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Artful Dialogue

Advice from an educator and artist about how to make the most of your family’s next museum visit

April 4, 2016
paint brushes against colorful background

Visiting an art museum with your children is one of those meaningful, educational activities we always aspire to as parents. But what happens once you walk through the gallery doors? Maybe you haven’t had an art class since high school (or earlier). Maybe you’re not quite sure how to talk with your kids about an exhibition in the same way you would about a picture book or a favorite TV show.

Once you’re at the museum, how can you actually get your kids thinking and talking about art?

We asked Eve Ewing, an educator, artist, and writer, if we could share the conversation starters she originally published on the Boston Children’s Museum’s Power of Play blog. As the museum’s inaugural artist-in-residence, Ewing created an installation called “A Map Home,” which encompassed themes of place, childhood adventure, and how we make meaning of our everyday surroundings through text and image. In addition to her work in the arts, Ewing is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where her research focuses on race, social inequality, urban policy, and public schools.

Six Ways to Talk About Art

In her post, Ewing outlines six ideas for parents who want to use art as a point of connection with their children:

  1. Let children lead the way. “What would you like to look at?” or “Take me to a painting that you want to see!” invites them to survey the space and find something that looks interesting to them.
  2. A question like “What do you see here?” or “What do you notice?” is a simple but fruitful place to start.
  3. You can use a pretend game to invite children to describe what they see in detail. “Let’s pretend we’re calling (grandma, auntie, friend) and let’s tell them about this painting. They can’t see it so you have to tell them everything!”
  4. Encourage children to share emotional responses. “How does looking at this make you feel? What parts of the painting make you feel that way?” Emphasize that art does not always need to be pretty, and it’s okay to have a range of feelings (including sadness or anger) when looking at a piece of art.
  5. Invite ideas about medium and technique. “How do you think the artist made this? What tools do you think they used?” For older children, you can show them the gallery label, where the medium is usually listed along with the artist’s name and the name of the piece.
  6. Ask children to make comparisons. “Does this painting look similar to the one we just saw, or different? In what ways? Does this remind you of anything you have seen in real life?” If the art is representational (depicting realistic people, places, or things), you can also ask for specific comparisons:
  • “Look at the facial expressions on these two people. Do you think they are having the same feelings?” 
  • “Are the people wearing clothes that look like our clothes?”
  • “This is a painting of the place the artist lived. Does it look different or the same from what you see when you look out the window at home? How?”


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