It’s FanSided Entertainment’s Back to School Week, so let’s take a look at some weekend family trips that could score your kids some extra credit at school: Art Museums.
Art museums can be hit or miss with school-aged kids, but they’re also ideal for sparking imagination and encouraging creative play and exploration. These are some of my favorite art museums in the country, and I think any one of them would be a hit for your crew, too. Be sure to adapt your plans to suit your children’s ages and interests, feed them (and you) a snack before you start your museum visit, and plan some other activities in the area as a bailout in case they get restless or bored.
One more thing: Check the museum’s website before you go to confirm hours and the status of programs. As of this writing, the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect schedules for public attractions, and some museums require proof of vaccination.
The National Gallery of Art – Washington D.C.
The National Gallery is free for the entire family and offers family activities, drop-in workshops, audio and video tours, and other kid-friendly programs. Pick up one of the Family Guides from the information desk for tips on seeing the art that is most popular with kids.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – New York City
There are dozens of great art museums in NYC—not to mention everything else the Big Apple offers—but the Guggenheim is my pick for kids because of its unique architecture. The museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is designed as a giant spiraling ramp around an open central atrium, so the architecture and “views” themselves go a long way to keeping students engaged. The focus is on impressionist, post-impressionist, and modernist paintings, which are usually more interesting to younger viewers than the old masters are. Pro tip: Take the elevator to the top and spiral your way down.
Art Institute of Chicago
The second-largest art museum in the U.S., the Art Institute is renowned for its impressionist, post-impressionist, and American art. If you or your kids are fans of Monet, this is a bucket list museum for you. Admission is free for kids under 14 (or under 18 if you happen to reside in Chicago). Before you go, use the JourneyMaker feature on the museum’s website to create and print a one-of-a-kind museum guide tailored just for your family.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Right on the shore of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee Art Museum offers family-friendly activities both indoors and out, including the daily opening of the museum’s rooftop wings, like a gull’s wings flapping. Visit the Kohl Art Generation Open Studio and check out an Artpack of sketch pads and pencils, picture books, custom puzzles, and other engaging activities to use as you visit the galleries. Kids under 12 are admitted free.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
I highly recommend you visit the museum’s website to watch a few—or all—of their videos for kids, featuring dogs from Roy De Forest’s playful painting Country Dog Gentlemen giving short tours of famous artworks in SFMOMA‘s collection. This is a great way to get the enthusiasm ramped up in advance and to pick out some pieces that you’ll want to be sure to visit in person. Children under 18 are admitted free.
Seattle Art Museum
The SAM offers family fun workshops, family-friendly tours of the galleries, and several family spaces, including Open Studio, where you can create your own artwork inspired by major themes in the museum’s current special exhibition. The museum has large collections of Asian art, decorative arts and pottery, 20th-century American art, and contemporary art.
Denver Art Museum
One of the largest art museums between the West Coast and Chicago, DAM is known for its collection of Native American art, as well as other extensive collections. The museum’s website offers a great list of conversation starters and activities that you can use to help your kids engage with the art they will see, and you can also scan a QR code when you arrive to carry these prompts and activities with you throughout the galleries. Admission is free for kids 18 and under.
Phoenix Art Museum
The melding of midcentury and modern architecture in the Phoenix Art Museum offers numerous interesting levels, steps, catwalks, and “tunnels” for kids to explore. An activity center provides materials for play and creation based on artworks in the gallery, and you can partake in a scavenger hunt or download a Kids Activity Guide from the museum’s website before you go.