January 16, 2009

Schooling at the Art Museum

We woke up to windchills in the -40's, and it really does feel that cold, once it hits about -20 you really start to feel a difference. Note I was not always a Minnesotan having lived in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and Georgia before moving here, so I can attest to different climates. Despite the temperature and all the frostbite warnings, we decided to head out anyway, that is what a car heater, gloves, hats and coats rated down to -50 are for. I packed a mobile school bag with some school books, sketch books, interesting reading, pencils, crayons, camera and video recorder and we headed out. I decided the art museum would be a good destination today and we were off.

The kids worked on their math books, history and science reading on the drive there, which made for a nice quiet drive except for the occasional question they needed help with. They even tried to help one another when possible as they realized how much I needed to focus on the drive. The quiet was much appreciated as I navigated roads filled with black ice and over confident drivers. I am still amazed that people forget they need to slow down even when it is not snowing as the black ice is more dangerous to drive in and comes up unexpectedly.

Our time at the art museum was great and it made for an interesting school day. Each child picked an area of the museum they wanted to explore and we took time in each area and allowed ourselves to examine whatever peaked our interest. The kids also got lessons in patience as they needed to wait for one another, sometimes spending much more time in an area then they would have chosen. They are fairly well behaved kids so I give them a bit of freedom to explore anywhere I can see them all, which often means they head in 3 different directions and I stand in the center wherever I can maximize my view of all of them. It was a school day so other than the occasional school group there were not many kids in sight, though it was busier than I would have expected given the weather.

We visited all three floors of the Art Institute and spent considerable time in the Greek, Chinese, Indian, African and Native American exhibits. Highlights of the day for them included the Greek marble statues, African masks, Chinese Jade exhibit, the Silk trade route video and exhibits, and comparing the Chinese and Egyptian sarcophagi.

Over the course of the day we alternated between free exploration and me discussing works with them. Sometimes I would ask pointed questions, other times let them just point out what they noticed and explain what they thought the art meant or represented, sometimes we shared how a piece made us feel or what else was going on in history at the time. As part of our day each child needed to choose one artwork or artifact to sketch in their sketchbook. In addition they had to give a narration about an exhibit, artwork or artifact which I recorded on my voice recorder.

The historical links seemed to be very meaningful to Sirah especially in the Greek and Chinese exhibits which we just studied in Story of the World. To see hieroglyphics, sarcophagi and statues of Amenhotep which we just studied was exciting to her. At one point in the China exhibit she was talking to me about the horses being important because they carried the silk on trade routes and about how silk was made, the gentleman standing next to us raised his eyebrow at me and looked amazed. I suppose it is not every day you hear such things from a 5 year old as you walk around the museum.

It reminded me of being at the Body Worlds exhibit with Ciaran last year and getting dirty looks from people (as if they were thinking how could I expose and torture a child in this way) meanwhile it was him who dragged me there (I had no desire to see something this graphic) and he was listening to the extra details on the headset tour he asked me to purchase (not the simple explanation that most normal people would listen to but the very detailed one that I can only imagine medical students are interested in). Sometimes this happens to us and I remind myself to be thankful.

We spent 4 hours in the museum straight over lunchtime without a single complaint or request for food. I must admit my amazement, I kept thinking soon they are going to tire of this but they never did. Maria's cast started to hurt her and we decided to leave and head home.

If you have never taken young kids to the art museum I encourage you to do so, it is very interesting to visit with them. My kids notice details I would have overlooked and have such interesting views on what art means and how it makes them feel I am truly blessed by their views each time I go. For a long time I was nervous about taking young children to the art institute though we often go to all the other museums. The art museum just seems such a quiet place with little for them to do or interact with so it made me nervous. Yet they adapt well and realize they need to be quieter, just like when we are in a library, they are amazed at certain things and bored by others. I find my kids enjoy things like masks, statues, weapons, artifacts and even china, furniture and room displays, it is the paintings that typically bore them. When we enter the 1700's or so they lose interest and want to move rapidly through the rooms pausing rarely, but bring them back to the ancients and they could spend half a day in a single room looking at how different things were. I love having them explain to me what they notice first about a subject and then to explain their thoughts and emotions about what they are looking at, I find I walk away looking at things differently. The art institute also provides many teachable moments and great links to show the relationship between history, art and culture. We have been going several times a year now for the past few years and while I do not believe they have ever asked to go to the art museum the way they will the science or history museum they always want to stay and explore and walk away having had a great day.

On a side note I find it useful to park far away from the museum as the walk there and back is a good way to let off steam for young kids before and after. Even today in very cold weather we parked two blocks away and the memory of Ciaran barreling out of the door as if his body was saying "I am free!" made me smile. He immediately started running down the sidewalk and I did not stop him, typically I would. He carefully moved out of the way (still at a good speed) from a woman coming up the walk way, she looked and me and I smiled and said "Pardon him, he was just inside for 4 hours and needs to release some energy!" She smiled weakly at me and I wonder what was going through her head as I watched him run up the sidewalk and thought I am just fine with him running now. I could not possibly have asked for better behavior and attention in the museum and he is outside now he should burn his energy, I just wish I had his energy to burn!

On the car ride back they read from their current books and Maria colored on her portable desk. All in all I must say it was a great day and by the time we got home from our day it was 3 degrees above zero, which felt warm to us! It was nice to get outside of the house we have been in for nearly the whole week. Now for a lovely 3 day weekend and rumor has it we will reach the 30's next week, I think ice skating, snowboarding and sledding will make their return.


  1. Anonymous8:12 AM

    That sounds like a wonderful day. You are such a good homeschool mom. And I'm looking forward to skiing this week also. We missed it this week!

  2. Body Worlds was just in SLC. I took my 8 year old(now 9) but not my 6 year old. Not because she is 6, but because it really would have bothered her. I got plenty of dirty looks with just my 8 year old along, so I feel for you. It's funny how people don't think we know what is best for our own kids.

  3. So glad you are back blogging! I'm a new homeschooler that found your blog and have really gotten tremendous encouragement from it.