families-1Art museums can be a tough place to take children. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, flit around exhibits, and leave with an unsatisfying feeling. And in most cities, there’s the burden of paying an entrance fee – which, if you’re like me, makes me feel like we have to get our money’s worth and stick around for a few hours. Not so in DC. Available to us is the amazing National Gallery of Art. Entrance is free – so you can just pop in for a quick visit without being overwhelmed. And after taking a hiatus from my favorite children’s art program, Stories in Art and Artful Conversations are back in action. Check them out this weekend or on Monday!

My children have participated in many sessions of Stories in Art – designed for children ages 4 – 7. The basic format is this. A docent or art educator at the National Gallery reads a story about a painting in the collection, guides children in looking at and describing either the same or a similar painting, and then leads an art activity – read about art, talk about art, make art. The groups are relatively small, and when we’ve been there – lots of people are ready to sign up when sign-ups open at 10:00 on Saturday; 11:00 on Sundays and Mondays, but we’ve never had problems getting into one of the later programs (1:30 on Saturday always seems to have space). We have been shut out of the early sessions in the past if we don’t arrive early to the museum. Sundays seem to be less crowded than Saturdays.

New to us this year is Artful Conversations – designed for children ages 8 – 11 and a parent. For the program, an art educator leads a group of children and parents in a discussion about one work of art for an hour. An analogy was made to being able to get to know a painting like a good friend, rather than an acquaintance. Last week, we discussed a painting in depth, asked questions, and then wrote a poem. I had a lovely time with my 8 year old son – and definitely recommend the program.

Each week, children get a stamp for participating in the program and if children accumulate 3 stamps, they get a prize. Prizes in the past have been good. Last year, we received a great book about artwork for children; another year we received blank postcards and high quality art supplies with which to decorate them. But that’s not the primary reason to attend these program. The best reason to attend these programs is that we are gifted with an amazing art collection – and when it’s made accessible to children, creative forces can be inspired.