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Making Museums Fun for Kids

Recently, children roamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art looking for a woman in a gold hat. They weren't lost  -- the woman in question was in the painting Portrait of Madame Renoir, the last clue the kids needed to complete the impressionist puzzle they were trying to solve. This is just one example of the kid-friendly activities that many traditionally "look, but don't touch" art museums are now offering.

Though museums have had children's puppet shows and movies for decades, these new programs  -- inspired in part by the growing numbers of baby-boomer parents visiting museums with their kids  -- are much more hands-on and age-specific. Making use of everything from Egyptian artifacts to modern sculpture, the new projects are designed for the entire family to do together.

Other examples:

  • Every weekend, parents and children can explore a new area of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. As part of its recent "A First Look" program, families viewed the museum's extensive portrait collection and then created their own family portraits.

  • The Art Institute of Chicago has weekly, monthly, and even one-day programs for kids of all ages. Families walk through the galleries and then go to studios in the museum to create art related to what they saw. One popular event last fall joined mask-making with an exhibit on African art.

  • The "Young at Art" program at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, DC, brings in local artists to work with parents and kids. Recently, families have created dances with a choreographer, sewn fabric dolls with a crafts artist, and made plaster body casts with a sculptor.

Family programs can be a parent's dream come true: A chance to combine art, learning, and family time. To find out if there's a program near you, call the art museum in a nearby metropolitan area.

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