Art museum programs that draw kids in

by Karen Stysley

What to get your kids hooked on art? There are plenty of art museums in Maryland and Washington, D.C. that offer program for kids and families to increase their interest and knowledge of art.

On a recent trip to the Baltimore Museum of Art, my 6-year-old gave Auguste Rodin's cast "The Thinker" some thought before declaring: "Hey, it's that guy from 'Night at the Museum 2!'"

Nothing against the hit movie about art coming to life, but I'm pretty sure we ought to be associating more with the classics than Ben Stiller. Thankfully, we were attending a program at the the BMA to help with just that.

My daughter and I were attending Free Family Sundays, which includes an informal chat with a museum educator and a chance for some hands-on art based on a single work in the museum's collection. On this particular Sunday, we spent some time learning how to stamp and decorate foil before making our own creation with pencils, beads and glue. Then we compared our work to the BMA's silver display. (Theirs was beautiful, but lacked our special brand of beaded unicorn Pegasus.)

ArtMuseumWTrisha Chason, a teaching assistant at the BMA, says up to 250 people come to the workshops during the winter, and those who attend aren't just kids. Ages at the program range from preschoolers to college students, Chason says.

"We figure out interesting ways to make the collections accessible for kids," says Jessica Braiterman, manager of community engagement and learning at the BMA. "If the parents are having fun, they'll bring their kids back," she says. That is important since children are the visitors and the collectors of the future, Braiterman adds.

A three-hour block of unstructured time to make art can also be a big draw, Braiterman says.

"School work is so structured," Braiterman says. "They have 30 minutes to be creative."

For Bowie resident April Green, such programs enrich the education she provides while homeschooling her 5- and 7-year-olds, and gives them an important exposure to art. For the past three summers, they have attended the National Gallery of Art's weekly "Stories in Art" series where kids get to see a work of art, read a related story and complete a related art project.

Green has also taken her kids to similar programs at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.

"We have so much in this area that's available" for kids to further their art education, Green says.

Thanks to the programs, Green says her kids have expressed more interest in art and in books about art.

"They will come back home talking about the program, and they will see something on TV and tie it into what they learned," she says.

To expose your kids to more art than is offered in the classroom, check out the programs offered at art museums in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and even Annapolis.


updated January 2017

5 art museums with programs for kidsArtMuseum2W

Baltimore Museum of Art
Learn about a museum exhibit and make related art from 2-5 p.m. during Free Family Sundays. On the last Sunday of the month, participate in a conversation about a work of art with a gallery educator. No registration required.

Admission and program are free.
artbma.org/families/sundays.html

Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore
A variety of family-friendly activities are available, including free Drop-in Art Activities related to the museum collection every Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. No registration is required.

Check the website for information and registration for age-specific art activities, including an Art Tots program and ArtKids Preschool classes for younger kids and Walk, Wonder & Create tours and Gallery Drawing Family Workshops for older kids.

Free family festivals are held periodically providing entertainment and other activities.

Admission to museum and Drop-In art are free. There are fees for other programs.
thewalters.org/family

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Different age-based programs encourage children to slow down and consider one work of art. "Stories in Art" for kids ages 4-7 includes reading a book and doing a hands-on activity. Family workshops are geared toward children ages 8-11. Space is limited; see the website for more information.

Admission and programs are free.
nga.gov/content/ngaweb/calendar/family-activities.html

National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Children and adults are welcome to attend Open Studio Fridays from 1-4 p.m. Participants can check out a Portrait Discovery Kit to learn about the museum and make art inspired by the portraits on display. Check the website for the schedule. Starting Jan. 28, 2017, don't miss Explore! a new program that will allow kids to do hands-on activities with portraiture on the first floor daily.

During Portrait Story Days, families can listen to a story about a famous person from history and make art in the Education Center on certain Saturdays and Sundays.

Admission and programs are free.
nationalportraitgallery.org/education/youth&family.html

Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College, Annapolis
Family events are held periodically based on exhibits at the museum. Public receptions and family events are sometimes held when new exhbits open.

Admission and program are free.
sjc.edu/programs-and-events/annapolis/mitchell-art-gallery/educational-opportunities

Bottom photo: Courtesy of April Green. The Green children show off their artwork.