Stories in Art, geared toward ages 4-7, is a fantastic program that introduces kids to art and encourages them to use their imaginations as they discover different works. (Read about our experience at the program last summer.) This summer session will explore the Netherlands, using storytelling, gallery tours, and hands-on projects to teach kids about Dutch art. Workshops are at various times on Sundays, Mondays, and occasional Tuesdays. This is a free series, and there is a limit to the number of children in each class. Sign-in will take place in the West Building Rotunda, beginning at 10am on weekdays and at 11am on Sundays, and will continue until all spaces are filled. Visit the National Gallery of Art website for more details and the complete schedule.
Artful Conversations is for ages 8-11 and will take place on Sundays and Wednesdays starting July 17. Designed for children and adults to participate in together, the program uses observation and discussion to explore works of art in the collection. Led by museum educators, each session includes looking at one work of art in the galleries, accompanied by a sketching activity. Sign-in will take place in the West Building Rotunda, beginning at 12:30pm on Sundays and 12pm on Wednesdays, and will continue until all spaces are filled. More details and the full schedule are available on the NGA website.
Note: The sessions fill up quickly, especially on weekends, so plan accordingly. Even if you get there early, you might have to sign up for a later session, so it’s a good idea to have another activity planned or museum exhibit to explore while you wait.
I find it downright amazing when one adult can keep a group of young children engaged and entertained for more than a few minutes. Some people just seem to have a special charisma that makes kids want to sit quietly and listen… and learn. If I was trying to command an audience of about 20 four to seven-year-olds, I can guarantee complete chaos would ensue, and there would be at least one major meltdown — and it would probably be mine.
This is reason number one why I give the Stories in Art Drop-in Program at the National Gallery of Art huge props. From start to finish—for well over an hour—the group leader held the attention of about 20 kids as she talked about Italy, read a story about the Italian painter Giotto, discussed a famous work of his art, then led the group in an art project related to what they had just learned. Seriously, just about all of the kids hung on her every word, were eager to chime in when she asked questions, and tackled their art projects with the zeal of an Italian chef cooking his signature pasta fagioli.
Which leads to the second reason I loved this program: interaction was encouraged. From finding Italy on a map together to frequently discussing parts of the story to offering ideas about how the painting was made, the kids played just as big a role in the session as the group leader. And it all went down in quite the orderly fashion—they raised hands, took turns speaking, listened to their peers. What?! As the mom of a four-year-old boy with lots of four-year-old boy friends, I’m a little more used to mini UFC matches than civilized art discussions when it comes to groups of children. Maybe it was the art museum setting. (Note to self: start hosting play dates at the National Gallery.)
That brings me to my next reason for giving Stories in Art my personal seal of approval. Short of going to Italy and retracing Giotto’s roots, the kids were immersed in the subject. The session took place in a gallery that displayed the work they were studying; the group sat on the floor right below the painting they discussed, where they could see it in context as a famous work of art. And their art project took place just down the hall in an atrium area of the museum. The kids got to create art in an art museum—that’s pretty darn inspiring, if you ask me.
If all that’s not convincing enough, here’s the kicker: The art project directly tied in to the theme, so the kids actually got to apply their newly found art knowledge to their work. In this particular session they learned about Giotto’s use of gold in his painting and how he carefully carved out designs in layers to maintain the integrity of the gold leaf. To emulate the technique, the kids were given matte framed canvasses of black film over gold along with a stick to carve out their own gold designs. Even better, everyone got to take their final works home. Owen’s is now proudly displayed in our dining room.
Here are some things to know if you’re thinking about taking your child to the program:
– There are three sessions on each date the program runs, starting at 10:30 or 11:30, then hourly after that. You must register beforehand for the time slot you want. We went on the weekend around 11:45 and signed up for the 1:30, as the 12:30 was already filled. but we used to time to enjoy lunch in the cafe and check out Allen Ginsberg’s photography exhibit “Beat Memories,” which I highly recommend, by the way (for grown-ups).
– The art and countries vary by date, so be sure to check the schedule on the NGA website to find out what’s on the agenda when you plan to go. This weekend they are reading “Iggy Peck Architect” (one of my favorite books to read to Owen) and exploring a work by Giovanni Panini.
– Your child will receive a “passport” upon registration that gets stamped each time they participate in a session. If they receive three stamps, they could win a prize—because a little extra incentive to keep them interested in learning about art never hurts.
As much as I love the museum, I don’t get to the National Gallery of Art with the kids very much. Aside from Calder’s mobiles, some of the pop art, the sculpture garden, and the concourse between the East and West Buildings, there hasn’t been much that really captures their tiny attention spans right now. But, admittedly, that might be because I don’t quite know how to present it to them.
That’s why I’m excited about the new Summer Drop-In Program. Starting this Sunday, July 11, the National Gallery of Art will offer special sessions designed to engage kids with works of art from the galleries. The program is divided into two series—Stories in Art for ages 4-7 and Artful Conversations for ages 8-11.
In the Stories of Art series, children can learn about different works of art through storytelling—museum staff read a children’s book related to a specific work of art, then take a look at that piece, followed by a hands-on activity related to the art. The series will explore art from different countries every week, so check the schedule for details and times (which vary by date). Sign-in for Stories in Art begins at 10am on weekdays and 11am on weekends in the West Building Rotunda. Space is limited, so be sure to get there in time to reserve one.
Kids and adults are encouraged to participate in the Artful Conversations series together. Led by museum staff, the group will explore a different work of 19th- and 20th- century American or European art every week. Discussion and a creative writing activity will follow. The first Artful Conversations session begins July 18 and continues weekly through the summer. The one-hour sessions take place at 1pm and 2:30, and sign-up for both begin at 12:30pm in the East Building Atrium.
For more details on both programs, visit the National Gallery of Art website.