Arts Museums ARE Children’s Museums – Tips for Family Fun with Fine Art


Did you know Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is widely regarded as not only one of the best museums in the country, but one of the finest in the world? Right in our own backyard!

Too often, people—especially parents—assume museums are formal, stodgy, child-unfriendly spaces.

They’re not intended to be! Few destinations can provide the array of sense-stimulating experiences.

[Io Bench by Michele Oka Doner is one of the few “okay to touch” works of art.]
Our now-sixteen-year-old twins have been museum regulars since they were in-utero. Trust me, it’s never too early—or too late—to start making museum memories.

Minutes for the New Mama

Those early days with newborn(s)…too cold to walk outside? Too tempting to buy unnecessary purchases while walking Target aisles? No smoother floors in RVA, stroll the VMFA! We spent countless hours in the double stroller there. Not only did my babies have an ever-changing environment to “take in,” they’d often be lulled into a nap. I’d continue walking—getting exercise and eye candy galore.

Indoor/Outdoor, Art All Around!

Finding your kids are getting fussy? Walk them outside on the grounds, the art isn’t all within the architecture…outdoor sculptures shouldn’t be missed! Kids are hungry? Duck into the Best Café for a snack.

Engendering Expectations

Have toddlers? Let them know the importance of not touching the art so kids hundreds of years from now can enjoy it. Remind them not to run. Let them know they can—and should—talk in their regular indoor voices. The museum isn’t a library, it’s a place to talk about art…together! 

Eyes—and Minds—Wide-Open

Get them looking closely.

One of our favorites was the “Gallery Game.” In some of the smaller gallery spaces, we’d stand together in the middle. I’d give the area a lengthy visual look around (which they’d mimic, much to my delight!). Then, having spotted an ever so small detail (e.g. a white bird, a red flower, a blue eye, etc.)—or two—I’d ask each to look at every piece until they believed they’d found the item sought.

Once found, stand in front of the work. Remembering not to touch, use their descriptive words to share the location of the element. 

As children get older, the game can be modified. Which piece do you feel took the longest for the artist to create? Which makes you feel happiest? Saddest? What do you think the artist was trying to share or tell us when he/she made this art?

Let them know they can and should express how the pieces make them feel. As a parent, you don’t need to be an art historian to “figure out” art. Experience time together, looking closely to discover what the art itself “teaches.”

 Bring the Balance

With the ever-increasing emphasis placed upon science and math, arts programs suffer. Getting some museum time—either by simply enjoying the art on a regular basis (remember, VMFA admission is FREE!), or maybe even enrolling your children in one of the abundant art classes offered—can supplement the under-represented humanities in schools.

Don’t be intimidated taking your kids to a fine arts museum; be confident!

Take your family often. Make a point to enjoy one of our city’s most wondrous attractions regularly.

After all, as the VMFA’s tagline correctly states, “It’s your art.”