Tips for Taking Children To Museums and Galleries: An Interview with Dr Pragya Agarwal
Earlier this year we took my daughter (who’s two years old) to the Wildlife Photographer of The Year exhibtion at the Natural History Museum. It’s not the first time we’ve taken her, but the previous time was considerably easier – she happily sat in the sling and looked at the photographs whilst we took our time enjoying the exhibition. This time was not so easy…she, like most two year olds, wanted to move quickly and so my husband and I ended up playing tag team so that we could both (quickly) see all of the photographs.
It got me thinking that there must be some strategies we could have used to prepare my daughter for the exhibition and have a more relaxed visit. So I asked Dr Pragya Agarwal whether she could share her advice on taking children to museums and galleries, and how to help them cultivate an appreciation of art.
As well as running two creative businesses – The Art Tiffin and Hedge and Hog Prints – Pragya runs the ‘Raising Creative Kids‘ Facebook group and has recently launched a magazine – CREŌ – for children and parents.
As a creative coach and mentor, she supports start-ups and creatives wanting to create a profitable business is the founder of a women in business networking group in the North West, and a Facebook group ‘ecco: ethical creatives collective.’ She has written for several national publications such as The Guardian, Metro, Telegraph, Times Higher Education and as a blogger for Huffington Post.
I hope you enjoy reading my interview with Pragya, and find her tips and advice useful. Pragya has kindly shared a special offer for blog readers at the end of her interview.
Thanks for joining us today Pragya. I’d love it if you could tell us a bit about you, your family and what you do.
I am Pragya, a mum of 3 girls, and have a multi-hyphenate portfolio career. I live in the North-west with my husband, my 23 month old twins, and our dog and cat, and our eldest is studying at Cambridge University. I trained as an Architect and then was an academic for almost 10 years after completing my PhD. After undergoing a period of burn-out due to acute stress and anxiety, I took a break from Academia, and set up a creative studio Hedge and Hog Prints, designing handmade limited edition linocut prints, cards and stationery.
My own experiences with anxiety inspired me to set up a social enterprise, The Art Tiffin, aimed to inspiring creativity and creative thinking for mental well-being, and raise awareness of cruelty-free vegan art materials. We donate to mental health charities from every box sold. I am passionate about inspiring creativity from a young age, and have designed an art learning monthly subscription programme for children ‘The Art Explorers’,
In one of the first pieces of your work that I came across, you talked about how you have taken your children to museums and galleries from a very young age. Whilst interactive exhibitions – such as those at the Science Museum – can be very engaging for children, I don’t think I’m alone in finding it difficult to hold my daughter’s attention at other exhibitions – such as photography ones. What tips do you have for cultivating children’s interest in these exhibitions at different ages?
Children can perceive visual imagery from a young age. As an infant and toddler, black and white images with striking contrast can be quite appealing to them. As they grow older, the first thing that parents can do is of course be interested in photography and art themselves. Start with something familiar, and subjects that might appeal to the children. It could be an exhibition of the local city or places that they know, or of animals that they have seen in books or in documentaries. Large bright images will suit younger children. But we should not underestimate the capacity of children to absorb new information and so should be prepared to challenge them gradually.
Prepare the child beforehand with one or two pieces of exhibits and familiarise them with it if possible. It is also good to have realistic expectations, talk about and discuss the different art works, engage the children, and create stories around them.
I have an article on how art can be used for story telling and most of it would apply to photography exhibitions too.
With slightly older children, you could discuss why the photographer might have chosen that particular subject, the colours, the angle, the scale, and how it makes the child feel. Let the child take their own photographs at the exhibition and capture the things that they find most interesting.
What tips would you give to parents on choosing which galleries and exhibitions to take their children to?
With young children it is important to choose art galleries and exhibitions that are relatively small. The facilities at the gallery or the museum are really very important. Can it accommodate a stroller? How welcoming are they to young children and families? Is there a decent café with child-friendly options? Is there a locker facility? And, are there changing facilities in the toilets? These things matter a lot to ensure that the visit is smooth and that both the children and the parents enjoy the visit enough to start falling in love with the photography and art exhibits.
With older children, it is important to check whether the museum or the gallery has any workshop spaces or activities for children. Children are bound to run around, and it is important that they be allowed to explore within reason. It is very important to check the age policy for the exhibition in advance. But, overall, the passion and enthusiasm that parents show can transmit to the children if we don’t pressure them into it, but rather they see it as an enjoyable experience and activity.
In larger exhibitions, we often choose an area of a particular section that we can explore in detail rather than rushing through the whole thing. I like to introduce children to the artists that they might find in the galleries that we are visiting and to some of their famous work so that the child can then look out for it, and start taking ownership of the experience.
I really like that idea of introducing children to the artist ahead of time. Which are your favourite museums and galleries to take your children to?
I think it is very important to expose children to a range of styles and periods so that they understand that there is not just one way of doing things. With my eldest, and now with my 23 month old twins, we started visiting museums and exhibitions from a very young age.
Some of the favourite museums that we have been to are in Paris, London and New York. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Guggenheim, and Metropolitan Art Gallery in New York are amazing and very child- friendly. Modern Art is definitely something that children find easier and more accessible, especially when they are engaged in the themes and meanings of different pieces.
In London, we are so lucky to have so many amazing museums and galleries available to us for free. The National Gallery and the V & A are fantastic for children. But we particularly love the Science Museum, the Design Museum, and the Tate Modern all of which are very child friendly, are manageable with young children, have activities for children, and always have some very interesting and unusual exhibits on. The Portrait Gallery is in fact one of our favourite places as it is small, and children can link art to history and society, create stories around the portraits, and also have fun trying to imagine people they know in these portraits.
The Walker Gallery in Liverpool has a really fantastic activity centre, and Whitworth Gallery in Manchester has huge outdoors, as well as such a light, airy and relaxed feel.
But, aside from these well-known galleries, we always try and find a gallery or two wherever we visit, especially one with local art, archaeological exhibits and traditional crafts, such as the Archaeological Museum in Cairo, and the Terracotta Army in Xian, China.
Thank you for joining us today Pragya – I’ve picked up so many brilliant tips. Where can readers find you if they would like to know more?
You can find me at The Art Tiffin where we have the Art Explorer Monthly Subscription for children that is a unique learning programme designed in collaboration with educators, artists and psychologists to introduce art and art history to children in a playful way so that they can appreciate visual images and learn how to interpret them. When combined with museum visits, this will inspire a love of art and creativity from a young age.
For any of the readers of this blog, please use ARTEXPLORERS for a 10% discount on the Art Explorer box at check out. There are 3 and 6 months pre-paid options available too (use the drop down menu in the listing).
You can also find me online here:
Facebook: The Art Tiffin