Tag Archives: museums

Art Museums that Incorporate Interactive Exhibitions

I like art museums, especially those with interactive spaces for kids. My previous post introduced 14 ways to engage kids at an art museum, but some museums take on this challenge themselves by providing art trading cards, scavenger hunts, family backpacks, children’s audio tours, or family guides. It is always worth asking museum staff about special resources and activities created specifically for families visiting the museum.

There are a number of art museums that have incorporated entire galleries of interactive experiences for kids and families. Here are interactive art museum spaces I have visited.

  • Dayton Art Institute (Ohio) – Experiencenter
  • Getty Center (Los Angeles, California) – Family Room
  • Mint Museum Uptown (Charlotte, North Carolina) – Lewis Family Gallery
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art (California) – Children’s Gallery
  • Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles, California) – Noah’s Ark

If visiting an art museum is not in your foreseeable future, check out one of these interactive art museum websites for kids.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”
– Pablo Picasso


14 Ways to Visit an Art Museum

I like art museums. When I first made the transition from teaching to informal museum education, I was specifically interested in art museums. I wanted to teach families how to connect with the artwork by creating hands-on interactives for hands-off museums.

Here are 14 ideas to enhance engagement at art museums:

1. First, visit the museum store to buy a postcard featuring artwork currently on view – at least one postcard per family member. Ask a staff member for recommendations or to confirm that the chosen postcards are accessible in the gallery. Then, find the piece of art from the postcard in the gallery. Once you find the postcard artwork, try activity 2, 3, 4 or 5 on the back.

2. Imagine you have become a part of the artwork. Use your senses to describe what you can see, smell, hear, taste and touch.

3. List the materials used to create the artwork – this is especially good for contemporary art museums.

4. Write a poem about the artwork you selected – use sensory words from #2 or materials from #3.

5. Create a subtitle or caption for the artwork.

6. Have family members search the museum for the painting, sculpture or object that best represents themselves. Take turns sharing everyone’s choices or try to guess.

7. Scavenger hunts…before you go, make a list of items based on a theme below. Try to find all the items on your list in the art throughout the museum.

  • Animals
  • Colors
  • Countries (where the art was created)
  • Food
  • Letters
  • Materials (used to create the art)
  • Opposites
  • Rhymes
  • Shapes
  • Sports
  • Weather

8. Choose one category from above, or come up with your own, and track the number of times you find items from that category in the art. For example, how many dogs can you spy throughout the museum?

9. Break into two teams, and explore different galleries. Write down interesting objects you find in the artwork, like a blue vase or ice skates. Trade lists and explore the opposite gallery with your new scavenger hunt.

10. Compare two paintings or objects that are side by side in the gallery. What is the same? What is different?

11. Imitate the pose, expressions, and body movements of the sculptures in the museum. Remember, no touching!

12. Find a portrait. What do you know about the person depicted in the artwork? Create a biography for this person based on clothing, facial features, the setting, and other objects in the piece of art.

13. Imagine yourself as a character in a painting. Interview another person in the painting. Draw a comic or filmstrip of the interview.

14. Create an ABC art book or chart. Find an artist, title, material, subject or object in the art for each letter of the alphabet. Write the word or a description for each letter. Revisit your trip and share memories at home as you add images for each letter.

What is your favorite way to explore an art museum?

Seeing Multiples

I like repetition
, or as the San Diego Museum of Art says, multiples. I recently visited their exhibition Young Art 2011: Making Multiples, featuring student artwork hung in the galleries among artists like Andy Warhol and Josef Albers. Student artwork, which is only on display through May 29, 2011, was created in a variety of media with subjects such as a field of sunflowers, a classroom of desks, ceramic toes, a carousel of horses, a tree of owls and a 3-headed monster.

The exhibition also featured an interactive wall display for visitors to record their thoughts on the following prompt, “To me, making multiples means…” Did you catch the alliteration, or letter ‘m’ repetition? A few of my favorite responses included: family, being a twin, and “the stars are multiples of the sun.” This display got me thinking beyond exhibitions and museum collections to the repetition/multiples surrounding us everyday – both physically and conceptually. Keep reading for crafty ideas to explore repetition.

Here is my growing list of multiples (in no particular order of thought):
•       a rose garden
•       stairs
•       stamps
•       chicken pox
•       a forest
•       boats in a harbor
•       a litter of puppies
•       a box of crayons
•       tongue teasers
•       popcorn
•       a library or bookstore
•       Portland (Oregon) bridges
•       wrapping paper
•       a bag of skittles
•       bulk food bins
•       traditions
•       laundry

What’s on your list? Beware, it is difficult to stop thinking of multiples once you start.

Try This:
1. I spy…multiples! Visit your local park, museum, or farmer’s market and try to find one multiple for each letter of the alphabet. Write the letters of the alphabet down on a piece of paper. You can complete one paper for the entire family or race to be the first to complete the entire alphabet. Or, create a multiples notebook with each letter of the alphabet on a separate page. Whenever your family finds a little spare time, illustrate your notebook with the multiples you see around you.

I Spy variation: I Spy books are full of repetition. Visit your library and check one out to explore with your family. Then, visit these blogs to learn how to create your own reusable I Spy book or placemat.

2. Tongue Teaser Alliterations: You already know “how much wood can a woodchuck chuck” and that “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.” Create silly alliterations with your family.

3. Printmaking: This is as easy as carving into the surface of Styrofoam using a toothpick, but don’t push all the way through. You will need ink and a roller from a craft store. Visit an art museum or grab an Andy Warhol picture book for some inspiration!

4. Optical Illusions are often filled with repetition. Check out the work of M. C. Escher  and then visit your local science center for some brain teasers!

Itinerary: [insert your city here]
You can look for multiples everywhere – in nature, museums, stores, harbors or even at your house. Here are a few of my favorite places to search:

Balboa Park, San Diego – Don’t miss the Rose Garden, Mingei International Museum (Beckoning Cats through January 2012), San Diego Museum of Art (Making Multiples through May 29, 2011), Palm Canyon and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for optical illusions.

The Huntington near Pasadena, California has a little bit of everything – gardens, library and art collections. Perfect for a game of I Spy.

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh – don’t forget The Andy Warhol Museum!

A local Farmers’ Market – produce, art, rows of booths…

Things To Do on raveable

Book Museums & Book-Making

Create your own monster!

I like books…especially picture books. My childhood favorite was Each Peach Pear Plum because I could recite the rhymes as though I were actually reading the book. As a teacher, one of my favorites was Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin. When I taught second grade, my students created their own diaries as an animal of their choice. We started with a group brainstorming session to identify factual characteristics of the animals, such as their habitat and food. The students then incorporated these details into their fictional stories and added illustrations with captions. The results were so creative! I think every picture book has a creative, hands-on way to engage children beyond simply reading. See my ideas below.

Did you know there are picture book museums and exhibitions? I have seen a couple of exhibitions of children’s book art, including Over the Rainbow and Down Rabbit Holes at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2008 and Monsters & Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in 2010. These exhibitions were completely different and both have moved on from these museums, but what I loved about them were the interactive elements. There were audiobooks playing from tall, green hedges, picture book libraries, and hands-on activities like designing book character masks and writing/drawing prompts to inspire your creativity. I even wrote my own library catalog card to file away for other visitors to discover. Plus, I got to create a monster!

Japan has about 20 museums that celebrate picture book art, but the U.S. has a limited number. One is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts, which has more artwork than just that of Eric Carle. ImaginOn in North Carolina is a collaboration between the award-winning county library system and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte with the mission of bringing stories to life. What picture book art exhibitions and museums have you seen?

Try This:
1. Make a Book: As a kid I would staple together pieces of paper to create books.  My favorite kind to make was a tiered, flap booklet where each flap was a little shorter than the next one so that a portion of each page of the book could be seen when closed.  Unfortunately, I cannot find directions or a template on the Internet so here is my attempt.

  • Cut a piece of paper in half lengthwise (hot dog).
  • Fold one of those pieces so that 1 inch of the paper is exposed (half A).
  • Fold the other piece so that 2 inches of the paper is exposed (half B).
  • Line up the seams so that half A is inside of half B and staple at the seam.

2. Rhyme Time: Read Each Peach Pear Plum or another rhyming picture book. Create new rhymes for the story using your homemade booklet. The rhymes can be written on each tier.

3. Write your own Diary of a ___________ [hamster, hawk, lizard, etc]: Start by brainstorming factual characteristics of the animals that can be written into the stories, such as the animal’s habitat and food.

4. Act it out…have each family member choose a favorite character (from different stories) and act out what happens when these characters meet.

5. Create your own book museum!

  • Choose 3-5 favorite books for your exhibit.  (Older kids can try to design their exhibit based on a theme).
  • Visit Amazon.com to find the cover artwork for your books and print them out OR draw them.
  • Glue each little artwork on an index card and write a label for the book.
  • “Hang” these artworks in a shoebox museum. You can even paint the walls first and add benches.

Itinerary: A Day of Dr. Seuss (San Diego)
Background: Theodor Seuss Geisel lived in La Jolla, California atop Mount Soledad. In 1954 he wrote The Cat in the Hat using only 236 words for beginning readers. His illustrations were said to have been inspired by the unique plants of Balboa Park’s cactus and desert gardens.

  • Pack a picnic lunch, a few Dr. Seuss books, a sketch pad (one per child/person) and possibly a camera.
  • Take a stroll through the desert garden or the cactus garden – grab a map from the Visitor Center for directions.
  • Find a comfortable place to picnic and read Dr. Seuss classics.
  • Using the illustrations in the books and your imagination, match the drawings to plants in the gardens.
  • Sketch or photograph the actual plant that may have inspired Dr. Seuss OR let the plants in the garden inspire your own magical shapes and creatures.

Optional Excursion: Drive to the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla, the site of Dr. Seuss’s home. Do you think he was inspired by these surroundings? Visit Geisel Library at UCSD. Check the exhibits calendar to see if his original artwork will be on view to the public.

Trains Big & Small

Northwest Railway Museum

I like trains. Who knew? On a drive from Snoqualmie Falls to Seattle, I found myself driving alongside the longest, most colorful museum I had ever seen – the Northwest Railway Museum. There was simply no driving by this museum; I had to make the stop! A couple hours of climbing trains and a few dozen photos later, I had to admit that I like trains. After a visit to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, I am now quite fond of model railroads too. See the train itineraries below for San Diego and Snoqualmie, Washington.

On a trip to Mesa Verde in 2010, I spent the night in Durango, Colorado. The next morning included a bike ride (free rentals included with the hotel) to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum. This is an old line (operating for over 125 years) that connects Durango to the old mining town of Silverton on a scenic trip through the San Juan National Forest. You can even race the train on bicycle as part of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. While racing the train may not be in my future, another visit to Durango with a train ride to Silverado has made the list.


San Diego

  • Start your day in Balboa Park at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum with a game of “I Spy” as you explore the models.
    • Here are a few to get you started: I spy…a truck, chickens, a train crash.
  • Walk a short distance to the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad for a half-mile, 3-minute train ride.
  • Head downtown to visit the historic Santa Fe Depot. Check out this old photograph. Note: observe parking signs.
  • Cross the street to the America Plaza station and take a 40-minute trolley ride to the San Diego Railroad Museum (La Mesa Depot Museum) via the orange line to La Mesa Boulevard. This is approximately 12 miles by car.
  • Option: Take the Coaster for a scenic train ride up the coast.

Snoqualmie, Washington (45 minutes from Seattle)

  • Start your day at the Northwest Railway Museum where you can explore the Depot Museum and see countless locomotives and cars.
  • Enjoy a 75-minute train ride to Snoqualmie Falls.
  • Don’t forget to visit the bookstore before you leave the museum.
Try This:
Use the train vocabulary below to:
(1) write a story – think about what the train is carrying and where it is going
(2) label a drawing or photograph
(3) as a scavenger hunt at a railway museum

Train Vocabulary
  • “All aboard”
  • caboose
  • conductor
  • depot
  • engineer
  • locomotive
  • platform
  • railroad
  • ticket
  • timetable
  • Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown
    This picture book follows the parallel journey of an actual train and a model train. Compare their journeys to the sights on your itinerary.
  • Freight Train by Donald Crews
    This picture book compares different types of train cars. Can you find the different types of cars at your museum?
There are close to 300 rail museums in North America! Visit www.railmuseums.com.