part is for an adult, hot glue the birds to the bottom of the eggs. If they are too tall, trim them from the bottom first.

My child really enjoyed this simple introduction to wet felting and picking out colors for his little birds. I love some of the bright color combinations he came up with.

Día del Niño in Denver


Every year, museums around Denver have free admission and special festivities for Día del Niño. This Latin American holiday has been celebrated in Denver since 1954 and has grown in popularity and scale since. This year included celebrations at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum, Denver Public Library, History Colorado, and the Byers-Evans House. It’s usually a very busy day at museums, but they are bright and bustling with folk dancers, crafts, and happy children.

While we have previously attended the Denver Art Museum’s celebration, this year, we decided to go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. In addition to their normal exhibits, they had science talks and demonstrations, a mask making craft, some sweet sheep, alpacas, and goats to meet and pet, an instrument petting zoo, and all sorts of performances. The Denver Public Library sent their bookmobile, well stocked with children’s titles, which was also a treat to check out.

Our child was a bit too small for the talks and demonstrations, but they looked like something an older child or adult would definitely enjoy. Hopefully he’ll be willing to sit still a bit next year. He was interested in the animals, the instrument petting zoo, the gentleman dressed up in the dinosaur skeleton suit, the craft station, and, of course, his favorite museum exhibit, the water play area for children.

The best new discovery we made today was probably the performance by a Polynesian dance group. Kalama Polynesian Dancers is based in Aurora and offers classes as well as performances throughout the Denver metro area. Our little Peanut had a giant grin on his face while he  watched them, so I will definitely have to find another performance for us to attend.

Welcome

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Welcome to my blog. I intend to use this space to share my the adventures I have with my little family. We make art, we cook, we craft, we go on rambles through the woods, we discover new parks, and we explore the cultural offerings around us.

I live in the Denver metro area with my family of three. I have a lovely 4-year-old son who likes painting, building, trains, and chickens. He’s constantly building, painting, and exploring. My husband is an immigrant from Singapore, so our household tries to integrate two cultures and sets of traditions. Every day is an adventure.