Many parents shudder at the thought of taking their children to an art museum. It's easy to panic when you think of shushing security guards and other patrons looking down their noses at you, the parent of the child who is interrupting everything. In fact, it's no wonder that kids and art museums are generally seen as entirely incompatible.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, children can learn to enjoy art and art museums more than many adults do, with the right sort of preparation and education.

Take Art in Small Chunks

It isn't that most kids don't enjoy art museums, but that they have trouble maintaining the level of quiet and decorum that's standard in such places. Kids want to talk about what they see. They want to point out the people and the animals in the paintings, and ask questions when they don't understand. If you're constantly telling them to be quiet, they're going to get restless in a hurry.

To successfully expose your child to art, you'll need to think like a child. This means providing your kids with time to ask questions and talk about what you see. Explain to them that you're going to look at art for a short period of time, without talking. Tell them, too, that you'll answer their questions once you're outside, as long as they don't talk while you're looking at things. Alternately, decide that you don't care if they interrupt things and let them ask their questions when they have them.

Expose Your Kids Repeatedly

Many children won't quite understand the draw of an art museum the first time they go, and often won't get it the second, third, or fourth times, either. With repeated exposure, however, they will come to see the value of the things they're looking at. Enjoying art is often an acquired ability, so give your kids the chance to acquire it.

If you can find a museum in your area that offers free days, this can give you the perfect chance to make short, frequent trips. Somewhere along the way, you'll be surprised at what your kids have learned to appreciate.

Tell Them What's Expected

Kids often struggle in situations where they don't quite know what's going on. You may know the type of behavior that's expected in an art museum, but your kids won't know unless you tell them. Be clear about how quiet you want them to be, and how they should ask you if they have a question or need something.

Telling kids what's expected will work better the older they are, and will help some children more than others. However, it's a necessary step toward getting the behavior you desire, because if they don't know what that is then it isn't fair to hold them to that standard.

Find Special Exhibits

Your children may not care about the impressionist works that your museum holds on a daily basis, but they will probably be fascinated by an Egyptian exhibit that includes a mummy. Pick and choose what you take them to see, making sure that they're likely to be interested before you go.

This can be a great way to lure your children into an art museum. Take them to see something fun and special, then hang out in the paintings for a short time afterwards. They might find themselves enjoying the art more than you would have expected, and you'll have little art museum converts on your hands.

Educate Them Ahead of Time

If you tell your kids the story behind famous pieces of art, they'll be more likely to enjoy looking at them. Don't make your art history lessons boring, though. Instead, educate yourself first, learning the background of the pieces you want them to understand. Then, give them the information like a story, with a reproduction of the piece to guide you.

After hearing your story several times, your kids will be thrilled to see the real thing in the museum. They may even retell the story to anyone who will listen, other patrons and security guards included.

Let Them Make Art (Not Just Look at It)

Kids don't necessarily love to look at art, but most of them love to make it. Bring paper and crayons with you to the museum. Then seat yourself and your kids on a bench by some art and let them color away. Encourage them to use the same colors as the artist you're looking at, or even to try to reproduce a painting. They'll enjoy themselves and learn about art at the same time.

Many museums are accommodating this desire in children by providing special rooms where they can have a hands-on experience based on the type of art they've just seen. Know where these rooms are ahead of time, and you'll have a leg up on helping your children enjoy the art museum experience.

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