Visiting art galleries with four year olds

With both Marcus and I loving art galleries and museums, and with some of the world’s best on our doorstep here in the UK, we’ve had to think of ways to make the visit work with the boys. I say boys, but I mean Albie. Fred hasn’t been a problem – I just carry him on my back and try to time a gallery visit with a nap. Sorted and smug.

I look crazed in this photo. It’s actually my super excited Kirchner face.

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Albie though, too old to entertain being carried or to have a nap, has been a different kettle of fish to sort.

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Some people write that galleries are no place for kids. I can see where they’re coming from – many of the best collections are not particularly set up for young children and young children aren’t necessarily set up for art analysis either.

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So to begin with it didn’t seem at all plausible to expect our sometimes boisterous four year old to walk slowly and talk quietly whilst pondering the paintings on the wall. But how can a child learn how to enjoy a gallery without going to a gallery?

And we wanted to enjoy some of the world’s finest art collections. Oh, how they make my pulse quicken.

So we’ve stuck with it, and it’s been a journey. At first, Marcus and I took turns inside a gallery, whilst the other stood outside, or in a nearby cafe, with Albie. This worked obviously, But it was a bit lonely for both of us – and in the winter in the UK if we were outside, inevitably cold. Then we took the ipad in with us, and set Albie up with it whilst we perused certain collections. This was okay, but I had a hankering to educate Albie about the fantastic art collections that surrounded him and it was depressing to instead see his face buried in a screen.

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We tried a few games, like I spy and Find the….(find the painting in the room that has an umbrella in it, or the one that has the biggest brushstrokes etc).

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This works pretty well, but it’s almost impossible to stop him from running enthusiastically to the painting of choice. And your boy running about like a Labrador is not welcome by either the gallery set or the security. Which I TOTALLY understand, but oh, the gallery woes.

And then……..

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We asked Albie to take photos on our phone of his favourite artworks. And for some reason, it works a treat. It slows him down, helps develop his own opinions and taste. And somehow taking photos helps him to see what we are looking at.

Gallery Game Changer.

One of the coolest parts of this trick, is checking back through my phone after we’ve visited the exhibition and seeing what he liked the best. Like this selection of Albie’s favourites from the National Portrait Gallery – the highlights of which include lots and lots of  ladies, a military officer wearing a patch (‘he’s got a patch like me!’), Mick Jagger, a delightful selfie and, rather unexpectedly, a women in a wheelchair – who was also visiting the gallery. Thankfully, from her blurry wave and smile, I can see she was okay with this little paparazzi boy.

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So yeah, we recommend it. Try it if you have little gallery people.

Some common sense tips you’ve probably already sussed:

  • Cut down the visit.
    We set a timer on our phones for 40 minutes. In a world without kids, I’d be perusing all day long, but 40 happy gallery minutes is much better than pushing the boat out for too long and Albie getting grouchy. It means we have to keep pretty focused and limit the visit, or we take a break outside, and then go back in again.
  • Get excited!
    Albie generally knows a little about why we are visiting and who or what we want to see. Anticipation of what we are going to see helps make him an eager gallery visitor.
  • Food and water.
    I’m definitely telling you something that parents everywhere already know, but nothing in life ever works if your kid is hungry – especially not a gallery visit. Feed ’em up and then enter.
  • Set the rules and give some incentive for following them.
    We want Albie to walk and whisper in the gallery, and if he can do that for the whole visit, he gets a treat afterwards. Some might call it bribery- I call it an incentive.
    The treat doesn’t have to be anything major. Albie is still pleased with things like getting to push the buttons on the lifts for the rest of the day – that sort of thing. Long may that last!
  • Throw in the towel.
    Sometimes it’s just not the day or time for an exhibition. Be prepared to retreat at any stage. For this reason, we mainly stick to free exhibitions so we don’t get bitter about paying the entrance fee when it all goes south in a hurry.

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May the force be with you!

Obviously, this only works where photography is allowed.  I’d love to know what works for other people with boys. I have a sneaking suspicion Fred may be more of a tricky gallery go-er than Albie, so the more tricks up our sleeves the better!

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