New York City has some of the finest art museums in the world. And thanks to free or reduced admission for children, family-friendly programming and plenty of exhibitions and collections to keep you coming back, a museum visit can be the perfect family outing.
If you’re thinking of bringing your little one to an art museum, we asked Heather Maxson, director of school, youth and family programs at the newly reopened Whitney Museum and a mother to 4- and 6-year-olds herself, for some tips to make the experience a memorable one. And just remind your kids of museum etiquette (quiet voices and no touching, unless it’s hands-on, of course).
Check out exhibits online beforehand
“One thing I suggest parents do is a little planning ahead of time to see what is on view,” Maxson says. “They can look at what they think might be interesting to their kids.” For instance, at the Whitney, the sculptures “Boy” by Charles Ray or “Women and Dog” by Marisol might be of interest to children.
“When I take my kids to museums, I always ask them to take a minute and look and pause and then to talk about what they see and what they notice,” Maxson says.
Let them guide you
“Sometimes, I let them take me to the work they want to talk about and you can investigate it together,” Maxson says. “Sometimes it’s nice to let them take the lead.”
Take advantage of kid-friendly materials
Many museums offer resources geared toward children. The Whitney, for example, provides a free kids audio guide as well as a free family activity guide. Or you can bring your own activities. “Families can bring a pad of paper and pencil and sketch what they see,” Maxson says.
Less is more
“Especially for younger kids, think about stopping while they’re still interested and not waiting until they’re exhausted,” Maxson says. “You want to think about going and having it be a really fun and positive experience, so they want to go back.” You could see a handful of pieces, get lunch, go back to the art or spend time sketching, she suggests.
Follow up at home
To continue the fun at home, do projects inspired by what you saw, Maxson says, such as a sculpture made of found objects. “Find easy materials that kids could be creative with — buttons, cork, wire, egg cartons, cardboard and pipe cleaners that you probably have lying around.”
Upcoming family programming
Want to take advantage of family-friendly programming? Here’s a look at a few upcoming events geared toward kids at NYC art museums:
Whitney Museum of American Art: During the museum’s Open Studio, kids can make their own artworks inspired by pieces on view in its current exhibition, “America Is Hard to See.” May 30 and 31 from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., free with museum admission
Guggenheim: The museum’s weekly Open Studio for Families is a drop-in art-making program for families with children ages 5 and up. May 24 and 31 from 1-4 p.m., free with museum admission
Museum of Modern Art: The museum hosts an interactive story time in conjunction with the exhibition “MoMA Art Lab: Places and Spaces,” geared toward kids ages 2 and up. May 29 and June 12 at 11 a.m., free with museum admission
Metropolitan Museum of Art: The museum’s regular Start with Art at the Met program encourages children ages 3-6 to sketch, share ideas and more. May 23 from 11 a.m.-noon and 2-3 p.m., May 28 from 3:30-4:30 p.m., May 30 from 11 a.m.-noon and 2-3 p.m., free with museum admission
New Museum: The museum’s First Saturday for Families monthly event features hands-on programming for families with children ages 3-10. June’s event explores the theme science fair, with a demonstration of projects from New INC and interactive activities. June 6 from 10 a.m.-noon, free, tickets given out on a first-come, first-served basis